My Mami says that I’m brave.
She says that I have courage, and that she admires me for doing the things that she’d never do. You see, Mami was trained to be silent, to keep the secrets of our families within the walls of their homes. Mami had to swallow secrets, especially the ones that hurt the most, down a dry throat.
I am different from Mami. The truth spills out between my lips. I’m a storyteller, and the stories I tell are about my family. But, there is one story that is brand new, and I’m having trouble articulating it.
My older brothers called me a tempest, but there were moments of calm, moments where my brothers swore that I was a different person. To my Father, I am, and continue being, “la niña linda.”
However, even as a child, Mami knew that I was a little more erratic than other children. I had insomnia. I’d pull my hair out in tiny chunks. I was so much louder during my happy moments, running around in circles until I fell laughing on the grass. During my sad moments, the ones where I’d lock myself in my room and just cry, Mami didn’t know what to do.
In college, my most brilliant moments came at times I now recognize as mania. The moments where I couldn’t get out of bed, tried walking out of my skin, and felt like I was drowning—that was depression. My brothers were right. I was a tempest, one that came with darkness and striking colors.
At 22, I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I am a person with bipolar disorder, but I dare anyone to underestimate me. I still have claws, feet that turn into wings and a sharp mouth. I have my own power and agency.
There were other factors that helped diagnose me, ones that I’m still coming to terms with.
In the Latinx community, we don’t talk about mental health. I was lucky with my Mami, who tried to understand. We rarely talk about the family members who behave “in a peculiar way,” unless it’s for gossip. The Latinx community swallows the secret of mental health, and leaves it in its mouth to rot. There are some children of immigrants who think, “my parents went through worse than this. I can make it.” And then, they don’t. We beat ourselves up over these challenges, think we can handle it, and then it all falls apart. In some families, mental health is “fixed” with a beating.
It is time that we start having conversations. It is time that we acknowledge that mental health is just as important as physical health. These are issues that won’t go away, and we can’t just run away. There are so many misconceptions regarding mental health in the Latinx community, and people are frightened of seeing a professional.
We need to stop being cruel to ourselves and to others. I would never have gone to a psychiatrist unless my Mami had searched for one (without me knowing), and handed me his business card. There are acts of love that will make this conversation smoother. It won’t be easy, but we need to talk about how we feel, what service providers are in the area we live in, and de-stigmatize any diagnosis.
I, as always, decided to be defiant and put my diagnosis on Facebook, where a good amount of my friends are family members. I was going to take the first steps in this conversation. I was going to spread facts, not lies. I refuse to be ashamed.
The backlash was immediate ― phone calls about why I’d put it on Facebook and how my mother could let that happen? I didn’t care because I had done what I set out to do — start a conversation.
(By the way, my diagnosis isn’t going to go away with a prayer, but I’ll accept one.)
It still stung, though.
Being a person with a bipolar disorder is hard, to say the least.
There are days where I don’t want to take my pills and be, what many of my college friends called me, Superwoman again. I miss the moments I felt like I could take on the world. However, I don’t miss the moments where I felt a deep loneliness, even though I was surrounded by people who loved me. I found a psychiatrist that has helped me tremendously, but I still need to find a therapist. I haven’t found therapist who understands what it means to be a queer, woman of color, who has a bipolar disorder. I have hope I’ll find someone though.
Some people say tell me that nature is all I need, and that’s cool and all, but without my pills I will strongly consider life threatening situations. Don’t judge people who take pills, life is hard enough already.
It comes back to my decision to take my life in my hands, and ensure that I survive through my twenties, my thirties, my forties, etc.
I am a better me. Ever since I sought out help, I understand myself so much more. I may not be as loud, I may not be as energetic, and not as temperamental. I’m still passionate, I just know how to funnel my energy better. I enjoy being. Just being. I take every moment in and just breathe.
If you need immediate assistance please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255