When you ask a lot of Latinx “como estas?*” their usual response will be “en la lucha/luchita.” We have an understanding of ourselves in relationship to our struggle that is in our make up. This particular understanding takes a whole new meaning, when you grow up with mental health illness that is un-discussed, undiagnosed, un-medicated, and untreated (because there is a difference).
Many of us have some sort of family history with mental illness, what with all the wars and poverty that are rampant in our countries; mental illnesses are almost a byproduct of colonization and the dehumanization our people have faced for hundred of years.
My grandfather committed suicide in his early 40s. I have an uncle who possibly came back from our civil war with PTSD, and became an alcoholic and died from being passed-out drunk in the street and a car ran over his drunken body. I have another uncle who also went to war and suffers from what I can only call a dissociative disorder and his wife crushes sleeping pills into his dinner every night because he becomes “loco.” I have an aunt (or rather, my moms cousin but you grow up calling her aunt) who poisoned herself after her husband was killed in a car crash. I have another aunt, who is clearly suffering from some sort of personality disorder, but nobody talks about it, we just keep our distance. We even call her indemoniada, but nobody suggests therapy or mental illness as a clear definition.
Locx, is something that is said often, in many of our households. To call someone locx is to speak of them dismissively, but never as an actual proactive indicator that will influence anyone to treat and/or approach a person with any sort of care for their mental state.
I grew up knowing locxs, but never knowing what you’re actually suppose to do when you’re la loca. You see, my anxiety sort of came out of nowhere. Meaning, there was no warning and nobody could tell me what to do about it. I had suffered bouts of it younger, where I got body tremors. These intense reactions came up in tense situations. Yet when I was younger, these bouts of anxiety were never something that felt out of hand, it all never felt unmanageable. I had read, in high school, that touch and hugs (physical pressure around my body) helps – so I learned that I was to ask my mami for a long tight hug when I felt a little bit “off;” because there was no name for what I was going through when you do not talk about mental illness in your familia.
But then I had my first miscarriage. I was starting my second trimester and the baby just died, inside of me. I had to experience passing a dead fetus, naturally. After that experience, I shaved my head and fasted for two years. I did not call it depression then, but I know now that I was severely depressed. But somehow I made it out of that.
Four years later, I left my then husband. My anxiety attacks became so bad that I began sweating through my clothes and shaking so hard that my teeth were visibly chattering whenever I was triggered to think about my new status as a single (word association: alone) woman. And then I knew I had to seek help. Because I could not sit still, and I could not stop crying, and I felt like I was a walking corpse. I did have a problematic internalized aversion to taking meds for this particular condition, though I also had a prescription for some for those moments when I could not deal. Yet dealing with it, talking about it, was the first time I stopped feeling loca and felt like a person again. Having someone affirm that I was going through an awful situation meant that I could finally stop fighting it all, and focus on healing. I could finally work on avoiding or managing triggering situations.
Currently, I do not have health insurance, so it is hard to tell loved ones that you need space because you know you’re having an anxiety attack because they think you should be able to pray/think/breathe through it. That somehow if I focus enough, and try hard enough, then I can get through this period in my life. But they don’t know that telling me that I have to put this unfathomable effort into something that feels impossible is one of the worst things you can tell someone with anxiety: it makes me more anxious!!!
My family hears the words coming out of my mouth, concerning my mental illness, but they do not understand it. I know that now, but at least I also know that I am not dismissively loca, but proactively loca. I am a functioning loca, with a deep desire to be and exist, in a cultura, where we do not talk about this particularly rampant but undiscussed, undiagnosed, unmedicated, and untreated reality.
* I do not italicize Spanish, because to italicize is to accent the foreign language, and since Spanish is not foreign to me nor to the majority of my intended readers, I will not "other" what is familiar to us for grammatical points.
Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez is a chonga Mujerista from Managua, Nicaragua currently living in Miami, FL. She recently graduated with her Masters from Vanderbilt University, and is looking to take some much needed time off to refresh. She is also the founder of Latina Rebels, a blogger for HuffPo Latino Voices, and a columnist/editor at Chica Magazine. Her interests are within biopolitics as it relates to Latina embodiment, specifically concerning models of conquerable flesh around narratives of naturalization for women of color. Thus her work is around reclaiming and upholding embodied resistance, particularly within chonga and chola subcultures. Que viva la mujer!