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How I'm Redefining 'Loca' as a Latina Woman With Mental Illness

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In my experience, being a Latina comes with lots of expectations — some put on by my family, some cultural and others from a perception from the outside. If you have never heard of some of these expectations before, it is said Latinas make good cooks, good breeders and good lovers — but we are also “fiery” and “crazy.”

In my family, we did not acknowledge mental illness. There were many women who were “Locas,” but the word “crazy” wasn’t spoken. And even though they mean the same thing, the implication in our culture was more endearing, less medical and consequently, rarely appropriately addressed.

While married, my husband and I had turbulent arguments. I suspected infidelity and he denied it with clichéd lines and name-calling. The go-to name was “crazy.” I spent so many nights, relying on my gut, proclaiming through fits of rage, “I am not crazy!” I never felt “crazy.” I worked with people with developmental disabilities and mental illness and did not associate the word, “crazy” with their needs. I justified my behavior and rationalized my patterns because of infractions done to me. In a lot of ways, being a victim prevented me from seeing what I needed.

When I finally accepted I struggled with mental illness, it was after months of working with a psychiatric team and seeing my life begin to crack — like the early signs of tears in an ice pond. Once doctors I respected confirmed my diagnosis, I had to accept it and for me, that meant sharing it. I began to test the waters on how much I was going to divulge these “scary” names for my mind and mood tendencies. My mother, almost immediately, referred me to a confidante I could speak to, but also encouraged me to keep this to myself. Her advice had wisdom in it — as I was only just beginning to learn more about myself — but even still, a seed of shame was planted. A few weeks later, I sat at a friend’s kitchen island with her husband over party food and alluded casually, that I struggle with mental illness. They both stopped and looked at me. The wife, with sobered certainty, grabbed my hand and said, “Oh no, you don’t have mental illness, it’s just a hard time right now.” I knew in that moment to acknowledge my mental illness, my diagnosis and its impact, would be admitting to being “crazy” by society’s standards.

So when my husband called me “crazy,” or when my cousins and friends called me “Loca” or when the idea of being a “crazy lady” swirled around in my stratosphere, I never connected to it. Although, in its truest form, I was insecure about being “crazy.” And now that I had doctors and prescriptions, I felt it has been confirmed: I was “crazy.”

This past May, for Mental Health Awareness Month, I made a daily vlog telling my mental health story and introducing Traumattire, my clothing line for trauma survivors. I was apprehensive, yet determined, but wanted to share the link with people. While in the schoolyard with some mommy friends, one of them — another Latina — yelled, “What’s up, Loca?” I answered as nonchalantly as the question was asked. I proceeded to tell them about my MHAM initiative, but she cut me off and pulled me to the side. She scolded me, telling me that is not something people should know. She told me people will treat me badly if they think I am “weak” and “crazy.”

It was in this moment, this “Loca” was over it. I was over the insecurity of being “crazy.” I laughed. I think the irony was lost on her, but it was not lost on me. I will not be silent about who I am because I am not only my mental illness. I decided I would redefine “crazy.”  I decided I would be careful if and when I used it. I do not flippantly say it anymore. There are times I am insecure still, especially if my diagnosis is used to manipulate me, or I perceive it to be such. It is a daily, conscious thing. But I believe we have to paint new pictures of mental illness and talk about it, so we can get the help we need, but also people can become less ignorant and more sensitive to the mental health community.

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Thinkstock photo via moodboard.

Originally published: July 10, 2017
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