Growing up in a Latino family, talking about our emotions was not something we did. I remember hearing my uncles always telling us kids that boys should not cry or show emotion, and girls need to stop being so emotional and crying over everything. Being told this repeatedly throughout my childhood, I knew I had to keep whatever emotion or feeling I was experiencing to myself. Keeping my feelings to myself was deeply engrained in me.
When I was in junior high, I experienced a traumatic event. Fortunately, it did not turn out worse than it did, but it still affected me greatly. My parents never called the police to report what had happened. They never tried to get me to talk to a professional or even get me to speak to them about what had happened. We all just brushed it under the rug like it never happened. There were other traumatizing events in my life after that incident for which I also never received help. Not talking to anyone about what I experienced during those traumatizing events emphasized what I had been told by my uncles, that I needed to “suck it up,” not be so emotional, be strong and move on with my life. So that is what I did. We are a close-knit family. Always there for each other but never talked about real feelings.
[Related: Mental Health America — Latinx/Hispanic Communities And Mental Health]
I was married and had my son at a very young age. During my marriage, I experienced domestic violence. It was mostly verbal abuse, but there was some physical abuse. I was isolated from my family and friends during this time. I was isolated because that was how my husband wanted it, and because I did not want my family to know what was going on in my marriage. I eventually left that abusive marriage. My parents allowed me to move back home until I got back on my feet. But again, we never talked about why my marriage did not work or how I was feeling about it. I bottled my emotions up and never spoke about it.
As a single mother, I struggled to make ends meet. Even though I knew I had the support of my family and they would never let my son and myself go hungry, I never let them know just how much I was struggling. I told myself that I was not allowed to break down. I had to be strong enough to provide for my child. I believed that if I did break down and ask for more help, I would show them just how weak I was. And that was not allowed in my family. As life went on, I continued taking care of my son and pretending that everything was good and happy. Eventually, bottling up my feelings caught up to me. I found myself being angry and yelling at everyone all the time, especially yelling at my son, because being angry and yelling was more acceptable than crying and talking about my feelings. It got to the point where I did not want to get out of bed. I did not want to be around anyone because the last thing I wanted was to make small talk with anyone. I had no energy to do anything.
One day I had a big argument with one of my sisters because I was yelling at my son. My sister and I were yelling back and forth at each other, and she shouted that I seriously needed help. Those words hit me hard because I knew that I was not OK and what I was doing was not OK either. After the argument, I thought about what I was going through. I wondered if I was depressed. I told myself that I could not be depressed because I did not have time for that. I also knew that I could not afford to pay for a therapist because I did not have health insurance. But every day, it was getting harder and harder to feel anything and be part of life.
[Related: National Alliance on Mental Illness Identity and Cultural Dimensions — Latinx/Hispanic]
One morning, I made myself get out of bed and I told myself that I needed help. I needed to be strong and healthy so that I could continue taking care of my son. So, I reached out to one of my cousins who I knew worked with therapists. I asked him if he could recommend a free or low-cost therapist. I felt ashamed for considering seeing a therapist, but he told me I should not feel that way because there is nothing wrong with asking for help. He gave me the number of a therapist who was close to where I lived. It took me a few days before I called to schedule an appointment. I was so nervous on the day of my appointment. I did not know what to expect, and I was not even that confident that therapy would help. Making the call to see a therapist was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I continued to see my therapist for about a year. She helped me work through a lot of the issues that I had repressed throughout my life. I also realized that my family was uncomfortable dealing with feelings and emotions because they were never allowed to express their feelings or emotions. I also learned about machismo, which my uncles were taught, that men needed to be strong and provide for their families and not show weakness by showing any feelings. There is so much stigma in the Latino culture when it comes to mental health. It has taken me a long time to express how I feel and talk about some of the trauma I experienced. It has not been easy to unlearn what I have been taught. I am still learning every day how to express myself and be a better listener for other people. I am a big advocate for therapy now.