By: Yesenia Flores Díaz
I will never forget hearing my baby’s cry for the first time just seconds after delivery and being told: “It’s a girl!” Immediately, I thought, “I gotta fix myself,” because she would look to me as her primary role model for the rest of her life. I was keenly aware that I had to look inward, and hold myself accountable for every action and word, if I wanted to be the mother she deserved.
From the outside, one might easily assume I had it all when she was born. I was 30-years old and had recently celebrated over a year of wedded bliss with her dad. We were homeowners, working full-time, insured, and living comfortably. However, the journey to get there was far from a piece of cake for me.
Six years prior, I tried, and failed fortunately, to end my life. Mental health professionals call it mental illness, attempted suicide, or a result of bi-polar disorder. Thinking back to that unforgettable time in my life, the painful secret I wanted to keep buried but would have to exhume one day, my action was a desperate plea for help after my spirit had been broken.
I have always been a reserved person, my character shaped by a humble beginning in tough environments. Despite life challenges, I felt most at ease around people who looked like me, spoke like me, and shared similar heritage. In my early 20s, when I left home and moved 225 miles south of Brooklyn, I had no idea what it meant to be independent in unfamiliar territory. I was the first in my family to earn a Bachelor’s degree. Figuring out life on my own while attending graduate school at a prominent research university had led to feelings of isolation, sadness, worthlessness, and excessive guilt that rose rapidly to the surface despite countless attempts to mask these feelings.
To this day, I remember all the details of my younger, hopeless self; the clothes and gold hoops I wore, the shameful but silent burden I carried, and sad eyes that stared back at me from the mirror. At age 24, I felt incredibly overwhelmed as if the walls of the tiny, 500-square foot studio apartment I rented were closing in on me.
One afternoon in early October, with my back facing the windows, indifferent to the sunlight pouring in, and unmoved by the smiling faces in framed photos and other sentimental keepsakes lovingly placed throughout that served as a reminder of how far I’d come and the life I’d begun to create for myself, I faced a glass of water and a 360-count white bottle of Advil, 200 milligrams, with a blue label that clearly indicated its use for pain relief and fever reduction.
I opened the bottle and took one pill after another in between gulps of water to wash them down. While doing this, I thought of my parents and my siblings and how much pain I’d cause them. I somehow freed myself from the table to lie down and cry myself to sleep only to be awoken by a psychiatrist who had treated me earlier that year, alarmed by a message I had left for her, calling to ask if I were okay. In between tears, I explained what I did and she told me to stay put because she was calling 911.
Within minutes, a team of first responders appeared at my door and before I knew it, I was rushed to the local emergency room by ambulance for an evaluation. I found myself repeating the same information to various medical staff, feeling sick to my stomach, keeling over, and wanting desperately to return home. I could not stop crying, I was terrified and trying to process the flurry of questions in my mind. At the heart of it all, I wondered how this would affect me for the rest of my life.
The most valuable lesson I learned from this experience is that no one is immune to depression and “genetic, biological, chemical, hormonal, environmental, psychological, and social factors all intersect [and] contribute” to it and many other disorders. Unfortunately, it took this painful experience for me to realize my self-worth and strength. However, I count my blessings for being alive and well today and am thankful for individuals like Rosie Pérez, who wrote about an abusive and unstable upbringing which led to PTSD and depression later in life in a memoir entitled Handbook for an Unpredictable Life, as well as Justin Torres, author of We the Animals, who spoke candidly here about being taken to a psychiatric ward, despite a fellowship to NYU. It is my hope that as more testimonies are shared and voices are used to uplift the downtrodden, fewer youth, especially young Latinas, succumb to these sad statistics.
Yesenia Flores Díaz, born and raised in New York City of Puerto Rican descent, is an aspiring author who credits her passion for reading and writing to her parents and elementary school librarian. Through her work, Yesenia hopes to offer inspiration to others and shed light on issues affecting the Latino community. Her personal essays have been featured on New Latina and La Respuesta, and she is currently working on a memoir.