Thursday, May 10, 2012

Living with Stigma #SpeakUpForKids

Earlier this week I attended a press conference at the Child Mind Institute to kick off National Children's Mental Health Awareness Week and the Child Mind Institute's Speak Up For Kids campaign.  Some of the statistics were really difficult for me.  Not only because The Boy has autism/ADHD but because some of the statistics applied to me.

I have lived with depression and anxiety for more than half of my life.  And I remember exactly when it started.  I was in the 6th grade. 

My mother thought it was a phase.  She thought I would grow out of it.  She told me I needed to be strong.   

I remember the first time she took me to see a therapist.  She sat next to me for the first part of the session and I just couldn't get the words out.  For the second half of the session, it was me and the therapist.  But I still couldn't speak, knowing my mother was right outside.  Probably with her ear pressed against the door.  When we left, my mother said if I wasn't going to talk - she wasn't bringing me back. 

My mother said that seeing a therapist would probably go on my permanent record, teachers would label me as crazy and that I wouldn't be able to get a job.  She said, if I talked people would blame her for being a bad mother.  

I've talked about the El Que Diran before.  My mother wasn't a bad mother.  I knew she was scared for me.  But she was more scared of what people would say/think about me.  
Old school Puerto Ricans (or Latinos in general) don't talk about depression or having problems.  My mother was raised to keep things private.  What went on at home stayed at home - it was nobody's business.  And you certainly didn't pay a stranger to listen to you talk about your feelings.

My mother believed in prayer and tough love.  And I am grateful for both.  (What's that saying? "I blame my mother for nothing, but forgive her for everything.")  I don't know if it was her prayers or tough love but the fear of my mother's holy wrath kept me from straying too far.

But there were dark days - especially after high school and my early 20s.  I won't go into the details...but my life was out of control and I was lost.  And when I hit bottom; I knew it.  

I had to speak up for myself.  I found a therapist who I felt comfortable talking to. 
My closest friends knew I was seeing a therapist.  Though one of them believed that I was wasting my money and that I should just "get over it."  We are no longer friends.  And I remember telling a guy I was dating, I was seeing a therapist and the look on his face completely changed.  Obviously we didn't date for very long.  As for my mother - she still couldn't understand.  They made me feel ashamed - asking for help. 

They thought I was crazy.  They couldn't understand why I couldn't snap out it.  They thought it made me weak.

So I understand the stigma of dealing with mental health.       

Walking into that therapist's office was the best decision I made.  It took strength to recognize what I needed.  And that's the moment, I started to heal.

There's no quick fix solution for depression.  I believe it's a process.  It's something I am incredibly conscious of.  My therapist taught me how to be more self aware.  There are moments when I slip but I pick myself up and I keep going.  
Yes.  Some days are harder than others.  And I no longer see a therapist (I just don't have the time.)  But I have family and friends to talk to.  I have a husband who gets it.  And I have a son who needs me.  And my writing has helped me so much.  It's my own private practice. 
But I also know where to go when my friends, husband, son and writing are not enough to keep me going.          

There is no shame in needing someone to talk to.  There is no shame in depression.  There is only shame when you choose to do nothing about it.

On Friday, May 11, at 12PM ET the Child Mind Institute will be hosting a live Speak Up for Kids talk on Facebook in honor of Children's Mental Health Awareness Week.

For more events please visit the Events page on Child Mind Institute - 

And for more information on mental health:
Disclaimer: I am not a therapist nor am I providing any medical/pyschiatric advice - I am just sharing my own personal experience, thoughts and opinions.

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AutismWonderland - written by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez - is a personal blog chronicling a NYC family's journey with autism, while also sharing local resources for children/families with special needs.