I feel like I’m suffocating. Everything is slowing down, but moving so fast at the same time. I feel as if the walls are caving in and there’s nothing I can do to stop them. I can’t breathe; it hurts to breathe. My head feels as if it’s about to explode into a million pieces and once again, there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I start to cry because it hurts so much. Somehow in my blurry and unhinged state, I slowly begin to put two and two together and realize that I am having a panic attack. Usually they aren’t as intense, but with the disappointment of being rejected from my dream school the day before and the lingering fear that the same will happen again with another college today, I couldn’t help but collapse. I panicked as my feelings of anxiety rose.
Go back a few years, to the age of eleven, only to find that something other than anxiety was also rising. I remember stuffing my face until it felt as if my stomach was going to explode. I ate until I found myself with dirty knees on the bathroom floor. The rotting smell of the food I forced myself to eat began to fill the air. The burn in my throat increasingly got worse with each passing moment from all the acid coming up to the surface. My eyes burning from all the tears I shed. My voice was shrill from my cries of damnation to God for making me this way, for making me fat. I suffer(ed) from mental illness.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI, “a mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis.” Mental illness is a condition that society does not talk about as much as it should. Within the past years, there has been some discussion on the issue, but not enough to where the stigma surrounding it as vanished. On NAMI’s website, they have a list of months and weeks dedicated to mental heath. How many people know that May is Mental Health Month? How many people are aware that July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month or that the first full week of October is Mental Health Awareness Week? The answer is not many people, yet numerous people from all over the world suffer from a mental illness. Many, however, suffer alone and behind closed doors, just as I had.
Many people, like me, suffer in silence because we do not want to be seen as burdens on our families. My parents hail from the island of Belize in Central America, where mental illness is seen as a disease. Only people who are not blessed by God and all his riches, like having a roof over your head, suffer from a mental illness.
My parents are the same people who insist that mental illness is not real because “you can’t fight something that isn’t real. That’s like fighting a ghost; a waste of time and energy that should be spent on something productive.”
For me, growing up was hard enough already being a dark-skinned Afro-Latina who wore glasses and was a bit on the pudgier side so the lingering mental illnesses that started to come to light were hard to battle. Mental illness is still a taboo in both the black and Latino communities because of its stigma. We, as the next generation, have the ability to change that for our children and that is what I will strive to do for the rest of my life. Care to join me?