Managing My Mental Health Meant Doing Away With Secrecy I Was Taught In My Latinx Family

Growing up as a first generation American in a family that had found its way to New York City by immigrating from Ecuador meant that I grew up in two worlds. At home, I learned an airtight definition of privacy. Before there was Instagram’s highlight reel, there was my Latinx family telling me that we only shared positive things with others because anything that would out us as human or flawed just wasn’t for public conversation. 

Family problems stayed within the family. Individual problems, like my anxiety for instance, were meant to stay even more locked up—in my own mind and behind locked doors. 

While for a while the world seemed to also uphold the taboo nature of speaking about hard things, sometime around 2014 that started to shift for me and, seemingly, it. The Internet started making space for the parts of me that had never been invited to the table by my family.  

Over the last six years I’ve seen firsthand how social media has made it more acceptable to talk about feelings and even created a culture that encourages people to talk about and share more than their highlight reel. Even on social media, we may find ourselves having conversations around mental health, unhealthy family dynamics, boundaries, or even truths as blatantly obvious as how hard it is to live life after losing a loved one. 

After my grandmother, who raised me, passed away in 2014, I was one of those people who turned to Instagram to grieve. I’d write long captions about grief or how I was struggling with my anxiety on any given day. In retrospect, I can see now that the reason I decided to take up space on such a public forum is because it felt like taking ownership of my own healing for the first time. 

Finding peace within my everyday struggles happened at the same time as I unlearned my family’s definition of privacy. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness actually credits my family’s definition of privacy as a shared definition a lot of Latinxs hold and one of the main reasons why the Latinx community is more hesitant to reach out for help with their mental health. 

“Many in the Latinx community are familiar with the phrase el dicho ‘la ropa sucia se lava en casa’ (similar to ‘don’t air your dirty laundry in public’),” explains NAMI. “Many people in the Latinx/Hispanic community tend to be very private and often do not want to talk in public about challenges at home…This lack of information also increases the stigma associated with mental health issues. Many do not seek treatment for fear of being labeled as “locos”(crazy) or as having a mental illness because this may cause shame.” 

When so much of your upbringing is anchored in being perfect, it’s hard to shake off the mask of perfection and allow your humanity to shine through. I’ve spent the last six years in therapy working to do just this. 

My motivation as I sit down for therapy every week or any time I open up to someone else about my mental health is the ever present reminder that freedom is on the other end of the conversation. I find freedom and peace in the conversations I was never allowed to have before I started letting go of my family’s idea of privacy. 

Being able to say out loud that I’m having a bad anxiety day or that I’m struggling with my relationship with my body is a privilege and a right I no longer take for granted. I grow as a person every time I’m able to admit the realities that I was never encouraged to share as a kid. 

The nuances of culture, family dynamics, and intergenerational perceptions are hard to walk away from. I’ve struggled a lot with knowing that no matter how much I explain the realities of my mental health struggles to my family they will always believe that it’s in my head or that going to therapy is more a choice than a necessity. Hand in hand with letting go of my family’s definition of privacy is also my choice to settle into the reality that I am the first in my family to see my mental health for what it is—a work in progress. 

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