“I was crying every day, I couldn’t sleep, I had panic attacks, and I felt alone among millions of people.”
By Ana Siu (Confidencial)
This piece is based on my personal experience only. I’m not a psychologist, and if any of those who read it feel they need help, I recommend they see a specialist.
HAVANA TIMES – Before telling you about my experience with therapy and medication, it seems fitting that I tell you a little about my childhood and my relationship with mental health. I grew up in a large family where mental difficulties were the principal problem at home. Be it the manic episodes of one family member, or the depression of another, psychiatrists and medications have been a normal part of my life from the time I can remember.
In fact, for my high school senior paper, I forced my group to research Bipolar Disorder, a condition that more than one person in my family suffers from. I was trying to understand what happened to them and why. I couldn’t comprehend their changes in mood, or their numerous suicide attempts.
I was looking for answers, since I myself had never felt so bad that I couldn’t get out of bed. In part, I thought it was a problem of upbringing or attitude. It wasn’t until 2018 that I understood what they were feeling – something out of their control.
Past experiences with therapy
Throughout my childhood, I felt sad to see my loved ones suffer that way, and that’s how my first symptoms of anxiety arose. This problem only grew. I also recall my first experience with mourning, when at the age of eleven I lost my paternal grandfather. It was the greatest heartache that I’d ever felt in my life. However, that suffering healed in time, through my own natural processes.
Later, in my adolescence, I suffered different disappointments in love, and one of them left me so badly affected that my mother decided to take me to a psychologist. I was only 16. With the passing of time and the therapist’s help, I succeeded in recovering the happiness that had been stolen from me.
A short time later, my pattern of getting involved with people who hurt me once again recurred. This time, he didn’t only betray my trust, but also attacked me emotionally, psychologically and physically. All my existing insecurities grew, and control of my life passed over into the hands of my aggressor. So, just as I had sought help at 16, I found myself asking to be rescued at 22.
This time they gave me medication, since the psychiatrist felt that I needed something stronger to be able to recover everything I had surrendered, including my dreams. That’s how I took clonazepam for the first time, an anxiolytic and tranquilizing drug which in addition to relaxing lessens anxiety.
But the medication didn’t work, in part because I never accompanied it with therapy. However, without my toxic relationship, I began to feel better. I felt I was cured, so I neglected my mental health for a number of years.
2018, the year of crisis for Nicaraguans
As most Nicaraguans know, in 2018 our lives changed drastically; despite gaining in courage and indignation, we lost our freedom. That sentiment of national sorrow for the deaths and the political prisoners keeps us in a state of collective mourning.
Added to that grief, I left the country in June. Emigration was one more sorrow to add to my list: leaving a job that I liked; distancing myself from my friends; and not knowing when I’d be able to see my family again. These griefs became traumas, and I let it all go until I exploded.
When I found a job, I thought it would give me the emotional stability I needed; I could stop having to change houses every two weeks and begin a life in another country. However, in the city where I ended up, I was received with a romantic disappointment. That finished writing the code that caused the bomb to explode: my depression.
I was crying every day; I couldn’t sleep; I had panic attacks, and I felt alone among millions of people. I had been wounded by the only person I trusted in that city, so I fell into a dark hole from which it seemed impossible to emerge. For the first time in my life, I understood what had happened and still happens to my family members. That’s when I realized I couldn’t recover alone.
My present therapy
I didn’t want to seek treatment with a Mexican psychologist, because I feared that they wouldn’t understand everything that I’ve gone through as a Nicaraguan and a migrant. So I looked for a Nicaraguan who could do long-distance therapy. At first, I felt renewed after speaking with her, since I got out all my pain without filters or previous thought. I felt that she wasn’t judging me and that she understood what was happening.
But the weekend before Christmas, she dropped a bombshell on me at the end of the session. She told me that her diagnosis was clinical depression which together with my anxiety added up to a problem that wasn’t going to be solved with therapy alone. No one is prepared to hear that their problem is so serious that the psychologist is recommending that they go see a psychiatrist to obtain medication. Above all, it’s painful to recognize that you’ve normalized the symptoms of a severe depression.
I had let different traumas accumulate, thinking they’d heal in time. Nevertheless, what I was doing was hiding them under my pillow and turning a blind eye to how much they were affecting me.
I’ll share with you some of my symptoms:
- Insomnia: it was hard for me to stay asleep, or I’d get up in the wee hours.
- Panic attacks; feeling that little concerns were the end of the world
- A loss of pleasure while doing things that I used to enjoy, like reading, writing or going out walking.
- Lack of concentration in all the activities I engaged in.
- Sensations of paranoia, feeling that others were going to harm me.
- Permanent sadness and sudden attacks of crying.
After being diagnosed, I was in denial, since as a psychologist friend explained to me, I suffer from a functional depression. This means that I can work, socialize and continue my life in a “normal” way, but with a daily internal sadness. This is even more dangerous, since we discover the problem very late, and those around us underestimate our suffering.
At first, I was very dubious about the medications, even though the majority of my family took them. I looked for alternative methods like meditation or exercise. Eventually, in truth, I got tired of feeling sad and anxious all the time. I was sick of sabotaging my own life because of my mental condition.
There’s something that you should know: in Mexico City, you can find everything, but you can’t trust everyone. So I was very fearful about going to a psychiatrist who might end up prescribing electroshock therapy. My recourse was to look for references in Nicaragua and have sessions over WhatsApp. The psychiatrist was very rational and explanatory with me; he clarified all my doubts. He recommended that I accompany the treatment with therapy, and he gave me a lot of theoretical information about my treatment.
As I write, I’ve barely been taking the medication for a week, but I feel less anxious and I’m already managing to sleep. The psychiatrist explained to me that the separate griefs from everything we lost – the youth who were killed; those of us who left or had friends who left; our freedom; our traditional food; our comfort zones; the family – keep accumulating, and if they’re not processed in their moment, they evolve into depression.
Nicaragua is depressed; let’s look for help
It doesn’t matter if you choose medication, therapy, breathing sessions; the crucial thing is to find spaces for healing. Because the whole country has been affected. Nicaragua is becoming a place of depressed people.
We’re tired of struggling and not seeing results. Of crying over the dead and the prisoners. Of seeing businesses closed and not finding a clear road to a positive future. Let’s take care of our minds, because Nicaragua is going to need us healthy. Solid mental health will make our actions, leadership and communities better.
If you’re part of the diaspora, many psychologists are offering on-line therapy, and if you’re in Nicaragua, seek out the incredible people who are offering low-cost support because of the economic crisis, for all the people who’ve been affected in the country. (I recommend you read this linked article (in Spanish) regarding the collective depression in Venezuela).
There’s one very important issue: choosing your therapist, or, in some cases, psychiatrist. In the course of my life, I’ve had two different psychiatrists and two psychologists. They’ve all been specialized in some facet or type of therapy. Nonetheless, being a good professional doesn’t mean that they’re the right person for you. It’s important to trust the person that assists you and above all to feel comfortable with her or him.
I also want to share the recommendations they’ve given me, so that the therapy, meditation, exercise or medications can be effective:
- Don’t drink alcohol in excess, or drink every day.
- Avoid consuming other chemical substances (apart from the psychoactive substances, and those prescribed by a doctor) since they are highly addictive. Addictions and the rise in mood that they generate in you, will only cause you to fall lower.
- Do some kind of exercise.
- This doesn’t mean that you have to go to a yoga class (which helps) or isolate yourself in the woods. It means taking some time each day to relax and clear your mind. I recommend the App HeadSpace if you need a guide.
- Surround yourself with people who make you feel safe, and understand your situation. Get a support group that you can turn to when you feel like you’re “in the hole”.
Certainly, my case doesn’t apply to everybody, but I hope that this post helps at least one person. Pay attention to your emotions and your body, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Let’s end that taboo about mental health.
In a future post, I’ll tell you how I come out after this whirlwind of emotional, political and romantic crises. Don’t hesitate to write to me if you want to know more about my experience, send hugs, or recommend someone to turn to.