WHAT WE HAVE HERE IS FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE
I think I have always had an identity crisis. I have had a hard time with my mental health over the last few weeks. I have been taking more frequent social media breaks which I feel both helps and harms. I use social media to inspire and pull me out of dark spaces, and I find myself looking to social media for comfort which can be great, but does it interfere with how I connect with my family? With these high-profile suicides in the media these last couple weeks, I just feel empty. While I do not like to talk about my own depression, keeping it inside wreaks more havoc than the transformation I envision it does.
Depression is much like my own connective tissue disorder, considered rare by many, but its effects and victims are in actuality a much larger population than we could ever anticipate. That is because depression is can be so invisible, and its triggers almost undetectable by anyone other than the victim. For myself personally my experiences with depression and suicide started in my youth.
That simple connection and feeling of one-ness is something we long for and seek in infancy, and when it is not found or made we continue to seek it in adolescence and adulthood. This can lead to so many bad decisions that we may or may not end up learning from. It very often leads to depression, loneliness, feelings of inadequacy and suicidal tendencies. So often we lie to ourselves, based on other peoples projected inadequacies. When we spend any amount of time repeating these lies to ourselves, you know the *I should be skinny like her* lies, they become our semi or permanent internal dialogues. When thus happens we lose connection with the reality that this is absolutely FALSE.
Divorce does not have to be a bad word, but it absolutely takes so much effort by both parents to ensure their decisions, downfalls, and actions do not leave lasting negative impressions on their children. This is probably where my false internal dialogue began.
My parents divorced when I was two, and I grew up spending the majority of my life with the Brazilian side of my family since my mother took full custody. I always felt the Brazilian side never fully accepted me as "one of their own" because I was a "half-breed," too light skinned and even though they spoke to me in Portuguese, and I responded to everything in Portuguese, it almost felt like even that was never good enough to be an integral piece of the familial puzzle. When someone wanted or needed something, all of the other kids were sought out first, it could have been because I was the baby, but I always remember the lingering feeling of being left out.
Then came the "why can't you be smart like your sister," and "why can't you be skinny and pretty like your sister" comments which made me feel inadequate not only in shape and size, but I knew I could never be the dark-haired full Latina beauty that my sister so effortlessly exuded. I died my hair, starved myself, and knew I could hold my own speaking Portuguese, but I still never felt like I fit in or belonged to either group, and neither group really made me feel like one of their own. Still to this day I am embarrassed of my self-perceived lack of an authentic accent or usage of hip slang. Most of the time I am told my Portuguese is very good by strangers, but I find myself stumbling on those days I feel insecure and then I just shut down in my pool of self-inflicted inadequacy.
I knew the white side of my family struggled to find a place for me. It was palpable, especially since out family gatherings were usually limited to Thanksgiving. While my father and grandmother always made me feel welcomed, Thanksgiving was the only time during the year I saw the rest of his family and I always felt like "the other kid," and there were only two of us, soooo. I think we stopped having turkey day gatherings around my 12 year mark, which even further cemented my feelings of displacement. I think that is why I hold on to Thanksgiving as such a cherished holiday, because it was really the only holiday I got to spend with my father and the "white side" of my family. Having a Thanksgiving tradition always felt like I was reconnecting with my father.
I think this is the hardest for most people, but when you grow up already feeling like you are not enough in any capacity, the ability to connect and unravel the damage is greatly impeded by your ingrained misconception of self, self-worth, and place. How do you connect with peers when you "know" deep down you will never be good enough, that every pretty girl that walks by is already inherently prettier and better than you? To top it off when they walk by you hunch out of self-shame and any mean girl with a bad day will run you down and swallow any last bit of self-love you had. Bullying and the lack of education fuel the depression of so many kids dealing with similar if not worse situations than my own personal accounts. And if you have not figured out how to crawl out of the lies of previous event by middle school and high school, the lies you tell yourself become your invisible mantra of self-sabotage. How do we expect our youth to crawl out of depression when they have no tools, and when they are largely ignored? The immediate signs of depression can be withdrawal, anger, and bad grades, but what about the quiet ones like me who made sure my grades were good so I did not have to deal with anyone, and made sure that I could be in isolation, where I thought I belonged.
If you made it out of your youth still cradling your false sense of self, telling yourself the same lies you misinterpreted 20 years ago, you may be in for hard road to recovery that I do not wish on anyone. While I largely survived my twenties with some questionable incidences, I still never really knew my place. I changed majors in college three times before graduating, and when I did I was ridiculed by my grandfather for my educational choices. I think I was supposed to be a doctor for them, which I wish they would have just said so...I follow directions fairly well. Instead I wandered aimlessly for years, constantly waiting to feel like I was "the one" for someone else. For that person to make me feel complete. I married the man of my dreams, my partner in crime, and while marriage has been immensely challenging, even having "that person" still did not complete the now gaping hole left by unchecked childhood issues.
Being married into a Mexican family I am definitely the whitest bean in this situation, and my feelings of acceptance are absolutely mixed. I have a great support system from the sister-in-laws (which I am sooooooooo greteful for), and my father-in-law has done his best to make me feel like family, but it is all too clear sometimes that I am just not Mexican enough. Speaking Portuguese gave me huge advantages to adapting to speaking Spanish, but years after my husband and I were dating and I was feeling rather confident about my expanding vocabulary, and handle on regional slang I overheard someone in the family I desperately wanted a deep connection with telling someone else that I really "struggled" to communicate. I was crushed, again I belonged to no familial entity. Now that we have a son everyone dotes over his "whiteness" which urks me to no end. Through my struggles trying to find placement in my families and coming from a family of immigrant I could find no greater beauty than that of other cultures. My sister and I grew up listening to endless hours of Digable Planets, NWA, and frequenting Bob Marley festivals. I see so much beauty in dark flesh which I felt was the opposite of mine and therefore the most beautiful, even though I tan a good dirty-brown. But I digress, mi guerito es el tesoro de la familia-my white boy is the family treasure, and it takes everything in me not to let everyone have it, but I know that not only is that not the answer, it is definitely not the way to make everyone feel loved. I love the depth of skin tone in all of my nieces and nephews, and while I am biased and I feel my son so oh-so-handsome, I feel that the way the elders of the family favor him sends a direct and disturbing message to all of the other children. So I spend my time loving on them, and telling them just how beautiful each one is.
I became aware of my depression after my father passed in 2007, I was 25. I lost all of my hair, I spent years crying, the relationship I was in at the time was violent and abusive, and then my sister passed away. My mothers pride and joy, when the news came, through our strained relationship I reached out to embrace my mother and she physically pushed me away. Every fear of not being enough, the one, or even important to her was solidified. I tried again before her funeral, and again she pushed me away. She claims to have no recognition of these events, but the damage was done. It was the first time I think I ever tried to hug her, and after the second time she pushed me away, I do not believe I have made an effort to since. Now I was alone, the parent I felt truly loved me was gone, my only sibling that shared the responsibility of deflecting my mothers anger was gone, and I had no one to talk to. So I lost 50 pounds, and buried it, met my husband and started a family.
Oh boy, that unchecked depression reared its ugly head after birth. Every feeling of inadequacy seemed to be the only thing that played over and over in my head. At the time I was going to repeated flares and dealing with exacerbated symptoms of my connective tissue disorder and weight gain and my first flashes of suicidal thoughts began. I could say it out loud that my family would be better off without me, it sounded ridiculous but the bottomless pit of my self-loathing was so much stronger than my unwillingness not to listen. Decades of lies had cemented their "rationality" in my mind. My son is four, and I still struggle with feelings that I can do no greater service to my family than to cease to exist. I have been struggling with suicidal issues in these last few weeks, after I thought I had began the long road to re-programming. Then the guilt and shame comes, and by the time your husband or close family realizes how far your depression has gone they usually (legitimately) cannot comprehend how this is even an option for you, which amplifies your feelings of isolation. I read a great article about this exact slippery slope and why we should not judge Kate Spade for "abandoning" her family.
Unfortunately my first experience with suicide was before the age of 10, my sister who had a heart condition (Wolff Parkinson White with a mild super-ventricular tachycardia) had taken all of her heart medication (intended to slow her heart during a tachy episode) and asked me to hold her hand and she died. I did as she asked, but I sat and prayed they did not work, and they did not at the time, she go up after about 20 minutes and just walked out. I remember crying and feeling just so unsure of life itself, but I know deep down her unchecked depression is what led to her unnecessarily early death at the age of 32. That left me with a whole host of other feelings of survivors guilt, but I do largely feel like I did a lot and tried to my best of my abilities to help, but I will say I do still have that nagging irrational feeling that I was not enough for my father or sister to stay on this side of consciousness.
If you made it this far, my journey to solidified self-doubt is the same neural pathway so many people fall victim to. By the time you get to this point in whichever state of mental distress you may be experiencing, the roots that feed these thoughts have grown so thick and have staked claim to so many subconscious actions that these types of thoughts become so hard to shake. It is an internal dialogue, a silent thief of the ability to fully experience joy. A darkening of our ability to shine and bring gifts of happiness to our loved ones which only perpetuates our own false sense of inadequacy. It is not easily discernible, and people often say the people who are the funniest, or most outgoing struggle the most with this debilitating disease of the mind.
If you are reading this because you love someone with depression or suicidal thoughts, first of all BRAVO. We cannot tell you all the things we want to, and we need you to understand that these long standing feelings of disconnection have robbed us of our ability to say out loud exactly what it is that we need. We need to know that we are not your third, unwanted wheel. That we are important, and we matter. It may not necessarily be that you do or do not express these qualities in your relationship, but our mechanisms to receive love and feel accepted have been damaged. So damaged that we may not hear you.
If you are reading this because you have depression or suicidal thoughts, BRAVO. There is a part of me loves and accepts that part of you that forgot how to accept love, praise, and acceptance. While this is the most daunting and debilitating darkness, and we want so much for others to fix us, we also have a great responsibility to ourselves to facilitate healing. You cannot heal with a closed mindset. We need to bring as much to the table as we expect of our loved ones and significant others.
Please start a self-care ritual. The time you force yourself to spend ON yourself will slowly allow you to refocus your attention on all the amazing qualities you possess that you may have never noticed. Maybe your self-care is taking a cooking class, a yoga class, running a marathon, training, learning, whatever the case may be; find one thing that comes to mind easily and try that! Set time aside weekly at first, then work up to daily if possible. Fill your space with affirmations, familiar and friendly products, scents, memories or color, and commit to retraining your brain. We were not born to reject our talents, abilities, physicality or any other part of self. Any form of self-hate (yes, thinking "I'm not pretty enough" is a form of self-hate) is a learned behavior. Our brains thrive off of routine, which is why is is such an integral part of learning for babies, make self-love, and self-worth a routine, and I promise you will see results. While my depression is long from "cured" or "better" I have made grand improvements with self-care rituals, and I may not be here had it not been for them. Point is, love yourself more, you have nothing to lose, and maybe everything to gain. I want that for all of us.
I hear so many people bash others for posting suicide prevention hotlines for those in need, but who else do we feel we can turn to? It is so important to see that others want us to get help, for there to be visibility and solidarity in our journeys, because on the most macro of levels we all want the same thing, to know that we are loved, that we are enough, and that we are not alone. Our own Los Angeles region has fantastic group that I follow on social media, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, who provides great support infrastructure for those in need. Please reach out, and if you need help right now, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741.