With today being the last day of May, and before we kick off festivities for Pride Month, I wanted to take an opportunity to recognize Mental Health Awareness Month.
Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed during the month of May throughout our country since 1949 as a way to raise awareness about mental health. It's a way for individuals who fight and struggle through mental health issues to find support and to help educate others.
There is absolutely a need to advocate for those policies that can help the millions who find themselves in a never-ending battle against anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-doubt, self-worth, and other afflictions.
That's why I want you to be aware... that I am not a stranger to this struggle.
Talking about it is useful for so many of us to help fight the stigma. Opening up to you on this topic is all at once difficult, cathartic, helpful, and freeing. Honestly, this is one of the hardest things I've ever had to write, but by doing so -- believe me, it's helping.
The oft-quoted line to "check on your strong friends" is not meant to be just a bumper-sticker-ready slogan, but a reminder to always reach out to your friends and family members -- even if you believe they are doing okay. Reach out to them. Ask them how their day has been, what they've been up to, the last movie they saw... really anything to get a sense that they are in a good place, and in a good space.
Often times, we never know the inner-struggle of someone we care about either just based on outside appearance or how we perceive them to be in a brief passing moment. Without oversharing and diving into every single detail about my personal life (it's probably kinda boring actually), I did want to provide an opportunity to give you a small glimpse into what it's like to walk in these particular shoes.
If you also happen to struggle sometimes, or know someone who struggles, my hope is that by sharing my experience maybe this will prove helpful to you or someone you may know.
** This will serve as a trigger warning in the event you are sensitive to mental health struggles. **
For those who know me best, you will know that the last year has been particularly hard. Beyond atrocious. I never want to have to endure this kind of pain ever again, but that might be asking for too much.
If you only knew how difficult it has been to stand strong as a pillar of emotional support for my parents, close friends, and other family members as so many of them seemed to suffer through some horrendous personal struggles.
Collectively in the last year, they've had to experience either bigotry, discrimination, multiple job losses, car thefts, hate, character assassination, food and housing insecurity, hospital visits, depression, and/or some other negative affliction. It was not a good time to be me or a member of my family in 2022. Anything that could go wrong did, and the physical and emotional toll of being there to help support them quickly took its toll and added to my own personal struggles.
Last year, on a visit to see my grandmother in New Orleans, my family had warned me about her deteriorating health. It was something I had mentally put aside because the idea seemed so foreign to me -- until having to face a reality I was not at all prepared for.
My grandmother, sitting in a chair on the lanai of my aunt's house, holding her growing, months-old beagle puppy, and looking at me like I was a stranger.
She didn't recognize me.
She didn't remember my name.
She confused me with my cousin.
She thought I still lived in Houston.
It took about 2 hours while we were visiting before she could process and remember details of who I was.
There was a sense of fear, a sense of loss, a sense of confusion, a sense of anger, a sense of indifference, and a sense of the unknown that slowly started to eat away at me.
Throughout the entire visit, I started recalling all those core memories: Growing up in our house in Houston, her cooking, her laughter when she watched Jay Leno, when we went to the movies, when we tried new restaurants, all those wonderful memories of the family trips we took across Texas, to Disney World, and to Europe.
That one day in Venice where she took a photo of me after a pigeon landed on my head in the middle of St. Mark's Square. It crapped on me immediately after she took the photo. (Yes, this was a happy memory. She told me it was a sign from the Roman gods. Don't judge.)
Eventually that day, we went to a seafood restaurant right off the Westbank Expressway, and while we were eating I noticed my grandmother smiling at me... and all I could think about was wanting to be a kid again because I didn't want all those memories to fade and go away.
The trip to visit her wrecked me. Flying back to San Diego was torturous. All I could think about was trying to reconcile with the idea that I was losing my grandmother. She raised me, and it damn near broke me wondering if she'll ever fully know how grateful I am for her.
Upon coming back to San Diego, another fresh round of emotional hell started. There was more terrible news. Another day later, there was another distressing phone call. My mom called me the day after that with more bad news. On and on... the bad news just didn't stop... culminating in a day that I will never forget.
It was an otherwise ordinary day in sunny San Diego. I had received another somewhat stressful phone call so I decided to take a late morning walk to clear my mind. The sun was shining, birds were chirping, there were no clouds in the sky. How could this possibly be a bad day?
Except, very slowly, it felt like my heart was unraveling.
I wanted to cry. Only, there were no tears.
My body tried to breathe-in deep, but couldn't.
I needed to sit down, but there was no bench or chair nearby so I started pacing... but, to where? I didn't know where to go. I didn't know where to walk to. I didn't know if I could walk or what it felt like to move my legs.
For a brief second I didn't know where I was. Was it fear? Was it dread? Feeling paranoid, but about what? Thoughts of nothing started racing through my mind. My body was shaking. I was hyperventilating. Couldn't breathe. Couldn't catch my breath. Looking around to try and find something but I didn't know where to go, what to do, or what words were. It was all a blur.
All I remember was staring at the ground, falling to my knees, and letting out a visceral sound that will always haunt me. An emotional response I can't fully explain or ever want to hear again.
In that moment -- I had never felt my whole world stop the way it did. Never had I felt so isolated and so alone than in that point in time.
The enormous weight of having bottled up so many emotions, so much trauma, so much emotional baggage that I've experienced... that I've had to endure and suffer through for years... that it broke me.
After what felt like an eternity, I was able to calm down and re-center.
The aftermath of this moment was the revelation that was finally necessary to ask one of life's toughest questions: Can someone please help me?
This was the tipping point that led to enrolling in therapy for the first time. In some ways I'm thankful it got me to this point, but in other ways it really would've been helpful to do this a lot sooner.
Over the last six months, I have been attending regular sessions to work out and address 30+ years of issues and trauma dealing with abuse, anxiety, bullying, depression, feelings of helplessness, being a victim of sexual assault and harassment, self-confidence, and self-worth.
While six months of therapy is a good start, it will not erase the pain and suffering of all my experiences over the last 37 years. However, it has helped me open up about this past trauma and has tremendously provided clarity towards a path forward.
I was diagnosed with Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety.
I share all of this with you -- not because you really need to know everything about my personal struggles -- but, for some perspective and insight into why mental health awareness is important, and why talking about it can be healthy.
Prior to my diagnosis, the constant battle between confusion and fear would lead me to overthink about everything. About whatever this thing was that had been slowly eating away at me for years. I didn't know what it was, had no idea how to pinpoint stressors and triggers, and just continued to ignore it.
Now that I've learned more about myself through this process, it's helped me with being more aware of stressors that allow me to best cope with these anxiety issues bubbling underneath the surface.
Yes, this is a much healthier way to approach life.
We often pat ourselves and others on the back when they go the gym or start an exercise routine to get their bodies into shape. Whether it's to feel better about one's self and/or make necessary changes for health reasons. If you've put in the effort to lose weight or get in better physical shape, it's much more widely accepted to be a good thing, right?
And it is, don't get me wrong. Lord knows my chunky butt needs to ease up on the snacks and sodas.
However, when those of us who do struggle find the courage to open up about our past trauma as a way to get in better mental shape, society has not often been as kind. Largely stigmatized as a way to make us feel not "normal" and leaving some of us feeling left behind. Some of us feeling caught in a never-ending loop of self-doubt because there will be some people who will either tell us either to our face, or to others, that we aren't good enough.
That we'll never amount to anything.
That we're mentally disturbed.
Or, they look down on us as broken individuals, and knowing this, will use that as an opportunity to kick us when we are down... sometimes at our lowest point.
Truth be told the individuals who act this way are the ones who should also look into therapy, but probably haven't or won't.
Opening up to talk about mental health can be vulnerable, and those who hate me the most may take advantage of this vulnerability by using it as a way to attack and continue reinforcing the stigma. That's a conversation I look forward to. Sometimes you can be your strongest self when you're vulnerable.
Society tells us to never judge a book by it's cover -- because some folks haven't taken time to read the pages inside.
For all of this, I would strongly encourage reaching out and asking for help. It took me years to arrive at a point where I could, and as previously mentioned it really should've happened sooner.
If you have the ability to schedule a session to talk to someone through your employer's assistance program, or through your medical insurance, or through a provider please look into it.
Again, we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month as a way for those of us who fight and struggle through mental health issues to find support and to help educate others. The stigma needs to be broken so that we can collectively advocate to help the millions of us who feel the struggle every day.
My hope is that by sharing this small experience maybe this will prove helpful to you or someone you may know.
If you have ever felt at any moment that you were lost and alone in the world, you are not alone.
If you have ever felt like there wasn't someone you could talk to, you are not alone.
If you have ever felt the pressure and weight of your world try to suffocate you, you are not alone.
You are not alone.
I am just one example out of millions who feel the struggle.
Yes, the struggle is real -- and, I'm still standing.
And so are you friend.
For truth, justice, and a better tomorrow...
Ryan Trabuco (he/him/his)
San Diego Democrats fo Equality