Dear Diary,

I was about 10-years-old when I was running errands with my mom. We were driving through our neighborhood and down Vermont Avenue. It was just the two of us–my three younger siblings were at school. My mom asked me how I was feeling, because she had noticed that I was quieter than usual. At this time, I was dealing with an abusive adult in an abusive household. Like many, I was taught not to complain about my problems, so I told her that I didn’t feel like talking to anyone and wanted to be left alone.

What she told me next is something that I will never forget. I always remember her words when I begin to feel helpless and powerless.

What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

It’s a phrase we are all too familiar with, unfortunately, but at the time, I thought it was the answer to my problems. And through the years, I looked to these words to dust the dirt off my shoulders and get myself back up again. I felt this way throughout the my adolescence and early adult years. My mom told me that warm day in Los Angeles, that no matter what I was going through, I had to be strong enough to get through my own problems. She told me that no one could ever solve my problems for me, and as women, we couldn’t depend on anyone to help us, especially men.

I was in my early 20s when I realized my mom’s advice wasn’t good advice at all. It was how she survived her own abuse as a child, teenager, mother and woman. I decided that it was no longer my solution.

I didn’t want to be strong anymore. I wanted to deal with my problems and overcome them, instead of pushing it down inside me and convincing myself that I was stronger. If anything, I was more messed up! But this is when I began to understand.

I am a working class, woman of color and we do not have time to deal with our emotional problems. Too many things are at risk: children need to eat and be educated, money needs to be made and if our energy or time is spent on anything else, it’s not important. My family is led by my grandmother, the matriarch, and with her, there is no room for nonsense- none. Put on some lipstick and get it together.

This is how my mother and grandmother lived, for the most part it has been effective and has helped me gain success as a student and professionally, which has also made my mother and grandmother proud, but it isn’t enough for me. I have never actually cared for myself before. I never learned how and now in my 30s, I’m starting to try.

I had two toddlers and I was pregnant with my (unexpected) third, when I lost my job. I was 5 months pregnant. The weight of caring and providing for three small children was more than overwhelming. I t was consuming me. My childhood insecurities resurfaced and the fear of failing as a mother and a woman became an uncontrollable anxiety.

I started sleeping with my 18-month old during her midday naps. I was constantly wondering and contemplating when I could sleep more or how to fit it in, because I felt exhausted. My cell phone was on, but answering phone calls or even returning a text was like a chore. I was isolating myself and I didn’t know it. I just felt like I didn’t have the energy to do anything. I was struggling with my own kids, how could I deal with other people? I blamed it on my pregnancy. I was like this for a good 6 weeks, and one day, at my sister’s wedding reception, I just started weeping at my table, as discreetly as possible.

It hit me all at once, and I never saw it coming. The entire day, I was trying to keep up the small talk with family, and after almost two months of isolation, it was emotional and social overload. I couldn’t handle it, and I had a panic attack. Even after that it took me another month to finally convince myself that I should talk to someone. I was too ashamed to talk to my family to admit that I needed help. I reached out to my partner, and he tried to comfort me in the only way he knew how: reminding me of our beautiful children and telling l me that I could get through it. Umm… but I was definitely past the point of a “chin-up” conversation. He didn’t get it and I couldn’t explain it to myself much less to him. I felt like I sank another foot deeper in the hole I was already in and deeper into motherhood and depression.

I told him a few days later that I had decided to go to therapy. I can tell he wanted to be supportive, but instead he ¬†asked me if I thought it would really help and if it was worth the time. Another foot deeper. I have to say, I wasn’t looking for his approval. I was looking for some support, and when I could barely get out of bed to take my son to school and hadn’t showered in a few days, I really could have used it. I’m still not sure if he even realized it or saw any of the signs that I was struggling.

Eventually, I made it to a prenatal appointment. It was the end of my visit when the doctor asks, if he could answer any questions or concerns. I couldn’t even open my mouth, but even if I had, the words weren’t there. I just shook my head. It wasn’t until the next appointment that I told him what I was feeling, that day changed everything, because I no longer recognized myself.

After some sessions with a therapist, I felt better. I wasn’t cured- I may never be, but I began to take better care of myself and the process of healing and self-care began.

My prenatal depression then became postpartum depression, but I didn’t give up on myself. It was still challenging, now with 3 kids, but I knew that I couldn’t be the mom I wanted to be if I didn’t take care of myself. I have to say, it took me a few months to admit to my family that I was in therapy, but I realized that if someone had talked to me about their own experiences with depression or treatments, it may not have taken me so long to get help and I wouldn’t feel any shame. So now, I talk about it. I’m not proud of being depressed, but I figure even if it may seem taboo to talk about with family or friends, someone will know they’re not alone.

I urge friends and family to be supportive, in any way possible because even the smallest gestures could be so meaningful to someone. As women of color, it is our responsibility to empower each other, challenge each other and take care of each other. I sought professional treatment, and can finally say I feel like myself again. This was the answer for me. There’s no cookie cutter type of depression, so there can’t be a cookie cutter solution, but I have learned that if you don’t take care of it, it will stay there, linger and get worse. For some it’s nutrition, for others it’s their pastor or priest, whatever it is that helps can save someone’s life.

About The Author

Marcelle Alvarado
Multicultural Mom

Marcelle is a mom raising four children all under four with her partner in Los Angeles, CA. She writes about issues impacting Latino mothers and entertainment. She loves motherhood, which has proven to be the greatest challenge and highest privilege in her life. When not writing for DFTM, Marcelle blogs at Chicana Momma. A former labor organizer, Marcelle is committed to working on social justice issues for the working class and women of color.

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