In Colombia, where I grew up, going to a therapist isn’t really common, mostly due to a lack of economic resources. I never heard the adults in my life talk about issues like depression or anxiety. So, when I first moved to the United States and began experiencing symptoms of these mental illnesses, I didn’t know how to manage them in a healthy way.
Life in Colombia was constantly fast-paced — there was always something to do, somewhere to go and someone to meet.
In 2006, my family and I moved to the U.S., where my dad had already been working for the past year at a manufacturing company. We moved to a small town in Louisiana, where life went from fast-paced to sort of lackadaisical. Not feeling as busy as I did in Colombia gave me more time to think — and worry.
When I was 13 years old, I started feeling my worries turn to sadness, and then to depression. Little things going wrong throughout the day felt like the end of the world.
Everything around me was changing. My parents grew apart and eventually separated. My closest friend moved five hours away from me. I felt like I couldn’t control what was happening in my life and stopped taking school seriously. I even got expelled.
I find it crazy now that at the young age of 13, depression made me feel so detached from the rest of the world.
Later on, when I started high school, I realized my actions had consequences, and my grades were going to determine my chances of getting into college. I became filled with dread.
I began having daily panic attacks. What was supposed to be the best year of high school, my senior year, turned into the worst. I had reached my breaking point.
Anxiety was with me from the moment I woke, until the deep hours of the night when I couldn’t stop thinking: Would my now single mother be able to afford to send me to college? Was I even good enough to get into a decent school? I couldn’t sleep.
Once my mother began getting frequent calls from concerned teachers and guidance counselors, together we decided I needed help. I was 17 years old when I first saw a therapist.
My mother supported the idea and even encouraged it, even though she wasn’t familiar with therapy herself.
After graduation, I saved my paychecks from my summer job for a trip back to Colombia, since I hadn’t visited in five years. I was still anxious because I was trying to figure out how I was going to start college in the fall. I knew being in Colombia, close to my family, would be a breath of fresh air. I felt it would offer me some clarity.
My homeland is where I actually began my journey to recovery. I was able to be away from the stress I was dealing with. Taking a mental break helped me, and thanks to my mother, I had the support and initiative to seek help when I needed it.
Thankfully, I am now in a state of good mental health. I used to stigmatize myself because not many people in Colombia paid attention to their mental health. But now I know that anyone can experience anxiety or depression no matter where they’re from.