I AM NOT SORRY THAT I DON'T KEEP MY
MENTAL ILLNESS A SECRET.
B. Kassandra Perez
I live with depression and anxiety. Some like to say I “suffer” with anxiety and depression, but suffering calls for pity, not empathy or even respect, just an overall “Aw, I'm so sorry.” Something I am not about.
Growing up, I thought there was something wrong with me primarily because I was told there was. I first realized I was “crazy” when I was 7 years old. I overheard my mother whimpering in our locked bathroom in my apartment and I was curious. I knew she was on the phone with my father and I wanted to know why she was so upset. She was whispering so I couldn’t hear her, just knew that something was wrong, so I tiptoed my way to the living room phone and listened in on the conversation.
“You need to put her away. Get her help, she is not well!” my father screamed to my mother over the phone while my mother was naturally very upset at being told that her baby was crazy. He continued to say truly horrible things about me, my only response was screaming “FUCK YOU!” back at him, something he conveniently likes to forget. It was the first time in my life I cursed to anyone, not including my imaginary childhood friend whom I would say curse words to behind my grandmother's night table.
After hearing this come out of my father's mouth I always had this sense of doubt about myself, constantly thinking, “Am I crazy? Will I be committed?” It was something that I thought about often up until my early 20s. For a very long time I did suffer with my anxiety and depression and my overthinking kept me from doing so many things. My anxiety forced me to believe that I couldn’t do or say things, that I wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough and eventually good enough to even survive myself.
I could go into gruesome details about how I started to physically hurt myself at the age of 12, or how in highschool I would go home to cry every day, or how those naked photos of me my high school ex-boyfriend shared with the school would make me feel so self-conscious, which didn’t help since I was already anorexic. I can tell you about the things that were said to me by people who took advantage of my vulnerable and mental state because they felt stronger and more powerful than me, but I won't.
I'd like to say I won’t share it with you because I'm above it all, but I'm not. It still hurts to know that your first boyfriend, the boy you allowed to take your virginity would parade your nude photos around the school. Those photos that people would respond with “Ew, look at her muscular figure, she looks like a dude.” Or that time he told everyone, “She’s cutting herself because she loves me so much.” To later being told by his mother that “you should be on medication because you're not well,” in a way that was more so her being malicious then honest concern. And then his next girlfriend pitying you for “not succeeding that last time but hoping you cut deeper the next.” Yeah, it still hurts to think that people could be so cruel. That someone so vulnerable, someone who feels so unwanted and unloved could hear such shit from people, people I now know don’t matter, but once did and it still stings.
When I was 19/20 I almost died. I didn’t know it at the time, but all these years later I know that I had a minor drug overdose. A good friend of mine at the time was equally having a rough time. His mother, one of the most remarkable women I've ever met, was riddled with cancer and he was trying to understand his sexuality. I practically lived with him for about a month. I say a month but it really could have been a completely different span of time but I was so high that I honestly can't remember. My mother and I weren’t in a good place so I’d visit him and his mother, and he and I would stuff ourselves with any leftover medication she may have had. At this point in time, I would cry to myself and beg to God to let me die, that I couldn’t take it anymore to please “just let it all go away.”
I'm not sure why I woke up that morning but I did. I remember feeling as if I was pulling myself out of a deep dark hole and I couldn’t move my body. I would feel fine if I just laid there, but it was a different sort of fine, not the fine you feel on days when you're so exhausted and hit the bed, it was different, almost too serene, and I panicked. I managed to move my arm and it was as if the walls started to crumble around me, I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to move my ass off the couch and into the bathroom. The rest is a blur, but I made it out and alive. I've only ever told 3 people this story before today and one of those people was my best friend's father who told me it “sounded like an overdose” something that once realizing this years later made me panic and made me aware of just how bad it really was. I was in such a dark place that I self medicated to the point where I almost died. Shortly after this happened I knew something needed to change. It didn’t happen right away, in fact it took about another year but it was that moment, that morning when I realized that I really wasn’t ok, that I needed to work on myself.
Over the years I have read about numerous celebrities that suffer with mental illness. As I grew older the more their stories of talking about their mental health made rounds on my computer screen. I found their courage to be so moving and frankly, inspirational. I saw people that I admired coming out and telling me that they were survivors and that they were ok with the cards God dealt them. Their stories helped me realize that I'm ok and that I am normal and it gave me strength. When Robin Williams died, I cried like I’ve never cried before. It was a mix between tears for a hero and tears for a fellow brother who just couldn’t take it anymore. It still hurts knowing that he was so pained that he felt he needed to take his own life.With the news of his passing, I kept thinking, “Holy shit, that could be me.” making the reality of the situation so heartbreaking.
A few days after he passed I took to social media to write about mental illness and how it needs to be treated just like any other disease. It took the death of a hero, a fellow artist who planted smiles to make others feel ok to finally speak out about it.
Culturally, Hispanics don’t take mental illness seriously, so much so that when I was seeing my therapist, my mother kept it a secret from the family because “they won’t get it.” Because of this way of thinking, I kept my struggles to myself, which is far more dangerous that one can understand. Once you admit to yourself and others that this is a real issue that should be addressed and because you have it doesn’t make you crazy, words like insane and even crazy won’t be used so nonchalantly.
A year ago this fall I told my story to a minor crowd that was present at a final for a class of mine at Rutgers and I continue to share how I live with depression and anxiety and I am ok with it. I know that it makes people uncomfortable, I know that a lot of people laugh at me because of it, many think I am weak but I do not care. Something happened to me that morning years ago, something that proved to me that I am in fact not weak. Surely I second-guess myself to the point where it eats at my brain. Yes there are days where I can't get out of bed, or I am so angry that I can't control my emotions, surely my friendships go through turbulent stages and yes all these things make me feel badly sometimes so badly where I can sense myself backtracking. The fact that I don’t and the fact that I can admit to others and myself when this happens and talk about it openly, proves that I am strong and I am not sorry.
Just like I needed to read stories on Robin Williams or Carrie Fisher openly discussing their mental illness and laughing about it saying, “Yes, I deal with this, so what? I'm still a fucking badass!” I know that there are others out there who need me to tell them the same. The more we normalize mental illness and speak about it unapologetically, then it will be taken seriously. Suicides won't be looked at like the selfish way out, physically harming yourself wont look like an attention seeking action, taking to drugs and alcohol won't make you look like an aggressive asshole. I know it makes people uncomfortable when I say I live with depression, but it makes me more uncomfortable to know that there is someone out there who feels alone, because I've felt alone and it’s the worst.If me being open about my struggles makes you uncomfortable, I really just don’t give a shit and for that, I am NOT SORRY.
About the photo:
My photograph was taken at the Palisades Interstate Park. The park is huge and runs along the Hudson River well into New York State. It is a great place to hike because you’re able to enjoy the “great outdoors” while also being so close to the city. It’s really the great escape, which is why I chose this place.
I’ve been going here since I was a kid, not to hike but rather to enjoy a nice family picnic while we blast salsa music and play soccer. I started hiking here in my early 20’s and it will probably be my favorite hiking spot at least until I hike the Black Forest in Germany. I like going here because it almost feels like this great secret that only a few people know of. Even though you're right outside the city, you feel so far away and at peace. I have had so many great conversations while hiking here and it’s as if those conversations stayed amongst the trees and come back to me when I return. Here was also the first time I came face to face with a deer and even he seemed so at peace that he wasn't bothered by my finding the need to take a picture two feet away from his face.
I love the forest and being amongst the trees for various reasons. Perhaps it’s Disney’s and Pocahanta’s fault for making me have this insane fascination and honest affection for trees and where they reside. I believe trees are closely linked to this childhood fantasy of my being a happy beautiful princess, or hunter, like Katniss on days when I'm feeling feisty. I have just also felt at home and at peace while in the forest surrounded by trees and bushes. It is the only other place, aside from being onstage, that I feel insanely happy. That’s why I took Tracey here, I wanted her to experience the beauty and serene feelings that I feel when being there, walking along a grass covered path, standing in a cave like tunnel hidden to the world surrounded by greenery and serene silence.