How my Latina shame kept me from going to therapy for years

Note: This is 1 of 3 essays that was written for and published on The Flama last year. However, the site has since shut down (mostly) and my essay has disappeared… But the internet gods allowed me to find it in its entirety, so I am re-posting it here since a) it was fun to write & b) it’s an important topic to talk about. Enjoy!

Mental health is a difficult issue for anyone to talk about, but it has been especially difficult for me as a Latina. I didn’t grow up in a household where mental health issues were ever discussed, and many of us do almost anything else instead of going to therapy.

I used to be be just like you, avoiding therapy at any cost. I would prefer to drink gallons of  de manzanilla than admitting to the fact that I had some issues I needed to work on with a professional. That would make me loca, wouldn’t it? And I would never admit to being crazy.

Instead, for years I leaned on friends and family with all of my problems, I had an extra glass of wine (or three) when I was feeling particularly stressed, I danced and I ate and I even cleaned my kitchen until it sparkled — anything to avoid actually talking about the issues that concerned me. Issues that deep down I knew were something that I couldn’t solve on my own, but doing it all on my own was what I tried year after year after year.

It turns out I am not alone. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Office of Minority and National Affairs, fewer than 1 in 11 Hispanics with a mental disorder contact a mental health specialist while fewer than 1 in 5 contact a general health care provider.

The truth is I didn’t grow up hearing much about mental health. Although my family isn’t very religious and are big believers in Western medicine, mental health issues were never discussed. There was always an air of “it’s not okay to talk about this,” and so we never did. The only time I remember it even coming up as I was younger was when my parents and I went to family therapy to deal with issues that had nothing to do with anyone’s mental health (primarily, my coming out as bisexual).

It was years before I thought about mental health as an option. After college, and as I went into the workforce and my stress and anxiety became apparent, I started to notice how some of my white friends (for lack of a better term) embraced therapy. One of my best friends had been seeing a therapist for years and raved about the experience, while others started to deal with depression due to various life circumstances and seeing a therapist seemed to be helping them.

After getting over my initial shock that not only were my non-Latino friends going to therapy but also openly sharing about their positive experiences, I started to think that maybe this is something I should consider doing too. But my guilt and shame over admitting that I needed some help kept me from making any changes for many years.

As I grew in my life and career, my stress and anxiety kept getting worse. I didn’t know how to deal with all of it because I had never learned how to talk about it properly or how to manage my anxiety. Finally, when it reached a breaking point earlier last year, I got up my courage and sought help. And it’s the best thing I have ever done.

Since then, I found a reliable therapist that I truly enjoy visiting every week. We spend our sessions talking about all of the things that I already talk about with friends and family, except now I have a professional who helps me to see things differently, clarify my thoughts and feelings on the situation and who helps me to set goals to better myself.

And that’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it? Bettering oneself.

I’m now thrilled to report that I am happier than ever and doing better every day. My family is on board and supportive, and my friends have seen a real difference in my demeanor.

Since starting therapy, the number one thing I learned is that we all could use someone professional to talk to. It’s lovely to have friends and family to depend on, and I still certainly do, but it’s not the same as an outsider who can provide a different perspective and a different kind of help.

My biggest surprise came when, during a recent lunch with my uncle, he mentioned once having a professor in Cuba who had a revolutionary thought about mental health: if we go to primary doctor once a year for a physical checkup, why are we not going to a therapist for a yearly mental health checkup?

For me, I know that right now I need more than that. As I progress, I expect to eventually need to see my therapist less. But I know one thing: therapy and all of the benefits it provided me will continue to be a part of my life. I’m no longer ashamed of asking for help and I am all the better for it. And that’s all I want.

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then follow my official Facebook writer page and find me on TwitterInstagram Pinterest!

2016 was an exceptionally happy year for me (and I’m not afraid to admit it)

We’ve all been saying it all damn year, haven’t we? 2016 IS THE WORST.

I know that I’ve definitely been guilty of this sentiment, and it wasn’t really just because of the election (although that contributed to my year-end complaints). But in the past few days, I realized just how much we’ve all been doing it lately…

Look, I get it. This year has kicked us all (figuratively) in the balls. Between the celebs that died throughout the year and especially around Christmas/Hanukkah, it’s been tough. The election was, well, pretty awful for those of us who care about other people and maintaining our rights. And that’s not even to mention Aleppo and Brexit and… ugh, I can’t go on. This year has been the WORST, right?

Or has it?

The truth is that 2016 is not killing people, but people die because of complicated things like a history of drug and alcohol abuse. That’s not the only reason why so many of our fave celebs passed away this year, but that’s certainly a theory that makes sense too.

Then there’s just the general thinking that… Hey, if we call 2016 the worst, then what about all of the bad years that came before it or the bad years that are still to come? (Ya know, with President Trump actually possibly accomplishing some of the vile things he said he planned to do during his campaign.)

Here’s an idea: Let’s all stop calling 2016 “the worst” ASAP.

The truth is that a lot of bad things happened this year. I’m not going to deny that. But a lot of bad things happen every year. When we put all of our blame on a year for doing bad things to us, then we’re taking away our choice – our choice to do something about it, our choice to see the positives, our choice to move on with something more than just feelings of anger.

So I’m done. I know it’s the last day of the year, but I am not going to look back at this year and talk about how it was “the worst” because, especially for me personally, it simply wasn’t.

In a nutshell, two major things happened to me this year that have actually made 2016 my happiest year yet:

1. After 12 years, I moved out of New York City and started a full-time freelance writing career that’s actually been going really well.

2. I met Adam, who turned out to not only be the most generous and loving person I’ve ever met but also an incredibly supportive life partner.

In fact, the first decision actually led to the second. I had been dealing with some recovery issues in NYC and simply no longer felt all that happy there. Plus I was turning 30 and needed to do something different in my life. By circumstance (not all under my control), the best thing for me was to move back home to Florida for a while.

I decided that I would do this for six months to a year, and that this would be my time to figure out what my next steps were and what I wanted to do for my career. It turned out that going all-in on my freelance writing was the right move, and I love where that part of my life is now.

Of course, when I moved to FL, I didn’t think that my personal life would go anywhere. I had been single for many, many years… And although I was sick of that life, I also thought: Who the F am I gonna meet down here?

Well, you know what they say: Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. In comes Adam…

Here’s the story that I tell friends when they ask how we met:

I moved out of NYC after 12 years on a Friday and, needing to find something to do and feeling like I was ready to “get back out there” after a 5-month dating break, turned my favorite dating apps back on the following Tuesday (meaning OKCupid, Tinder and Bumble).

Meanwhile, Adam had finally signed up for online dating after an even longer break when his last relationship ended… And so there we were, both finally “ready” for something real. We started talking on Bumble that Wednesday morning. By the next Saturday (exactly a week and a day after I moved to Florida), we had our first date. It lasted four hours, and only ended because I had a family obligation.

The next week, I cancelled another date in order to have a second date with Adam… and the rest is history. I never went on a date with anybody else. Neither did he. And we moved in a month and a half later.

Not only has my career and my new relationship made me really happy this year, but I learned a lot about myself throughout 2016 too. I’ve also met some great new people (mainly, my boyfriend’s family, and also many other writers who I now call friends) and I learned how to accept love.

Before this year, I never truly knew how to be kind to myself (my NYC therapist’s parting words to me). I still have trouble with that, to be honest. But Adam reminds me every day that I am worthy of love.

Although I’ve had a few relationships, even a two-year one where my ex lived with me, I never truly knew that I was worthy of love. In fact, I had never heard anyone say the words “I love you” to me. Sure, I mean, family and friends… but never anyone who truly loved me in every way that a person deserves to be loved. Until Adam.

He taught me how to accept love and that I deserve it. He continues to teach me that every day and, the more I am with him, the more that I realize that he is truly the love of my life.

I know how cliche that sounds. I know that it’s a funny and kind of ridiculous statement to be saying at 30 years of age. And yet… I’ve had boyfriends and I’ve had countless dates in the past 14 years of my life. But I’ve never had love. And now I do.

So when I look back at 2016, I can still recognize all of the bad things that happened this year. This year, though, is about more than that. This is the year that I fell in love for the first real time of my life. This is the year that I truly found what I want to do with the rest of my life. And this is the year that I learned what it takes to be my best self (even if I’m not totally there yet).

To be honest, I don’t know what 2017 will bring. But I have plans! Plans for my career and plans with my love. If 2016 taught me anything, it’s that a year isn’t to blame for bad things and it’s not really to blame for the good things either.

My year was great because I made it great. Because I learned what I wanted and went after it and accepted the things that came to me unexpectedly too. 2017 will hopefully be more of the same.

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then follow my official Facebook writer page and find me on TwitterInstagram Pinterest!

Confession: I’m in recovery… And here are 5 things I learned so far

Next week is the last day of National Recovery Month and I am taking a DEEP BREATH in order to tell you something that has taken me one year, two months and five days to admit publicly: I am in recovery.

I don’t get want to go into the details of when it started and why it happened and how bad it got (yet)… except to say that my problem was alcohol, and I haven’t had a single drink or even a sip of a drink in almost six months. There’s a lot more to say about my own journey, some of which I am ready to share and some of which I am scared shitless to talk about at the moment. But in honor of National Recovery Month, I thought that I would start by coming out of the recovery closet to tell you about the five things I’ve learned so far.

(Please don’t judge me too harshly, I can’t help but repeat over and over in my head right now.)

1. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the way to go: You’ve probably known someone in recovery and/or have heard about Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous or one of the other “anonymous”-based programs in the past. And while this program work for MANY people, it is just not for me. I’ve been to the meetings and liked them, and I’ve definitely made friends in the rooms. They’ve been helpful and I have learned a lot. But, to be honest, I am just far too secular to take much of the program seriously.

I understand that when they say a Higher Power, you can choose whomever you want to be your higher power. People have told me about others who have made the rooms or the community or just anything else their ultimate Higher Power, but I just can’t do the same. I hear the word “God” in meetings (or anywhere else for that matter) and it makes my skin crawl. Beyond that, I don’t like any program that isn’t backed by some hard science–and so I have come to regard cognitive behavioral therapy as my recovery path of choice.

Mainly, I have attended SMART Recovery meetings and enjoyed them. They’re not perfect either, but I know that talking about my problems, focusing on what I can change and fix and how I can view things in a better light is what works for me. It’s basically free group therapy where we can freely talk about anxieties, respond to others with helpful advice or even just empathy. They’re smaller and more intimate, and I learned more in my first SMART meeting than in months of AA. The 12 steps and the 12 traditions? I understand that they work for some. But I am just not one of those people. Sorry.

2. Having a support system is absolutely crucial: If you haven’t seen the “almost everything we think we know about addiction is wrong” video above with the Rat Park and what that all means, do it ASAP. It’s one of the things that has helped me the most in this journey, and I am really happy that an extremely supportive friend shared it with me last year shortly before my first lapse (see below) because it is partially what has led me on my Map Your 30s blog path. I know that might sound a bit hokey, but it did.

Learning more about addiction is great, but the #1 thing that has helped me to advance in my recovery is having the support and love of friends and family (just like in Rat Park!). You see, while I have met and befriended some other addicts during my recovery journey, the truth is that most of my friends are what we in meetings call “normies”–as in normal people who can adequately handle alcohol, and the occasional drug like marijuana, without it becoming a life-ruining issue.

Since going into recovery, they have stood by me through and through. I know that I have worried some of them needlessly as I learned and grew and failed and succeeded throughout the past year, but they’ve still been there for me and I have been incredibly lucky for that. The same goes for my family, who have seen more of my bad addictive behavior than anyone else, yet they are still there for me too. And now I am extremely lucky to have the most caring, supportive partner I could have ever hoped for. He didn’t know me during my active addiction. He met me a month after my last relapse. But he’s there for me every single day, and has even given up drinking for me. It’s difficult for me to adequately describe how grateful I am for him and for all of the people I have in my life, but I truly am.

3. Lapses are a natural part of the process: My recovery birthday is July 18, 2015. It’s the first time that I honestly acknowledged to someone else that I had a problem that I needed help with and made a commitment to get that help. I knew that I could no longer do it on my own, that I could no longer keep trying to moderate and that I could no longer hide the truth.

I had a problem with drinking, and I needed help dealing with it. As I began to meet others in recovery, however, I found that people had relapses that lasted anything from one day to another few years. And they experienced a lot of guilt about it, but it was a guilt that I didn’t quite understand–especially not when it was a short-lived episode.

Luckily, my therapist helped to talk me through the process and realize that recovery is a journey, not a destination. Since my recovery date, I’ve had a few lapses (short bursts of drinking) that I am not at all proud of. But what I am proud of is that I moved on from them and didn’t let them affect me too negatively. I could have honestly let the guilt of one or two or more of them drive me back into a very dark place from which it would take months to release, but I didn’t. Yes, they happened. No, they weren’t fun. But I moved on, and I kept focusing on what’s really important: Keep going forward as much as possible, even when there’s an occasional step backwards.

4. It’s not just a one-size-fits-all solution: One of the things that I weirdly enjoy the most about being in recovery, besides the community aspect and the support I have received from loved ones, is reading about what recovery truly means. And the best thing I have come to understand is that there is no black and white world out there when it comes to recovery, and it is absolutely NOT a one-size-fits-all solution.

To be honest, and I don’t want to get into it too much, but that’s absolutely one of the reasons I do not enjoy going to AA meetings. I’ve found some of the black & white mentality draining and, to be frank, dangerous. Although I have met many great people, I have also met those who can’t see reason and are not open minded enough to consider other options. I try not to judge other people’s paths to recovery because I think that is absolutely dangerous territory, but unfortunately I constantly feel judged when I express any kind of differing opinion.

But still, I keep on reading and I keep on engaging with the community (especially online, where it’s easier to find a variety of people and opinions.) I enjoy learning about people’s experiences, even if they are very much not like my own. In fact, one of my favorite things is to read recovery blogs and popular addiction and recovery website The Fix. It’s been a great source of information, and I continue to read through as much of it as I can. Just as I ended up going to school for nutrition after my 100 pound weight loss, I am now constantly trying to learn more about recovery. I guess the truth is that I enjoy absorbing everything I can about whatever it is I am facing, and learning about all of the different ways and techniques and tools for recovery–whether I agree with them or not, whether they work for me or not–is a truly fascinating endeavor.

5. The problem isn’t just about me, it’s about us: As President Barack Obama and Macklemore recently said in the realest video about drug addiction in America, drug overdoses kill more people than traffic accidents. I mean, just this year we’ve lost the amazing Prince to an accidental drug overdose–and I think we’re all still mourning that one.

It’s not an easy problem to solve, and I honestly do not yet know what my part in it may be. I’ve considered eventually running meetings or getting some sort of degree in therapy in order to be able to help other addicts. But, to be honest, I think my best weapon is and has always been my ability to be honest in my writing.

The truth is that I’ve been keeping this under wraps while I’ve learned to deal with it. And it’s the scariest thing I can imagine to hit “publish” on this article, but I am coming out of the recovery closet (as they say) because I think it is important to get rid of the stigma surrounding addiction and recovery. It’s important to be able to talk about these things. It’s important to recognize that this happens to not just me, but to countless others who may not look or sound like the stereotypical drug addicts you might have been in TV or movies.

As Macklemore concluded in the video, “shame and this stigma associated with the disease keeps too many people from seeking the help that they actually need.” I am hoping that by sharing my own journey, my own struggles and my own successes, I can do a tiny bit to help that stigma and maybe even inspire someone to seek the help that they need in the same way that I know my weight loss journey has inspired others to get healthier.

After all, isn’t living a long and happy life all that we truly want?

Want more? Follow me on FacebookInstagramPinterest and  Twitter!

 

 

Dear coffee shop guy: No, it’s not okay to “talk to me” when I’m busy

Let me describe my morning to you today:

I woke up with Adam, lazily got out of bed as usual, showered and got ready to go to my usual coffee shop to work on this Tuesday morning.

Once there, I picked up my Earl Grey hot tea, extra cup of ice water and today I chose a bagel for breakfast. I sat down in my usual spot, opened up my laptop and browsed through Spotify until I decided on what to play as I got started on a VERY busy morning of writing.

Everything was going really, really well until some guy, upon entering the establishment, decided to chat with me.

I smiled, slightly nodded to acknowledge his statement, and then went back to my writing to let him know very clearly that I was busy and not really in the mood to chat. Thankfully, he got the message and went away.

The situation turned out in the best way possible because, thankfully, the man in question went away as soon as I both casually acknowledged him and ignored him at the same time.

The problem with this scenario, however, is that this is by far not the only time this has ever happened. Not by a long shot.

You see, as a woman, I’ve gotten quite used to strange men approaching me in coffee shops. Sometimes they’re nice looking, but most often not. Sometimes they’re younger, though typically I would say they’re at least 20 years my senior. And most of all, they are always doing it when I have an invisible but very clearly labeled “DO NOT DISTURB” sign plastered on my forehead.

This morning, I was happily typing away on my laptop and listening to music on my headphones when the incident occurred. In fact, that’s often what I am doing when some guy approaches me to talk about something. I often smile, make casual chitchat and count down the minutes until he leaves me alone.

It’s typically fairly innocent… Except for the very obvious fact that there is some very clear subtle sexism going on here.

Let me explain.

This happens to me EVERY SINGLE DAY that I frequent my local Starbucks. Not once in a while, not occasionally, but actually every single day. Sometimes more than once a day. And it is absolutely always me being approached by some man who decided to talk to me for whatever reason.

Here’s the thing: I understand that some people are just chatty. I understand that some people don’t register headphones as a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign. And I understand that this can happen to anyone at any time, man or woman. But… Then why does it only occasionally happen to my male friends and why is it that I’ve never been approached by another woman?

I know that I can only speak for myself in this instance, but to me it feels like some really subtle misogyny at play. When a man – ANY man – approaches me out of the blue, I am a little suspicious. But it’s not just me being an overly alert feminist. It’s me being well aware from the last 30 years of experience that, very likely, this man wants something.

I’m not necessarily saying that this man wants the V or that his approaching me is sexual harassment in nature… But it IS sexism. Because by approaching a woman who is very obviously busy, he is saying to the world that he deems his time and desire to talk to me as more important than my time working and otherwise not wanting to be talked to.

He ignores the very obvious headphones in my ears and the fact that I am clearly focused and typing away on my laptop. He just does what he wants because HE wants to. Because he is a man. And I am a woman. And therefore he believes that he has this power to exert over me.

Of course, this is my interpretation of what is happening here. But if I was wrong about the subtle sexism going on here, then why is it only men who approach me out of the blue? Why is it never a friendly woman who wants to compliment my glasses or ask me what I’m working on?

Because we women have been trained into this.

We have been trained to be weary of men who approach us in public because it happens ALL OF THE DAMN TIME. If I am wearing my DO NOT DISTURB sign, the typical woman knows not to approach me because she is very familiar with all of the signals that I am giving off. It’s all of the very same signals that she’s used to giving off, too.

But a man doesn’t know how to read these signals apparently.

No matter how busy I look, he just goes ahead and talks to me anyway. Because, again, he believes that he has some God-given right to do so because there’s something dangling between his legs and not between mine.

This has been happening to me for as long as I can remember… As well as for the several weeks that I have been working two mornings a week in my local coffee shop, where I have observed this behavior in full-force. And while some people defend these men as being simply clueless and chatty… I wonder why they’re absolutely never chatting up the guy sitting a few seats from me who is also on his laptop? Why is the man approaching ME of all people? It’s because SEXISM, that’s why.

It may be really subtle. It may be really hard to see or understand. But misogyny comes in all forms, and talking to a lady when she very obviously doesn’t want to be talked to is at the top of my list.

Besides… It’s also just freaking RUDE too.

Want more? Follow me on FacebookInstagramPinterest and  Twitter!

The one thing people forget to tell you when you grow out your hair

Confession: I’ve been trying to grow out my hair for almost as long as I have been an adult.

It’s been a long journey, mostly marred by me also having a fondness for changing my hair color constantly. In college, I went from short and red to chocolate brown and back to red and got a perm and chopped it off and grew out my natural hair color.

Then I dyed it blonde, then back to red and brown and cut it again. Every time I would try to grow out my natural hair color, I would get to a point that I got bored and wanted to dye it again. Then sometimes I dyed it red, and wanted to go back to brown. And yet other times I would plead with myself to just CALM DOWN and keep growing it out.

In just the past five years, I’ve had super short and very blonde hair, shoulder length red hair, medium almost black hair and everything in between. I had bangs and pink peekaboo streaks and even did the Brazilian keratin treatment. Changing my hair became a Christmas tradition, and it was rare for me to keep the same hairstyle for more than a few months at a time.

But two Christmases ago, I decided to stop playing around and FINALLY grow my hair beyond the longish medium that I seemed to always stop at. It has been my dream for more years than I can count to have waist-length hair. But every single time I tried to grow it out, my hair would grow out to just a couple inches below my shoulder and… I would get bored yet again.

I’d cut it or dye it or, let’s face it, both. And then I would be pretty happy with my new shorter hair, and go back to dyeing it over and over again. It would be another couple of years, and then I would be back to square one and wanting some long hair again… So what now?

I decided to *finally* grow out my hair and not stop until it gets to the point that I have always wanted it. The last time I had truly long hair was as a freshman in high school, and that is many more years ago than I’d care to count. Okay, like exactly 15 years ago…

These days it seems to be going well.

The big change in my plan came when, the Christmas after I started to grow out my natural color, I decided to get ombre hair. But it was cute and I loved it. Then last summer, exactly a year ago and eight months after my ombre hair, I went back to red hair.

Somehow, and I do not know how, I found a boxed hair dye that was a really gorgeous and natural-looking hair color. I’ve done a lot of different hair colors over the years, in many different shades of brown and even more shades of red, but this was by FAR my favorite.

So here I am, growing out my hair, and I can honestly say that it’s officially reached my bikini line – and officially the longest it’s been in 15 years. WOO HOO!

But there’s one very major thing that I seem to have forgotten in all of my crazy adventures of cutting and dyeing and cutting some more… Long hair is a PAIN.

The one thing that nobody has mentioned to me ever since I got it into my head to grow my hair long is that it can be really annoying to have.

Since I’m currently living in Florida, and it’s the middle of August, the long hair sometimes adds to my daily stress. It makes the back of my neck sweaty and it frizzes like crazy at the sign of rain. Which, if you’ve ever been to Florida in the summer, is basically every day.

But much worse than that is sleep.

The long hair, while it looks cute and all, is an absolute NIGHTMARE when I try to go to sleep. It gets tangled on my boyfriend’s arm as we try to cuddle, it sticks to the back of my neck, and if I try to shift – forget it!

Falling asleep with long hair is basically the worst hair issue I’ve experienced ever since I became Crazy Hair Change Lady.

I’ve been priding myself for many years because I am brave when it comes to changing up my hair, but it seems that the biggest change – and the one I’ve been really wanting – is going to be tougher than I imagined.

So what’s my solution?

A couple nights ago, I decided to start sleeping with my hair in a braid. I don’t know how this solution came to my head but, well, I just knew I needed to do SOMETHING before I went all crazy and chopped it all off again.

I’ve been there and done that for the last decade and a half, and it was time to write a different kind of hair story.

Now, just before getting to bed, and just before I remove my contacts for the night, I grab my hair tie and put my hair in a braid. It looks kind of funny, and I honestly feel kind of silly, but it’s also been working.

When I turn over in bed, no longer is my hair getting snagged under my arm or getting in Adam’s face or, UGH, sticking into my mouth. The night braid has been working really well, even if I look weird at the end of the day.

But then I wake up, feeling rested and pretty good. My neck isn’t itchy, my head doesn’t hurt because I pulled out a few pieces of hair in the middle of the night, plus I can just take it all out and start the day new again.

I never imagined that growing out my hair would actually be this much of a pain, but I’m excited to find at least one solution to one long hair problem.

I know that this isn’t going to be the only problem I face, but for now I’m excited to keep going. For the past year, I’ve had hair that’s a shade of red that I’m absolutely in love with and hair that’s past my shoulders. So far, even when I’ve had the desire to cut it again, I’ve been able to hold off.

Let’s hope I can make the same claim this time next year.

Want more? Follow me on FacebookInstagramPinterest and  Twitter!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...