How Mental Health Affects My Relationship (Series)

Illustration by Sam Liacos.

Words by Tania Peralta. Art by Sam Liacos.

Some of us are born with mental health issues that are out of our control. Other times, our geographic, familial, and social experiences bring these conditions forward that also are often out of our control. What is in our control is how we recognize and tackle these issues as individuals and as a community. Mental health issues may instantly affect us: streams of tears after hearing bad news or anxiety whenever someone raises their voice. It may linger throughout your whole life. It may pop up years, even decades, later, when you can’t figure out why you’re unable to practice love the way you’d like to.

We are a generation that is trying to break from the cycles of silence on mental health that our parents and grandparents lived through. In being open and learning about our own mental health we can reclaim the internal peace we all deserve. With this ongoing series, consisting of essays, we hope you can find comfort in familiar situations from real people, their stories, and personal advice. By learning and tackling mental health individually and as a community, we can collectively repair and re-build healthy relationships.

Entry 10: “I run away from love or I question it to its death.

Growing up, I was shy and reserved. I was able to make friends, but failed relationships, among my family, affected how I loved romantically. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety from a young age. My family was so broken that it made me feel broken. They made me question if love was real, if the love I gave was real, and if others’ love was real. My father has barely been in my life or shown me that he cares.

I was constantly drunk or on drugs. I’ve always been an intelligent person, but I would suppress my depression and anxiety with various vices. I once cheated on a girl I dated. I knew it wasn’t right, but I went through with it anyways. I pushed her away. I sabotaged the relationship. My issues made me feel like no one could really ever love me enough to stay with me.

I’ve been dating my boyfriend for some years now. But as much as he’s done for me, my depression and anxiety places loneliness before him, from time to time. I push him away, then invite him back in. I think, Why do you even love me? I isolate myself and write. The only way I’ve been able to stay mentally healthy is through words. I’m the most messed up person I know, but I’m also the strongest.

Aware of my relationship with my family, or lack thereof, helps to process why I didn’t feel loved properly by past lovers; I didn’t know how love should feel. I’m not blaming anyone, but what you go through in life plays a huge role into molding who you become, and it depends how you react to it.

I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in my sophomore year in college, and that’s when I hit rock bottom. I woke up one morning, completely half paralyzed on my right side of my body. I couldn’t walk, speak, or think properly. I was in the hospital for a month. I used a wheelchair at first, then gradually moved to walking with a cane. I had a lot of time to reflect. I had to re-learn my movements, knowing I was diagnosed with a disease I’ll have forever. Depressed and drowning in emotions I no longer could handle, I turned to spirituality. Life is short and thinks can change quickly; I was living proof. Over time, I arrived at happiness. I was in a good state of mind for a year and a half, and was sober for once.

I hadn’t ever been this happy. I moved to the city, got a job, and started writing for a handful of music blogs. My relationships were going well too. Life was amazing. I was thankful–blessed even–for my struggles. I still am.

But still, to this day, I have trouble accepting that people truly care about me. Depression has been trying to creep up from behind me within the past six months. I question why certain people look out for me, check up on me, why they spend time to help me out, give me opportunities, and love me. Since a child, I’ve always felt like a burden; it led me to writing. Writing is how I navigate through my feelings and heal from my past.

Listening to music, writing, meditating, eating healthy, and breathing exercises help. It’s easy to forget how much we’ve accomplished and how far we’ve come, and in turn we forget to be thankful and proud of ourselves. We’re quick to move on to the next thing. We get lost in our feelings. We forget how powerful we are. Our minds are so powerful. I try to focus on the good and keep my eyes peeled for signs. Every day, I work towards a better, healthier life. –Daniela Campos, 22-year-old half-Spanish, Canadian music writer.

Entry 09:On my first day of school, I looked around at all the new faces that surrounded me and decided that not one would like me.

I had no objective proof of this; I knew that I was un-likeable the same way I knew my eye color. I was 10-years old.

I don’t know where this “truth” of mine came from and why and how it arrived, but I’ve been with it ever since: battled it, screamed at it, and felt trapped by it. Other times I hugged it inwards, towards my soul like a comforting blanket. If nothing else made sense to me, I still had this little seed of an identity: I was un-loveable.

It’s a strange paradox to live in–believing that love is inaccessible and, at the same time, wanting to be loved. After I’d been to therapy and received my diagnosis, the best way I had to explain it to others was, “It means I think my existence is a mistake.” I felt like an impostor, an alien masquerading as a human–and only if I did everything perfectly, made no mistakes, and asked for nothing, I then would avoid the inevitable: someone finding out what I was, pointing at me, and telling the whole world, “I knew it! She doesn’t even go here!”

It’s incredibly hard to open up when having this fear. For most of my life, I assumed that by default nobody I met would ever want to be friends with me. Those who (inexplicably) did, I kept at arm’s length. That’s not possible with romantic partners. The more I open up, the more afraid I become. The blissful part of being in love for me is often a fleeting moment; I’m quickly struck by terror that this might be the person who really hurts me; the person who finds out how worthless I am and who will punish me for making him believe otherwise.

My second boyfriend treated me exactly the way I thought I deserved to be treated. I spent three years being ignored, belittled, lied to, and taken advantage of. I didn’t think it could gotten violent…he hit me once before I drew the line and left. That time is still a thorn in my life that I can’t seem to pull out.

Nobody since then has stayed for very long. Both the emotional scars from that time and my pre-existing mental illness make it incredibly hard to trust people. Each time I fall in love, all the confidence and self-respect I have built over the past decade is wiped away as if it’s chalk. I become weak, fearful, and irritable. I lash out uncontrollably at the tiniest things until we’re both exhausted. Being in love makes me lose the person I’ve worked so hard to become, and in turn the men who fell in love with her. I wonder if I will ever not feel broken.

What helps these days is writing and theater. Nowhere am I more honest than on the stage. By hiding behind a “character,” I can talk openly about the way I feel, without being judged as a person. I’m glad that mental illness has become so widely themed in the arts, and more and more visible to those who might need it. I will never forget the relief the moment I realized that maybe I wasn’t wrong; maybe the wiring in my brain was wrong, and it could be fixed.

I used to think that nothing I did or said mattered; I was a ghost floating through people’s lives without touching them. It has taken a long time for me to realize that the things I do and say affect other people. I have the power to make people both sad and happy. That’s what I focus on these days: I try to write what people can relate to, and I try to be a good person and leave others feeling heard and seen. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to experience the love I wish for, but I will keep trying.” – Anonymous

Entry 08: “I was born to a religious woman who values her faith more than anything, and as much as I admire that about my mother, it caused my family to be stigmatic against mental illness. Even to this day, trying to get her to understand that mental illness is not something that can be prayed away is next to impossible. I grew up believing that whatever problem I had, Jesus could fix it.

At a young age, I discovered that mental illness ran in my family. My grandfather committed suicide before I was born, and when I discovered this for the first time, I didn’t understand why anyone would ever want to take their own life. Then again, this was well before I entered puberty and soon enough my hormones would pull the veil of innocence from my eyes.

After my parent’s divorce, I began to experience a type of sadness and emptiness that I couldn’t seem to get rid of. I described it as despair or nothingness. I began to seek out fellowship in people who I thought would understand why I was feeling this way. My peers had no understanding of how to help me and I began to feel like a burden, so I kept things to myself. Because I was so young, I continuously hoped that what I was feeling was hormonal.

I had been going to this specific school for about three years–as my family moved often and I frequently switched schools–when I began to develop a crush on my classmate. One day, I was at a friend’s and I decided I would text him. I remember I had gotten into a massive fight with my mom and I was feeling really down. When he asked me what was wrong, I opened up and told him about some ongoing issues with my family and how I had been feeling recently. I was sexually assaulted at a young age, and I opened up to him about that as well.

From then on, he took it upon himself to take care of me. We became smitten with each other, and even though we were so young, it felt like we were passionately in love. Considering we had bonded over our shared troubles, it was clear to me that he had some things going on as well.

We began to romanticize the problems that we had. We would discuss different scenarios that could happen when we were older, for example what he would do when I was depressed and if he would ever hit me. He was an extremely angry boy and there were many times at school where he would hurt other boys for looking or talking to me.

He was the strongest and most athletic boy in my class and a lot of people were scared of him. One time, he broke my friend’s arm because we were sitting together at recess. When we would get into arguments at school, he would punch walls and bathroom stalls. Oftentimes, he’d come to class with bloody knuckles and a scowl on his face.

I became accustomed to his behavior and began to normalize it. As he grew possessive over me, I withdrew. Soon enough, the issues in my family became worse and I had to move out. At this point, he would often try to make me choose between him and my family.
One day he came to my aunt’s house when he wasn’t allowed to and demanded I choose him over my mother. I grew distant and one day I looked at him and knew I didn’t love him anymore.

Everyone in our school knew us as the “crazy couple who acts like they’re married,” and I was tired of the cycle of despair and anger we’d go through. It was toxic. A week before our graduation trip, I broke up with him. –Anonymous, 18-year-old Canadian-Italian, Office Administrator.

Entry 07: “My last relationship felt like a tragic symphony of solitude, not because of my significant other, but solely based on how lonely I was. There were days I stayed under my duvet with a half-filled water bottle and box of sleeping pills. At the beginning, the suffering I was enduring was so unbearable that I dug my nails into the first signs of safety and love I saw: him. It didn’t take him long to realize what he had gotten himself into. The constant indecisiveness juxtaposed with me escaping our relationship every chance I got eventually began to suffocate us both.

The psychological pain I was feeling didn’t compare to any physical pain I had endured before. I couldn’t explain to him why I was running away from something we had spent so much time building, or why I would spend days isolating myself from everything and everybody. The more he fought for us, and for me, the more it broke me. I was destroying our relationship, but in the process I was also destroying him. It killed me because I knew he was unapologetically in love with me, regardless of my anxieties that were drowning us. But that’s just it–they were my anxieties, and I alone had to face them.

The temporary bliss of our relationship wouldn’t let me leave him. I was addicted to the intimacy and safety he provided.

I was trapped in a cycle of pushing him away and pulling him back in. There were weeks I’d break up with him maybe three or four times.  One night I felt so detached from myself, so distant from reality, I ended up telling him I wasn’t capable of love. I told him I’d never be able to love him, or anybody, and that’s the person I am. When he wanted to leave, I began crying uncontrollably, unaware of why I had said those things. Every time he’d say “next time I won’t come back,” yet he’d come back every time. Maybe he was addicted to the toxic environment we had created or maybe he still loved me. By that time my anxiety had taken such a strong hold of me, I wasn’t myself, and I can honestly say there wasn’t a single drop of rationality left in me.

I was convinced my anxiety would never let me get married or be in a healthy relationship; something that seemed so implausible for everybody surrounding me, but was an unfortunate reality for me–a reality I had created. Eventually I began to avoid everything and anything that could harm me; including him. There were constant thoughts going through my head. There were times when I’d be driving, end up at my destination, and not remember how I got there. I couldn’t stop thinking, and the more negative thoughts I had, the more isolated myself. In the summer we tried to restart our relationship, hoping something had changed, hoping this time would be different. By then my social anxiety had gotten so bad I didn’t want to leave the house. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and I would try to escape my reality in any way possible. The harm I was doing to my body was drowning me even further. I loved him, I truly did, but I began to unintentionally hurt him, and this time it was different.

With every fight, I watched his love for me fade. His understanding of my health lessened. He began to think it was in my control, like I was doing things purposely. As if my extreme mood changes were controllable or could be fixed by his love. As if I could control the anxious and obsessive thoughts I was having, and how they manifested into me pushing him away. But he was wrong, because in those moments, my end goal was a quick release. I didn’t care about him–I couldn’t care–because I couldn’t feel anything; remorse, guilt, or sadness. I was numb. When you shut off your emotions, they eventually return and when they do, they will single-handedly destroy you–that’s what happened.

I didn’t leave my house for almost two weeks in August. I made excuses to friends saying I was studying or busy. But I was in a constant self-medicating cycle of sleep and euphoria. Everything I had done suddenly came back to me, vividly. I’d close my eyes and repeat the words “I’m sorry,” but to no avail. The damage had been done, and nobody was there to hear my apologies. Nobody was there to hear my screams.

For a little less than a month after, I found myself in a new relationship. The most toxic one you can imagine. He would come to my house and threaten me until I came outside, only to later drop me off in the street with a dead cellphone at 3 AM, and point out every single flaw he believed I had. And yet, because by that time I didn’t love myself, I became attached to this feeble excuse for a man who had no redeeming qualities. My anxiety had made me feel so hopeless and unworthy of love, that I no longer felt compassion and love towards myself. For the longest time I believed these relationships were helping my anxiety, but in reality they were contributing to it. This was a narrative I no longer wanted to be a part of. I was constantly looking for safety and comfort in others until I finally found it in myself, in my solitude.

My symphony of solitude is no longer tragic, but beautiful. I forced myself to get out of bed and seek forms of therapy that would teach me ways to turn my irrational thoughts into rational ones. I forced myself to go out with my friends, and have fun responsibly. But most importantly, I forced myself to focus on me and put both my physical and mental health first. –Nadia T , 23-year-old Turkish and Persian York University student.

Entry 06: “I’ve dealt with social anxiety since I was a teenager. It makes it hard for me to initiate conversation. Because of this,  dating doesn’t come easy for me. It takes me so long to be comfortable around other people, and when I finally am, I’m afraid they might leave me.

My past relationship was an emotionally abusive one, and it took me some time to realize that and come to terms with it. What attracted me to him initially was his outgoing personality because it made him an easy person to talk. (He would do most of the talking anyway.)  I felt like he brought out a part of me that I couldn’t bring out myself, and I depended on him to give me the confidence I needed to socialize. He had a ton of friends, and they accepted me. I didn’t have to do the work myself or socialize and make friends. They just took me in. Then, a side of him came out that I never expected: he would ignore me and call me names in front of his friends, and it made me feel like I couldn’t do anything right.

One of my biggest fears is rejection and embarrassment, and he knew that and used it to his advantage.

Since then, each time I date a guy, I’m afraid that once the honeymoon phase passes–in which they find out about my social anxiety–they’ll become uninterested.

My theory has been proven right a few times. Because of my social anxiety, I think that I sabotage things myself. I have a “get them before they get you” mentality. I give up before I try. I’m afraid of anything that involves intimacy, I’m afraid of people seeing my flaws, and being judged by them. I’m afraid I might come off as annoying or needy. I feel very trapped within my thoughts, and there’ve been times where I’ve isolated myself completely.

I’ve had some horrible coping skills in the past, but right now meditation has worked a lot for me. I try to take ten minutes each day to breathe and not think. It sounds so simple but when you actually sit down and try to clear your thoughts, your mind fights back. It’s a work in progress. Some days I can erase the bad thoughts and some days I can’t. I’ve learned not to hold it against myself. When it comes to dating with social anxiety my best advice is to work on yourself first. Anxiety has a way of messing with your self worth. If you don’t feel worthy of anyone great, you might unintentionally settle for someone not worthy of you.” Angelique Swan, 22-year-old Black, freelance fashion stylist.

Illustration by Sam Liacos.

Entry 05: “It’s so hard for me to break down these walls I’ve enclosed myself in. Rarely, if ever, am I able to find the right words to express the clogged arteries of my being. I never know where to begin.

It’s a lot. This dark shadow, so foreign to my bright nature, overwhelms me. The frustration swallows me, so when he gives me his heart so purely, I throw it back at him, while the strings of my own heart tug at my tired soul.

Give me space. I think I need to be alone…forever.”–An ongoing narrative from me to him. Yet, I plead for him to teach me how to be happy by his side.

I cry to him. There’s a knot of emotions that has made a home out of my stomach, my throat.

This thing between us,” I tell him. “I can’t do it anymore.” I breakdown because I am tired of myself, because he does not deserve this, because the somber energy that invades me has nothing to do with him, yet somehow–every single time–he’s patient. He is calm and he waits for the tsunami to pass until I’m his again.

I ask myself how this man who owes me nothing could love me so unconditionally. I ask myself  how I could have ever considered a life without him.

He didn’t pick me up from here. I’m different from the girl he fell for three years ago when we first started dating. Those who really know would  tell you I’m a tired version of her, wiser yes, stronger (forced to be), but nonetheless, I’m a super worn out version who I used to be.

He’s going through it too, so of course I feel it. I feel what he feels. He’s my other half, so I take it all on–both my pains and his.

Our days are spent in this whirlwind of emotions–weariness, confusion, emptiness, venting, sadness, creating, learning, sharing, laughing, and happiness–all while in love.

The ongoing mental battles and conflicts that I, he, we experience become a heavy load to bare on this romance that we share. I’m thankful for our love and that it’s proven to be, and continues to be, much stronger than our woes. I’m thankful for every time he has reeled me back in when all I wanted to do was go into hiding.

I must keep reminding myself  to take the time to reflect and process my current emotions before reacting at the expense of my partner.

I want to teach myself how to be open, how to open my mind, how to unravel the deepest chambers of my heart–even when he doesn’t have the answers–instead of holding it in and lashing out on him for what may appear to be no reason from the outside looking in.

I know that ultimately I want to work on me, in hopes that it will clear up my clouded mind and comfort my weary heart. It’s about time I begin healing from this sadness that follows me.” –Choltu (@fromherway), 21-year-old Jamaican woman (she/her) and Communications student at York University.

Entry 04: “I was 17-years old. The guy that I was dating at the time ended up getting a football scholarship and he moved to the States. We did long distance for a while, during my last semester of high-school. I think that’s when my relationship started affecting my mental health because I was super sad all the time. No one talked to me at school, but maybe that’s how I saw it. Maybe that was my own doing; it was me putting myself in a corner because I was sad. Sadness started affecting my home life. I wasn’t getting along with my parents. I wanted some sort of escape.

So, I went to the states to be with him because he sold me a love story, a love story that didn’t end happily. Everything he had done while we were apart was revealed once I arrived. He didn’t say it out loud. He didn’t need to, I knew. When I would ask he’d sweep his truths under the rug.

It was bad, but we still talked because he was the only person I had. I wanted to distance myself from him but at the same time, he was my comfort. How we were with one another affects how I am in relationships to this day. I don’t want to be treated as he treated me, but I still seek comfort in a person, even if that person hurts me or I think will hurt me.

I was there for three semesters. I was there for a year and a half, before moving back to Vancouver. We broke up a week or two after I arrived. We were on and off, but I’d still go see him. I moved to be with him and we didn’t even live in the same city. I lived in a town about 40 minutes out of Wyoming, where he was going to school. It was always me. I was always the one to visit, because he had excuses as to why he couldn’t come see me: “I have football,” “I have my career to worry about,” blah, blah, blah, blah.  It was always me putting in the effort. Though, this was his idea. He asked me to move. And when I got there, he pushed me aside and told me he wanted to focus on the “full college experience.” I was hurt. I was mad, so mad. I was like, “I hope every bitch you fuck from now on is dry.”

I’ve never been clinically diagnosed with any sort of mental health illness. I don’t even like the term “illness,” because I don’t think it’s an illness. We all have our own issues when it comes to the state of our mental health.

I was cheated on when I was, what? 17?…I was so young. We were so young. And I knew he was cheating, and I didn’t do anything. Part of why the hurt lingers is because I blame myself too. I blame myself for staying in something that hurt me for so long.

I have trust issues. I can’t just let a lover in. I tell new lovers I don’t trust them. I tell them why. The new lovers respond, “I’m not your ex. I’m not him.” Blah, blah, blah, blah. They’re right, but a part of me, the part of me that hurt, is still guarded.

I wish I would’ve told someone, anyone, when it was happening. At the time, I didn’t tell anyone. I kept it to myself. I played along. I kept up a facade. “Oh yeah! We are good. Everything is fine.” Deep down, I wished someone would pull it out of me. I didn’t know how to communicate that to my friends or my family.

Growing up, my mom would always say, “Quedate callada.” Stay quiet. Don’t say too much. Don’t give yourself to someone completely. There will always be a barrier.

He was one of the many people I’ve loved that have left–that have left me. Whether a lover or a friend, everyone’s left me. My two best friend’s from high-school left town… and I was stuck here. It’s not on them that I feel such way, that I feel stuck, but I do have a fear of being forgotten.

It got bad. While in Wyoming, alone, I’d drink by myself. I’d be sad all the time. I’d try to find happiness in him and after him, I still felt the need to find happiness in another person. It wasn’t until recently, last year, that I realized no one is going to make me happy but myself. I can’t depend on someone else to bring me this comfort or joy that I need.

I write now, and that’s helped me. I like being alone. I like getting to know myself. Finally. I appreciate who I am so that eventually someone else will too. People say “you have to find yourself before you can love someone” but I don’t think that’s entirely true because I don’t think we come to an end point of finding ourselves. It’s constant. It’s a daily thing. I am creating who I am everyday. My mind changes all the time. My feelings change all the time, and that’s fine; it’s about being okay with that. I want to love someone without having to hide parts of myself. –Gaby Ortega (@gabyortega37), 24-year-old Latina (she/her) and a Hispanic/Spanish studies student.

Entry 03: “I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety since the beginning of high school. Early on, I found comfort in music and in the concept of higher awareness and a higher consciousness. I dug into those two things a little bit more to cope with my mental health.

After a long period of drug use, I noticed I had become numb. While I was in a relationship with a wonderful girl, we fought and argued. I was never the confrontational type so by being consistently aloof, I’d brush off all her worries and emotions as if they were dust on the shelf.

It wasn’t until after we broke up that I realized that feeling numb rooted from a subconscious fear of feeling. I was afraid to feel real emotions, real heartbreak, real regret, and real joy [to then not deal]. Ultimately, like all my internet mentors suggest, I traveled inwards. I focused on holistic breathing exercises and various forms of meditation.

The idea that we can attain a higher self has helped me navigate through life. What I’ve noticed is that, in my opinion, we forget how to breathe. How often in our day to day do we take the time to breathe and be aware that we’re breathing? We breathe very shallow; even now, I’m breathing shallow because I’m nervous. But if we take the time to control our breathing and take deep breaths right then and there, we’re more aware.

Let’s say something bad happens and you panic, which is okay. We are biologically equipped to deal with stress. We are supposed to deal with stress. We are hunters and gatherers. We are animals. But as soon as you latch onto that [panic] then it’s just a tornado of negative emotions; that’s when you get these outbreaks over the course of time.

When I was younger, I suppressed all my emotions. It’s not about being serious and robot-like; it’s about being expressive in healthy, beneficial ways. Don’t let those instant unhealthy emotions guide you, because the physiological process of stress is what’s causing you to stress.

If you have these outbreaks or moments where your emotions are all over the place, then let it all out. Let those emotions out because then afterwards you can be like, “okay, this is what happened and that didn’t work out.” Once you let emotions guide your anger then you’re not yourself anymore–You’re just a version of you guided by negative emotions.

Breathing is more important than we realize. Feel the awareness of all your thoughts pouring in, the good and the bad. Know that you always have the choice between love or fear; whatever you choose to feed more, becomes stronger.”  –Pavlé Vujicic (@pavlevuj), 21-year-old Serbian man (he/him) and a Psychology student.

Entry 02: “My family makes me feel like I’m crazy because my beliefs are different than theirs, and in turn I’ve created my own narrative.

We were in the car, and my cousin was being homophobic. To me, it’s simple: you can’t go around spewing homophobic slurs. He went on to make me feel like my words didn’t matter because to my family I’m out of the norm. I’m pro female. He’ll go on about how women are supposed to do this and that, what we need to do to attract good men, and it gets me going.

My mom tells me to not be angry with him because he’s ignorant. The thing is, I love my culture but I will not deny the stigma associated with mental health that’s present among the Jamaican community. We, Jamaicans, are supposed to be strong, especially women. But, you can only be so strong for so long. What ends up happening [once you open up about mental health], in a lot of cases, is that you then get dismissed as crazy and left as that.

In the end, I have to be the one that shuts up, but I can’t take it anymore. My grandfather will talk to us [in] this way and I can’t take it. Everyone’s like, “that’s OK. It’s your only grandfather”–As if that gives him the right to speak to us in that way. I get so angry because I can’t voice myself. It’s always, “you’re not old enough” or “you’re a woman. I’m a man, I know better.” So, I take my mom’s advice and move along.

My voice wasn’t always heard with my family until I started unlearning things and re-learning things. I knew some things couldn’t be accepted. We need to talk about mental health. One of my family members suffers from depression and she has tried committing suicide. I say she needs help and everybody older [than me] dismisses me. We need to get more and more comfortable with talking about mental health. I end up having to go to other people outside of my family for help. I go back to the one in need and tell her that it’s important that we help her right now.

I turn to my family, but they are not ready for these narratives so as a result I end up not having a problem with not speaking to them. But, it hurts. I give them a chance. I explain my opinion, but then I move on. Why do I have to pretend? I love them and we are still a family, but I don’t have to have that negative energy in my life. I don’t want to stay in conversations that make me feel less than human and that I’m crazy.

I have to be strong all the time to help my siblings break from these cycles that deny or worsen our mental health. As a Jamaican woman, I will continue to help my siblings break out of these cycles, but I also know that I can’t ruin my own health along the way.

Personally, I use essential oils to calm me down. I educate myself on the different benefits they can bring me depending on what I’m in the need of at that moment, such as cleansing or relaxation. I enjoy looking at different color palettes. Color range has always brought me comfort. I try to keep a bullet-point journal. I write down in short thoughts what is bothering me, what happened that day, or what I would like to accomplish that day.” Dequiera (@shabazzdq), 21-year-old Jamaican woman (her/she).

Entry 01: “My dad has Parkinson’s disease. He’s in his 50s and when he walks he kind of limps. I think I kind of get it (poor mental health) from my dad. Sometimes he’s not stable in how he thinks. Today, I woke up and I could hear a conversation he was having with my sister and he was telling her that he wants to die. That happened this morning, and after I have to get up and go on with my day. With my parents, we don’t really talk about feelings. I’m very short with them. I’ll walk in and I won’t even say hi to them. They won’t even say hi to me, and it derives from my childhood.

We lived in Saudi Arabia when I was born. When they found out that they were having my sister, they sent me to the Philippines to live with the rest of my family, while they stayed in Saudi Arabia with my sister. We were separated for like eight years and then they came along and then…Sorry I never talk about this. After that, they came to the Philippines and then we all moved to Canada together. I’ve always been distant with them. They always favored my sister, at least that’s how I felt. And so, I never had anyone to talk to–ever. Even my friends never know what I am going through. I think having that [type of] relationship, never being able to express myself or tell people how I really feel like, not even to my family, really fucked me up.

I just got out of a two-year relationship last week. We would fought every week about nothing. I couldn’t figure it out; I still wonder. I know it’s partially me but I can’t communicate properly because I’m always holding stuff in, and you can’t do that in a relationship. If I bottle things in, I will blow up one day. And when I talk about it, I can’t stop from crying. I don’t know why but…I can’t talk without someone having to drag it out of me, because I have always learned to bottle it in.

My recent relationship was a roller coaster. He was my first real boyfriend. In the beginning, it was awesome; there weren’t any fights. He’s a DJ in the city. He cheated on me a bunch of times. I forgave him, right away. I don’t think he ever did it again. But after, with trust being out the window, it made it that much harder because we weren’t on good communication levels.

There was one day…he…he was not picking up his phone. I was with a mutual friend and that friend called him. He picked up and had a full convo with my friend, with me beside him. He (my friend) told him (my ex) that we were together and wanted him to come join us. He knew that I knew he picked up his phone [for him]. I was like, “What are you doing? Why aren’t you picking up my phone call?” And with what had happened in the past, I was worried. I left the party and I drove to his house. I have keys to his place. I was like, “open the door for me.” I didn’t want to let myself in if he didn’t want me there.  He wouldn’t [though]. So, I stormed off. He ran after me. I was so mad. He ran after me and as I was driving off he held on to the door of my car. He tumbled off onto the road and got a bad bruise on his side. He was very hurt. He was scarred from it.

I called my friend. I told her, “I can’t do this (the relationship) anymore. I’m gonna kill myself.” She started freaking out and called him. He started freaking out. So, I drove back. This time, I went in with my key. He had locked himself in his room. I went to grab a knife from his kitchen and he came out like “what are you doing? What are you doing?” Knife at my neck. Next thing you know, the cops are there and it got really bad. We broke up after that, with no closure at all. But it was weird–as soon as it happened, an hour later, I was calm. I went back to the after party and I was calm. I kind of talked about it, but not really. I was just calm.

The day after I acted as if nothing happened. His mom knew. She was like, “you guys are not taking this seriously.” We broke up for a bit and got back together. He’s obviously still traumatized by that experience. He didn’t trust that I wouldn’t do it again. There was another occasion where we got into a huge fight. I knew not to do that shit again, but he called the cops yet again. I wasn’t even at his house, but he was scared because we got in a huge argument. He didn’t know what I was capable of doing. After, we broke up again and got back together. I thought, you’re not cheating again. I’m not doing that again. But there were so many smaller issues that made us both so depressed by each other. We were possessive of each other and sad.

I’d like to share some advice, but to be honest, I’m still figuring it out myself. A good thing I do now is practice what I’m going to say to other people while in my room, before I stand in front of them in real life; it helps me realize what I should and shouldn’t say.” –Anonymous

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