Worthy of Wellness: A Self-Love Letter to Women of Color

As someone who has struggled with mental health issues, I wanted to write a love letter to other women of color as a reminder that you are not alone

Love letter women of color

 Credit: Anna Shvets | Pexels

TW: Suicide

When our community believes therapy is for locos, it’s no wonder seeking help or even admitting the need for help is difficult. Over 10 million Latinxs have reported experiencing mental illness in the United States. Although that number is alarming, the number of Latinxs who actually experience mental illness is much higher given the number of people who don’t (or can’t) self-report, as well as those who are unable to identify their own symptoms. In 2021, The Latino Center for Health conducted a study on depression and anxiety within the Latinx community and found that 25 percent of the participants were likely to experience depression and 36 percent were likely to experience anxiety. I share this data to bring awareness to the serious problem that exists, but also to let people who are struggling know that they are not alone. As someone who has struggled with mental health issues, I wanted to write a love letter to other women of color as a reminder that you are not alone.

Hey hermana,

Let me start by saying that I love you. And on the days that you don’t love yourself (which are more than either of us would like to admit), I love you even more. Mainly because you deserve it, but also because I know what it’s like to need it. I know how it feels to have the weight of the world on your shoulders and desperately wish someone would help you carry it. I know how uncomfortable the mask is that you wear to shield people from what you perceive as weaknesses. I also know the strength it takes to put a smile on your face in an attempt to distract others from the pain in your eyes. My deeply loved hermana, I know what it’s like to suffer in silence. This letter is to let you know that I see you, and you are not alone.

When I was seven years old, my teacher gave us an assignment that required us to describe all the things we loved about ourselves. I remember staring at the blank paper and not being able to come up with a single thing. So, I decided to write about all the things I didn’t like about myself – from the texture of my hair to the size of my waistline. I hated all of it. It was at that time that I also developed an eating disorder, even though I didn’t know what that meant at the time. I started skipping lunch at school, but saw nothing wrong with it given the multitude of dieting commercials and advertisements I was bombarded with on a daily basis. I was willing to do anything not to see the fat girl I thought I saw in the mirror.

This willingness continued to get more dangerous after watching a Lifetime movie about bulimia. Although the movie was supposed to raise awareness and serve as a warning, for me, it became a how-to guide. The idea of being able to hide my actions like I hid my pain was very appealing to a depressed pre-teen girl.

Over the next couple of years, I learned how to perfect the facade that kept people from even suspecting that anything was wrong. In high school, I had straight A’s, was captain of the cheerleading squad, heavily involved in clubs, and dated a popular football player. The American Dream right? More like a silent nightmare. I was still active in my eating disorder, cried myself to sleep on most nights, and had attempted suicide twice. The second attempt landed me in a psychiatric facility. At the time, I was only 17, barely old enough to see an R-rated movie on my own, yet broken enough to want to end my suffering. By any means necessary. I was also old enough to know that women of color don’t get to have breakdowns. We don’t get to show weakness. And we don’t get to ask for help. Those are privileges reserved for white girls.

So even as a teenager, I was able to lie my way out of the hospital because I knew that people who looked like me weren’t supposed to be there. And not because we don’t have real trauma, but because our trauma isn’t seen as worthy of care or attention. Over two decades later, I have to admit that I still sometimes lie, both to myself and others, about the mental and emotional pain I feel. We live in a world that uses words like “grit” and “resilience” to describe our ability to just take anything that comes our way, all while ignoring and denying our humanity. But hermana, I want you to know that your trauma is real. Your pain is worthy of acknowledgement and YOU are worthy of healing.

However, if you’re like me, you think that the ability to heal, for you specifically, is even more fictional than El Cucuy. Please know that I understand how you feel and I believe that your skepticism is warranted given the expectation put on us to constantly pour into others despite how emotionally empty our own cups are. I also believe that you would be in a very different space psychologically if you dedicated even half as much energy to taking care of yourself as you do to taking care of others.

If you saw yourself the way that I see you, you would know that you are so much more than an afterthought and worthy of so much more than emotional leftovers. But that’s the beauty of being in community with our sisters. We can help each other see things in ourselves or for ourselves that we couldn’t do alone. Here are some of the quotes from women of color that sustain me and inform how I treat myself.

“I have a duty to speak the truth as I see it and share not just my triumphs, not just the things that felt good, but the pain, the intense, often unmitigated pain. It is important to share how I know survival is survival and not just a walk through the rain.” — Audre Lorde

This letter exists because of this quote. All of my deeply personal and transparent writing exists because of this quote. And as dramatic as it sounds, I exist because of this quote. Two things that make depression so debilitating are shame and silence, which are inextricably linked. I suffered in silence for years because I was ashamed of how I felt and didn’t want to be judged. When struggling with insecurity and low self-esteem, the last thing you want to do is share information that you think will cause people to think even less of you. But this quote lets me know that not only is it okay to share my pain, but it is also my duty. So, even when the tears are running down my face, I put pen to paper and write about my story – both past and present. And I want the same for you. Please share your triumphs as well as your pains – by talking to your loved ones, meeting with a therapist, writing in a journal, or all of the above. Let it out.

“Quiero seguir viviendo y envejeciendo con dignidad” — Celia Cruz

During an interview, Celia Cruz was asked if there were things she would change about herself. She responded by saying that she wanted to continue living and growing older with dignity. Even on my best days, it is easier to define dignity than it is to embody it. Which is almost ironic given that my body is the part of myself that I show the least amount of honor and respect to. But her words give me hope because she doesn’t talk about living with dignity as a destination. It’s a journey. And knowing that helps me to show myself grace on the days that I don’t treat myself with dignity. I have also learned that I need to be practical and intentional by asking myself things like “how can I honor my body today.”

For me that can be eating, doing yoga, getting a massage, or finally making the doctor’s appointment that I have been putting off. Your issue may be different, but I’m sure there are parts of you that deserve more honor and respect than you have been giving them lately (or maybe ever). How can you honor yourself today?

“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” —Toni Morrison

This quote reminds me of the importance of not settling. And not just personally or professionally, but psychologically as well. Few things have made me feel more trapped than the hold that depression has had on me. It has controlled my thoughts, dictated my actions, and impacted my relationships. Freeing myself from it was crucial to my survival. But to be clear, freeing myself doesn’t mean that I did it by myself, because I didn’t. I have been able to free myself with the help of community, therapy, and medication. Thanks to that life-saving combination, I have survived, but Ms. Morrison wants us to go beyond surviving to thriving.

Yes, I am grateful for the days that I don’t experience emotional pain, but does that gratitude mean I have to settle? No. However, when feeling depressed becomes your baseline, it’s hard to even fathom what joy feels like. But I still deserve it, and so do you.

With love,

First-gen Afro-Latina Dr. Angel Jones is an educator, activist, and critical race scholar whose research explores the impact of racism on the mental health of Black students with a focus on racial microaggressions, Racial Battle Fatigue, and gendered-racism.  

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angel jones Depression Eating disorders Latina mental health mental health stigma suicide women of color
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