Have you ever felt shame for going to the doctor when you had a sore throat, or for taking medicine when you had a cough? Can you imagine what it might feel like if that were the case? Well, according to Newsweek.com, nearly 1 in 5, or 42.5 million American adults struggle with mental illness every year, and yet we continue to stigmatize these struggles as if they are something rare, or something that we should be ashamed to seek help for. Chances are, either you yourself, a family member, or someone you know has struggled or continues to struggle with a mental health issue. One Peer Educator, Rebeca shares with us her beautiful story of her aunt’s struggle and recovery, and the support from her family and herself that made it possible.
by Rebeca Najarro
I never realized that she always looked tired. I failed to notice that her expression never changed. Her voice seemed so monotone, it just was not the same. At the age of fifteen, I found out that my aunt had tried to commit suicide by drinking a bottle of her own prescribed medications. A couple of months ago, at nineteen, I found out that she had attempted suicide again. However, the only thing that I could see when my mom told me, “your aunt tried to commit suicide,” was my aunt’s smile.
It had been a while, maybe two or more years, since my aunt was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and Depression. My first memories of her take me back to my first years in America. In my first few months here, I remember her holding my hand and going to my preschool’s Halloween parade because my parents could not make it. I did not know how to speak English yet, so I had not made many friends. In a home video, I happily held her hand and spoke to her as she translated to me what the teachers were telling my classmates. When I was four years old, I remember her rushing to my school to come see me when I was pushed by a little boy and injured my head on nail. She gave me a popsicle and as tears clouded my eyes, she smiled and told me that everything would be okay.
Tears fall down my cheeks as I reminisce on times when I was too little to understand the struggle that people with mental illness face. Two months ago, I was able to pick her up from the hospital. She was smiling and laughing again, her curly blonde hair was tied up into a pony tail. She jokingly complained about how her phone had died because she had forgotten her charger, so all she could do was stare at the wall. We all laughed. Since her phone had died, she could not contact anyone to pick her up and the only number she could remember was my mom’s . Her one and only wish after getting out of the hospital was to go to Porto’s Bakery, a delicious bakery in Burbank. She ordered a couple of the warm potato balls and I saw her smile return. In that moment, I realized that she will be okay. I will help my family by educating myself about mental health and raising awareness and educating them about ways in which we can support her. I am grateful that mental illness did not take the life of my loved one and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to learn about mental health and take that knowledge home to my community. Her smile will forever be my motivation to help individuals and families who suffer from similar situations.
Photo credit: FreeImages.com/Colin Cochrane