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I was 24 when I decided I no longer wanted to go to bed crying, feeling sad and alone.
My biological mom, who lived in the Dominican Republic, had passed away six months before that. We never had a close relationship and rarely communicated. When I heard the news about her death, I felt a sense of sadness, but I didn’t cry like a child who had just lost their mom. Instead, I experienced moments of sadness and knots in my stomach. My eyes were teary, and I shed a couple of tears, but it didn’t last for long.
My feelings transformed when I thought of schoolwork, work, or where to go out on a Friday and Saturday night. I went on with my life and didn’t think about it. It took weeks before I shared with a close friend that my mom had passed away. At that moment, tears started falling from my eyes because I was vulnerable, always trying to hide my pain.
Showing a weak side meant that I had to let others in and compromise the “perfect” picture I painted about myself—the ambitious, smart, strong, got-her-life-together, happy person. After that, it took me at least two years to share openly that my mom had passed away.
I felt like I was drowning in the ocean because it felt like each time I tried to swim, a big wave would come and knock me down. It didn’t matter how hard I tried to get up, the waves kept knocking me down. All I wanted was to free myself from the waves—my feelings and thoughts. I decided to reach out to a therapist, which was one of the best decisions I made.
After several sessions, the therapist concluded that I was severely depressed and by not grieving for my mother, it played an active role in my depression. Therapy helped me understand the hidden layers underneath my depression; much of it was due to being a people pleaser, perfectionist, and never addressing my past trauma.
Love and affection were scarce in my family, and showing emotions was not common. My father and mother struggled to communicate affection to my sister and me. I have never heard them say the words, “I love you,” and receiving a hug from my parents or relatives would happen only in rare situations.
One of the first things I started to work on was to honor my emotions in the present moment rather than suppressing them with external activities like “working harder,” attempting to study, and going out with friends to have a good time. In reality, I felt alone, anxious, and craved closeness, and even in my childhood.
I struggled to create that closeness with others because I avoided sharing who I was and how I felt. I was afraid people would judge me and no longer approve of who I was. I wanted everyone to see me as capable and independent.
Once during my workday, I remember sending emails and managing my day-to-day tasks, and suddenly I started to feel sad. I tried to ignore the feeling, but it didn’t go away. At that moment, I thought, “When you are feeling sad or want to cry, honor your emotions.” Luckily, my cubicle was 15 feet from the nearest bathroom. I set my computer on sleep mode, quickly entered the bathroom, and sat in the first stall, letting my tears fall without making a sound. This lasted about eight minutes, and I immediately felt a sense of relief. The wave passed, and I was ready to resume work.
The older version (of myself) would have kept working and used her phone to get her thoughts and feelings distracted.
The tools that I learned to cope with my emotions while grieving:
This is a common practice to release stress and free the mind from daily thoughts. I got in the habit of journaling when I felt sad, anxious, happy, or lonely. I started to do it daily, even if I didn’t have much to write. I would pick up the pen and write about my day and the kind of person I hoped to become.
Essentially, I was releasing some of the tension that was preventing me from feeling happy. I have gone through many journals, which I have kept. Journaling helped manage my stress and ease the depression symptoms.
I believe nothing in life is a coincidence. I started to listen to Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, and most of the episodes were about the power of meditation. I became curious and began to meditate for 10 minutes daily before starting my day. Initially, I thought I was doing it wrong as I could not quiet my mind. During a few rare instances, I experienced a sense of bliss.
Nowadays, I sit with my thoughts, breathe, and let whatever needs to show up come forward. This means letting the tears come out if they want to. Instead of meditating, I try to create a practice that fits me. This practice helped me feel grounded and centered during my depression.
3. Talking to someone.
For me, therapeutic help was one of the best decisions in my early 20s. I know that reaching out to a professional can be looked down upon in certain cultures and family beliefs. People may think we don’t need any help and can “stop feeling that way” if we choose, but every individual should decide what’s best for them and how they want to live their life.
Grieving for my mother was one of the hardest things I have had to do because it forced me to look inward. I quickly realized that I was checking the boxes and becoming someone unhappy with her own life. I was letting life circumstances define who I was and how I felt every single day. This period in my life was the start of my transformation journey, which felt like a roller coaster. Some days felt like sunshine while others felt dark and gloomy, and I did not know how to get out of the darkness.
The external things are not going to make you happy. So, once you decide to work on yourself and do the inner work, loving and feeling worthy is priceless. We often avoid facing who we are. Facing myself was highly uncomfortable. But, it is one of the most courageous things I have done and continue to do every day. It was the start to me feeling whole—even though I was already whole. I just needed to embody this myself fully.