When I was little, I felt sad a lot. I cried a lot. I remember learning about suicide for the first time and not understanding why it was such a bad thing, so bad to be considered a sin. In my mind, it was a fair choice to make. I myself had considered it (which I know is odd for a single-digit-aged child). My mom tried to explain to me that life is a gift given by god; you can’t return a gift because it’s “rude;” especially when it was one as precious as life because god has a plan, and killing yourself is not part of that plan.
I, on the other hand, didn’t see life as a gift or a miracle or something precious that one must guard and protect. Life was miserable and full of pain and stress and hardships that made grown-ups yell at me and mock my siblings, my cousins, and me. Displays of negative emotions would be met with cruelty like “te calmas or te calmo” or “deja de llorar si no quieres que te de una razón para que llores” or “¿y tú cree que tú eres gente?” That hurt; I thought that grown-ups were there to protect and guide me because había que obedecer a los adultos. Su figura autoritativa significaba que era su deber de protegernos. But I guess that didn’t include emotional and mental safety.
Something I didn’t come to realize until now is that those grown-ups who constantly hurt me needed much protection and guidance themselves. Now, I feel sad for them.
I don’t remember when I learned about depression or when I realized that it was something I was struggling with. I don’t remember learning that depression was an actual condition and not just a word people used to say that they were really sad. I don’t remember when I finally started to understand what was happening to me and why it was so difficult to manage.
I do remember confiding in my high school counselor when I was in tenth grade. I told her that I thought about hurting myself. She told me that she had to tell my dad. He tried to have a conversation with me, which was very unhelpful and triggering to the point of making me go nonverbal (I also didn’t know that was a thing until many years after the fact). I really wish I could remember the conversation because I’m sure there are some insights I could get from it. The only thing I remember was my dad asking if “something had happened to me,” and it felt like the implication was about sexual abuse. Unfortunately for me, that wasn’t the first or last time my parents would try to “confront” me about my behaviors that were obviously troubling (and pretty much textbook signs of depression).
I went through high school barely surviving. I cried a lot. There were so many nights in which I prayed that I wouldn’t wake up the next morning. I missed school a lot. I missed class right in front of my dad because he couldn’t be bothered (or didn’t know how to), and I didn’t have the energy to be reminded of how much of a failure I was. You see, I went to a charter school with crazy high standards; we had to be at our chairs by 8 am, not one second later; our passing grade was 70, despite the state standard being 65; each teacher almost proudly announced during parent-teacher conferences how they gave students about 2 hours of homework each night; we didn’t leave school until 6 or 7 pm, sometimes later. How is this not illegal, I will never know because who the fuck thinks it’s good for young people to be taking classes from 8 am – 5 pm, do a couple of hours of extracurriculars, just to go home and do homework for a few more hours and have to choose a combination of two out of showering, eating, or sleeping.
The school walls were riddled with ‘inspirational’ posters that said stupid shit like “83 is the new 70” and “Time will pass, will you?” Fucking horrendous way of making young people internalize the toxic culture of workaholism and American imperialist capitalism.
There were good moments, of course. Even to this day, I feel amused and even proud when I remember my teachers confused and baffled over my low grades because it was obvious that I was engaged; I did the readings, I participated and took notes in class, and I did well on my tests. Despite all of this, it never occurred to anyone to validate my feelings or let me know that it was okay that I didn’t function like they expected me to. I was penalized for not having the type of brain that would thrive in such an environment. The funny thing is that I demonstrated a genuine interest in learning and that my “poor academic performance” was not due to laziness. The type of work I did for my own learning and education was just not the “correct” type of work. So I was made to feel inferior.
We have gaslighted ourselves and each other into believing issues that stem from mental illnesses can just be “powered through” with the (queu up sparkly especial effect) sheer magic of willpower. Maybe that does work for some people. My mom says it does for her. She often shares with me the inner monologues, affirmations, and pep talks she gives herself when she has “el ánimo bajito.” My mom’s inner strength and ability to persevere is truly something to be admired; she graduated high school while working and supporting her household; she found a full-time job and worked herself through college while working full time. She got married and started a family of her own with my dad, all the while still fully supporting my grandmother and helping her immediate family. On the other hand, there’s me, who had “nothing to worry about except for my education” while growing up. And while it is true that my parents provided all the physical necessities for my siblings and me, school was certainly NOT the only thing we worried about.
I try not to compare myself to my seemingly superhuman mom because I fall short in most ways. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but growing up, it was clear that my mom suffered from some sort of mood disorder (thank you for gifting it to me, mom, I will cherish my mental illness as a precious family heirloom for years to come lol).
Sometimes, the worst part about being depressed is not even the depression itself. It’s the utter lack of resources and how we’re made to believe that out value comes from our levels of productivity. There have been so many times when I had to give thinks up in the name of prioritizing. The very things that made me feel like my life was worth living had to be put to the side just so that I could do things that were worsening my mental health.
I’ve come realized how beutiful life is, to the point that whenever I contemplate suicide I know I don’t want to be dead. I want to live in a world that sees me as worthless. A world that has brainwashed my loved ones into thinking the need to work harder and more. I want to live in a world where my mom doesn’t have to work so much.
Life is beautiful and I’m tired of missing out on it because I’m always in between trying to survive my own thoughts of self-destruction and using the little energy I get when recovering to do the very things that sent me into a depressive episode.
Jatnna De La Cruz is pursuing a B.A. in English with a Concentration in Creative Writing at the City College of New York. She was born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to the USA at eleven. Her writing has been published in student-run online publications.