“Knowledge is power”– a phrase that I allow to lead my life. I am constantly trying to learn and absorb all sorts of knowledge. It’s a natural part of me. Knowledge is something that cannot be taken away from you. Yet, the one thing in life that could have helped me, the one thing that could have changed my entire life is the one thing that I wasn’t knowledgeable about; and that is mental illness. Not my own mental illness, but someone’s that is near and dear to me, my Mami.
Growing up, I did not understand my mother’s illness. She was diagnosed with a mental disturbance at the age of 10, that was back in the 1970s. Today, her illness is referred to as bipolar disorder. I didn’t come to a complete understanding of her illness until I was 16 years old and in high school, where I educated myself on her disorder. I was enrolled in a Scientific Research program that allowed me to read and study journal articles on a topic of choice. I chose to learn more about mental illness. I was so eager to learn more as it had impacted my entire life. I always knew she was sick. When she succumbed to her illness and/or addiction and had to be hospitalized, I’d ask why Mami was in the hospital. I always recall my father and grandmother say that “Mami estaba enferma,” Mami was sick. Of course, it was much more than that, but how could I understand the complexities of mental illness at such a young age?
All that I learned in high school sparked my interest and passion for learning more about Mami’s illness. As so, I decided to learn more about it in college as I obtained a bachelor’s in behavioral sciences. In the wake of an era where mental illness is no longer a taboo topic, and discussions are opening about the importance of mental health, I feel like God has placed a fire in my belly. With every day that passes by, I feel the need to speak out about how much my life has been impacted due to the lack of mental health awareness.
I feel that growing up not understanding Mami’s mental illness, crippled my relationship with her. It also crippled my relationship with myself. I didn’t know how to feel growing up. A lot of my energy was spent making sure Mami was well. I’ve always considered myself to be extremely strong that was up until January of this year. All the built-up emotions from my childhood hit me like a ton of bricks. I started to develop uncontrollable anxiety, and my depression was getting the best of me. It was a long time coming, but I finally reached out and started seeking help from a therapist. It really changed my life for the better.
It has been one rough and bumpy road. But today, as I have come to an understanding of what my Mami’s mental illness entails, I am able to move forward in a positive direction. Through her, I have been able to find my strength and my weakness. I have been able to endure pain but not allow it to get the best of me, instead, I am allowing it to let me flourish and bring to light the severe impact mental illness can have on those who are not aware. I hope that by sharing my story, I can help and empower other Latinos living with or affected by mental illness.