POV: You’re speaking on a stage alongside Selena Gomez, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, and U.S. First Lady Jill Biden where you’re getting to share your mental health advocacy story as a first-generation college student and Latino man who’s struggled with mental health.
Unlike other POV trends on TikTok and across other social media platforms, this may not be the most relatable version – and that’s because it shouldn’t be. This is an experience unique to MY story. More specifically, it’s a highlight from MY story that in no way captures the many years of challenging self-work and advocacy it took to get where I’m at today. This is what I want to shed a bit of light on: y(our) stories and the fact that your path is truly that of your own. Whether you feel stuck, like progress is slow, or even if you feel “on track” – there is so much strength in honoring your unique story.
My story begins in 2017, my first year of undergrad, when I spiraled into depression, and my anxiety spiked like never before. Although this was one of the most challenging times of my life, it was also the catalyst to all that was to come in the years that followed. I’ll never forget the moment when I had the realization that much of my mental health struggle could have possibly been avoided had I asked for help earlier or spoken about my struggles as I was experiencing them. This was the moment that changed everything for me.
From that point on, I knew I had to do everything I could to prevent others from feeling the way I did or at least know what to do or where to go if they were having a similar experience. In the years that followed and after pushing myself to share my story with others, I learned that my greatest power was my own voice and the expertise that is my life. In fact, my greatest strength was MY story and one of YOUR greatest strengths is YOUR story. Our stories are powerful because they inevitably allow others to relate, resonate, and see themselves (the best moments and even the most challenging) in you as well. Sharing our stories helps others to not feel alone, and in that, can be a form of suicide prevention.
Today I share my healing journey and what I have learned about mental health as a Latino/e man who is actively trying to, yes, be the best version of myself but also inspire others to do the same… which doesn’t always come easy since I’m actively unlearning generational cycles. Growing up Latino/e and as a man, at that, I didn’t really have the space to talk about my feelings or mental health with people. In fact, I was taught to do the exact opposite. When I think about what’s helped me get to this place, a place where I’m both comfortable and excited to share my mental health story, a few things come to mind that I want to share with you which I hope encourage you to honor your truth just as I do today. Here they are:
- Your path is that of your own. What works for others, may not work for you and this is more than okay. As we learn, grow, and heal, it’s easy to compare ourselves to others and create a false narrative of “how slow” we may be progressing. The truth is, there is no fast or slow when it comes to your journey. You’re moving at your own pace, as you should be!
- When you speak to everyone, you speak to no one. In the early days of my storytelling on social media, I found myself wanting to be “inclusive” when creating content that spoke to everyone. Although this content reached thousands, when I included cultural context and spoke from a Latino/e POV, it reached thousands if not millions more. Then it clicked! My experiences and our experiences as BIPOC are heard far less because of the same cultural stigma that affected me so greatly in 2017 and still does today. Embrace your cultural, sexual, racial, and religious identities when sharing your story with others because this is what makes you, YOU! Others who identify as such will see themselves in you, unlike the generic, copy-and-paste hooks we see way too often.
- Embrace the nuance. Healing is a roller coaster and that’s okay, you’re not alone. As I became super comfortable speaking about my experiences, I felt like I had to maintain this outer image that I was only continuing to grow. This is the opposite of the truth because growth is not linear and is a never-ending, beautiful process. In fact, these ups and downs are what make your journey even more special than it is and are worth embracing because again… you’re not alone.
Okay whew, well I’m going to stop here for now because (1) my ADHD brain is eager to stop but also (2) this can be a lot to take in. Trust me, I get it. But again, this is why I (and so many other storytellers and advocates) are here! Embracing our journeys for what they are and learning to honor and share your mental health story takes time, practice, and constant reflection. In the end, it is so worth it because doing so will lead to opportunities such as this one, amazing friends, and who knows what else. Either way, I want you to leave this recognizing that you and your story are absolutely invaluable. I hope I inspired you to give it a shot if you haven’t already and if you ever want to chat, I’m here.
Photo Credits: Getty Images