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.

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How to make a Cuban Meaty Potato Stuffing [RECIPE]

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It’s just a few days before Thanksgiving! WOO HOO!

Although Halloween is actually my favorite holiday and Christmas is a close second, there is something truly special about Thanksgiving for me. You see, my family has a really fun and sweet tradition where our meal always consists of a hodge-podge of American, Russian and Cuban recipes. It’s always a mix and it’s always a good time.

This year I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute one of my family’s recipes with one of my FAVORITE food sites, The Kitchn. They did a very special package of immigrants sharing their stories through Thanksgiving stuffing… and of course I had to contribute.

Check out my recipe and story: Cuban Meaty Potato Stuffing on The Kitchn today. And don’t forget to read all Four Stories of the New World, Told in Stuffing too!

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(Image by Diana Yen/The Kitchn)

Today I voted because I’m a bisexual Latina immigrant and it’s important

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Today is Election Day!

If you don’t know or understand the importance of the 2016 election, then it’s very possible that you have been lying under a rock for the past year and a half. And that’s totally NOT okay. So this is my very last and final plea with you: GO OUT AND VOTE!

And yes, I am totally biased about who you should vote for. But, you know, I kind of have to be… One candidate is the most qualified person for the office of the presidency of the United States of America and the other person is an orange popsicle filled with hate. As someone who self-identifies as a bisexual Latina immigrant (what else would you call me anyway?), there is only ONE message that I care about and that is a message of hope, tolerance and understanding.

And, hey, look! I even wrote about it. Check out I’m a Bisexual Latina Immigrant. I Can’t Wait to Vote on now!

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Dose & OMGFacts: October 2016

How Mindfulness Meditation Went From New Age To Mainstream

The Difficulty Of Accepting Generosity When We Date

This Is What Women Talk About In The Locker Room

I’m A Bisexual Latina Immigrant. I Can’t Wait To Vote.

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Aubrey Plaza came out as bisexual and so did I (well, a while ago)

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It’s always a lot of fun for me whenever a new celebrity comes out as bisexual because, as one of the tribe myself, I can’t help but give a little WOO HOO to our little spark of visibility all of a sudden.

This morning I read that Aubrey Plaza, one of my favorite actresses (who also happens to be Latina), has just revealed that she is bi. In an interview with The Advocate, the famously monotone funny woman responded to a question about whether women come to her with:

“Oh, yeah. I don’t mind. I know I have an androgynous thing going on, and there’s something masculine about my energy. Girls are into me — that’s no secret. Hey, I’m into them too. I fall in love with girls and guys. I can’t help it.”

Reading the news this morning definitely made me give a big WOO HOO, as per usual, because I constantly find it impressive that bisexuality can still be relegated to the back of the closet.

In fact, my own coming out story wasn’t much different than what bisexuals face today – being told that it’s “just a phase”, an attention-seeking behavior or, most annoyingly of all, that we’re all just on our way to full-on Gay Town.

And hey, I do know people who initially came out as bi and are now happily 100% homosexual but that’s not me. In fact, I resent that kind of thinking because it puts us bisexuals in a really tough spot of having to prove ourselves to both the straight and gay communities ALL the time.

When I tell someone I’m bi, I am often met with wonder, doubt or perverted stares. The realities of dating as a bisexual Latina are rough because, unfortunately, men tend to sexualize me already for my big booty and “fiery” personality. Upon finding out that I like chicks too, it tends  to get even worse. Lately, I’ve had to actually preface any further questions with “and that doesn’t mean I want a threesome.” Because, yes, that is absolutely the FIRST thing I am asked by (most) straight men.

Not that there’s anything wrong with threesomes, but that’s not why I am a proud card-carrying member of the LGBT community.

Mainly, I just find women beautiful and attractive and sexy. Being with a woman can be a completely different experience than being with a man, and that can be pretty thrilling in and of itself.

And so I’ve known, and been very comfortable with, my own bisexual identity for many years now. Even if my parents are kind of in denial about it and even though I’ve come across some gross and rude comments from the opposite sex, it’s a huge part of what makes me who I am – and not a part I would ever apologize for.

Sure, I mostly form emotional attachments to men (both as friends and as lovers), but that doesn’t make my attraction to girls any less real. And for as long as I’ve been able to, I have fought long and hard to help the advancement of gay rights across the U.S. After all, shouldn’t I have the right to marry the man or woman that I choose?

This simple concept to me has always been pretty obvious, and I’m glad that 2016 is a year that we can continue to celebrate more and more freedoms as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and whatever-else-you-want-to-identify-as individuals. Even as we face unspeakable tragedy like what happened in Orlando last month, I like to think the world is still a little better off today than it was when I first came out in 2003.

Sure, I wish that some people still didn’t have the mentality that bisexuality isn’t real or that bisexual men don’t exist (something that REALLY bugs me, let me tell you) or that we’re attention whores or just plain whores… But that kind of thinking is changing. And by speaking out about who we are, whether the person speaking out is a famous actress or little old me, we serve as a reminder that we’re here, we’re bisexually queer, and GET USED TO IT!

Thanks, Aubrey, for this little reminder today.

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