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Mentally ill and unchecked: A memoir

Updated: May 4, 2021

Listening to this episode triggered a cryathlon because so much of teenage Roxana went misunderstood and unchecked because of the myths that surround mental health, and it's the main reason why I feel like I lost 10 years of my life. Pamela Rae Schuller is my new idol because of how I wish I could've had a person like her believe me when I needed it. But it also gives me so much hope for the superpowers the new generation will develop.

With dear Pamela in mind, I'll use this platform to speak up about a lot of the fucked up shit that happened to me, most of it related to the misunderstanding of mental health and how it's interwoven with the lack of knowledge about traumatic experiences, their symptoms, and its treatment. So, strap on because I'm gonna let loose so much trauma. Please be patient with me if I seem like a whiny millennial, I promise it all makes sense in the end.


When I was 6-years-old my family and I were on our way to see my grandparents. We had been on the road for more than ten hours and suddenly my mom lost control of the car and it rolled over three times. My mom broke her neck and smashed her face against the wheel, my brother flew halfway out of the broken ceiling and part of him ended up beneath the car. My dad, my other brother, and I were physically uninjured. My mom was in bed for 6 months with a Regina George neck brace and my brother was in a coma for three days. Considering the magnitude of the incident, we were blessed with life and overall good health. However, this was a very traumatic episode for which none of us received therapy. This was also around the time when the sexual abuse I suffered started happening.

Our family was far from functional before the crash but after it, things got worse. The relationship between one of my brothers and my dad was so on edge that he ended up moving with an uncle in a different state. Eventually, when I was 12-years-old my dad left. I didn't know it but I was depressed. My mom worked all day, I came home from school and watched TV, sometimes I did homework. I stopped hanging out with my friends, my grades dropped. At 14-years-old I started smoking because I thought I was a cool kid. The symptoms of trauma, sexual abuse, and mental illness started to flare up. I had my first boyfriend. Spoiler alert, it was an abusive relationship. I had the privilege to study in one of the best high schools in Mexico City (which means celebrated diet and rape culture).

To everyone outside of myself I was a kind of skinny, depressed, white girl with a boyfriend, and a group of friends. For reference, an average Bella Swan. Junior year went by and the general opinion of me was that I didn't give a fuck about anything, I was a rebel and I was a very entitled teen. Nobody seemed to understand how to reach out while I was in an abusive relationship. Nobody seemed to understand what that meant. I was called dumb for staying.

Yes, definitely, I wasn't aware of my privilege. I was too busy focusing on the growing hole in the middle of my chest. I felt constantly alone and misunderstood, which turned me into a narcissist. I felt guilty and ashamed all of the time. I had overwhelming social anxiety. I started having suicidal ideation because I couldn't find anyone who would simply explain mental illness to me. Somehow teachers thought I was lazy and purposely unmotivated. When that first boyfriend decided to dump me for some other chick, and the need for putting myself in dangerous sexual situations (i.e. scenarios where date rapes were more likely to happen - a known consequence of suffering sexual trauma), my therapist told me I was a nymphomaniac. My peers at school thought I was an "easy girl" which mixed with deficient sex ed, can only result in more abuse. I also would drink a lot, blackout, from Thursday to Sunday because mental illness needs self-medication. At my high school lowest, I was kicked out of my home. I lived with a dude until I graduated and my mom decided to give me another chance with the condition that I continue my studies. Having her three kids graduate from a degree meant a lot to her.

I started college and after several nights out binge-drinking my mom decided to send me to rehab. Rehab was so eye-opening but also, traumatizing. It's a very hard process to go through at 18. The idea of writing a book kept me afloat. The things I learned there helped me steer clear from suicidal ideation by understanding that hard times and strong, negative feelings come and go, you just have to be brave enough (and create the emotional tools) to breathe through the wave. There was a team of 15 therapists who decided I had Dissociative Identity Disorder (or in the movies, called Multiple Personality Disorder) and that to be "healed", I had to choose one identity (something everyone in the DID community cringes about). I chose the society-approved one, of course. The celibate, sober, and boring one. The one that met my current fiancé.

I kept it up for a year until Jorge (the fiancé) left for an exchange program and my world crumbled. I got depressed and went crawling back to rehab because I was terrified I would fall off the wagon and go nuts again. I started on medication: a heavy cocktail of antiepileptics, antidepressants, antipsychotics for sleep. I didn't get any other tools, tips, and tricks for how to deal with my mental health. No "sleep is crucial", "nutrition and water are essential", "movement is necessary for fighting depression", "sunlight is great", "maybe quit caffeine and nicotine", "Just take these meds and you'll be fine." Nothing.

Six months later I got the opportunity to go to Australia as part of my studies. My psychiatrist said I was ready to go. My official diagnosis at that point was: severe anxiety and depression. I had absolutely no knowledge of the things necessary for me to take care of myself. I wasn't able to get my medication so I decided to stop taking it. My psychiatrist never answered my texts, emails, or calls. I started going with the school therapist who said I needed to eat lavender mints for my anxiety which felt extremely condescending. The withdrawal had me pinned to my bed for two weeks, constantly thinking about suicide again. I was a zombie. Somewhere around that time, I lost my passport. The school aids were so insensitive that even when I explained the whole situation, they shouted at me with frustration for my "lack of motivation" until I had a panic attack. Eventually, the semester of hotel internships came, and somehow I landed a position in a luxury lodge on Kangaroo Island. Most likely, they liked the idea of a white Latina. I really wanted to go back home but everyone insisted that if I kept pushing, I'd make it. I didn't know what to do.

I was fired after a week for reasons that were obviously my fault. I was constantly late, I was self-medicating with alcohol after work, and was hungover on morning shifts. I was told I had 48 hours to leave the Island (very reality-like). I went to a cheap hostel in Adelaide and reached out to school. They said, due to my behavior whilst being a scholarship recipient, I'd be kicked out and my visa would be soon cancelled. But remember how I didn't have a passport? I was stuck.

I was so angry and frustrated because every step of the way I asked for help, and every time I faced incompetent people who didn't know what was wrong with me but were quick to decide that it must be laziness or some sort of unwillingness, and finally decided I wasn't their problem anymore. Soon, I ran out of money and became homeless. I was scared. I wrote out to the Mexican embassy every day. I thought about killing myself every day. I told my mom I was okay because I wanted her to be okay. I worked as a maid in a shitty hostel (so shitty, my job was to hide bloodstains in the room) in exchange for me staying for free. I ate the food backpackers left behind. Thankfully, I met a sweet dutch backpacker girl who saved my life because she was the first person ever to listen, understand and love my authentic self, as real friends should. Three months later I got an emergency passport and flew back home. The only reason I got out of that situation was white privilege.

I graduated college and got a job. I quit. I found another one. I quit. And so it went. I always fucked up. I'm privileged enough to have people to economically support me and who have done so for years.

Earlier this year, after 11 years of actively looking for (and paying) mental health support, I was finally diagnosed with frontotemporal lobe epilepsy. Sometimes the part of my brain that regulates my judgment stops working and I make immediate pleasure-based decisions or have extreme mood swings. I have low brain activity in the parts of the brain that regulate executive function (planning, prioritizing, and executing tasks, monitoring my performance, and working memory). How I wish I could have had that information 10 years ago and made wiser decisions that adapted to my needs and capacities instead of thinking I could fake it 'till I made it, how I wish someone would've noticed that extreme behaviors like this aren't "depression and anxiety", how I wish we could all understand that school systems are ableist and they are built to train workers and not educate you on how to heal, survive, thrive. How I wish we could all understand that not being able to do something isn't the same as not wanting to, sometimes we just need accessibility and inclusion, which shouldn't be a luxury, but rather, a human right.

"Not everything works for everyone and we can find little things that work for other people, and just because they're adaptations doesn't mean they work less." -Remy Kassimir.

Finally, some food for thought about ableist things in school.

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