I was asked to share a reflection at the NAMI Walk here in Athens. Unfortunately, I was battling a cold and was not able to actually to attend but I was able to share my reflection with the walk organizers and it was read for me at the beginning of the walk. My thanks to NAMI for the invitation and for all the work they are doing locally and nationally to support all those living with mental illness.
NAMI Athens Walk 10/19/19
Thank you for the invitation to be here. I would like to ask us to take a moment of silence in memory of the 21 trans people murdered this year in the the United States … lives silenced but not forgotten. We remember the dead and recommit to ending the violence.
Again thank you for the opportunity to be here today. Many thanks to Tina and to all who have made today’s walk possible. My name is delfin, I am a board member with the Southeastern Ohio Rainbow Alliance…I am a queer and trans Latinx activist of faith who has come to call Athens my home and I live with clinical depression.
I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
These words from the song “This is Me” have become my battle cry to living into wholeness. I share a snippet about myself not for people to feel bad for me or to take pity on me. I am not ashamed of my mental illness; for as long as I can remember depression has been a part of my life. Whether it was witnessing the mood swings in my family or becoming aware of my own ups and downs, mostly downs…the mental health rollercoaster has always been a part of my journey, but a part that was to be hidden, never discussed or acknowledged. We were to pray it away, look the other way, and live as if it didn’t exist. I don’t blame my family…like many families experiencing the realties of multiple generations of trauma, we were simply trying to survive and get by.
I share two moments that continue to be sources of pain and transformation:
- While in grad school, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after many years of struggling with suicide and reaching a point where ideation was close to becoming an attempt.
- This past year has not been easy for me after being fired from a job I gave my life to and publicly humiliated through lies and misinformation.
Both times I spiraled…I shut myself off and retreated from my beloved, my family, my friends, and ultimately myself. Both times I was reminded that though I had given up, those around me had not given up on me. I received text messages, phone calls, emails, facebook posts … I was flooded with affirmations that were and continue to be overwhelming and wholizing. Initially I felt undeserving of this support and solidarity. However I soon began to realize that all of us deserve to be reminded that we are not alone, that our stories matter, and that hope is very real.
Living with mental illness … being neurodivergent … being messed up … whatever terminology folks want to use is not a weakness. Society says that we are broken, that we can be punchlines, we can be scapegoated for the violence in our country, that we need to be diagnosed to the margins. Research studies claim that if we discuss suicide we risk pushing people into attempting and/or completing suicide. However, I say to all of this “Hell NO!” We need to break, shatter, dismantle the silence and stigma around mental illness. Silence is lethal, silence is deadly. When we cover up we send a message filled with shame and blame that our struggles are meaningless. By breaking the silence and openly discussing mental health realities we create space for those struggling to also keep living…to connect to resources…to come to live into healing by realizing that one is not alone and there is no reason to hide pieces of who we are.
By sharing our stories we are not seeking pity … we are seeking pride and we are seeking solidarity. The simple yet powerful act of breathing here today is an act of courage, resilience, and shatters the silence.
To those of you who like me find facing the world to be a little overwhelming at times … you are not broken … we are not worthless. Our scars, those visible and especially those not seen by the world, are not marks of shame or humiliation, they are reminders that people, situations, perhaps life as a whole tried to break us, but we kept and we keep fighting.
Frozen’s “Let it Go” became an anthem for many of us, a song about breaking free from things that hold us down. In spanish, the lyrics are somewhat different. Rather than let it go, it translates into Spanish and then back into English as “I am free … the cold is also a part of me.” We are often diagnosed and told to feel ashamed for living with mental illness. No…hell no. There is no place for shame or burdening even more those of us who are hurting. The cold, the dark, the pain is a part of us but it does not define us and that is where freedom resides.
I am mindful that asking for help is not easy for many us. I was raised by a very stubborn Cuban mother who taught me to only depend on myself and my own ability to
overcome obstacles. Both my mother and I and many others are realizing that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is not shameful…it is courage, it is badassery, it is thriving. We all deserve to be loved and celebrated and deserve for that love and celebration to be shared with us when we are hurting and when we are not hurting. We are not alone…there are others who are living stories similar to our own and there are others who are willing to be in the trenches with us. Some times its a relative, friend, coworker…some times its a person who we don’t know but whose voice on the other end of the call or text keep us grounded. Resources like NAMI, Hopewell, Integrated Services, Natural Freedom Wellness Center, CPS, the Trevor Project, the Trans Lifeline are all resources we can turn to. They may not be perfect, but they are there and like us are trying.
To our allies and accomplices … thank you for your patience, presence, and persistence. I am mindful that living with a person who interacts with the world differently from you can be challenging and draining. I am thankful to my beloved for sticking with me and being with me at my rawest, most vulnerable, darkest place. I know my ups and downs take a toll on him. You may be the first person we go to when we are hurting, your help can be going with us to an appointment or making a call to a hotline with us. Just like we need to ask for help, you too can ask for help not only when we hurt but also to make sure you are receiving affirmation, love, and solidarity when you hurt. Learn the resources to not only help those close to you when something is beyond your ability to help but also to help yourself when things are getting to be too much. In the words of RuPaul, “if you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else.”
I close with this reflection from To Write Love On Her Arms: “As we challenge stigma and fight for those hurting, there is a good chance it will feel uncomfortable or even oppressive at times. But hope is defiant. Hope refuses to see growth denied, it refuses to be complacent with a sigh or shrug. Hope is confident that tomorrow does indeed exist. It is an evergreen reminder that things can get better if we try, if we fight, if we don’t give up. You have embodied this hope already; just by waking up you have defied all the factors that have sought your story’s premature ending. There is a boldness in your breathing, a spark still within you that threatens the darkness you’ve known. And even on the days you don’t see it, know that we do. And know that we will always hold that hope for you. You matter. Your story is important. You are not alone.”
We may be bruised and scarred, but we are here and we are free! Muchas gracias, si se puede.