I was fortunate to be born in the United States, being the daughter of two hardworking immigrants from Mexico. I have always admired how dedicated they are to providing opportunities. They were always working to provide for our family.

My environment helped me become responsible and involved. It led me to work hard on my education and be independent. My studies became my focus, my escape from life’s challenges. It set me on track to eventually attend UC Berkeley, but it also put me at odds with accepting myself.

I pursued perfectionism in my education, distracting myself from the relationships I struggled to maintain. I distanced myself from others to achieve my goals, and the result was good grades and loneliness. I was creating a facade for outsiders as I desperately craved to be loved and accepted.

I wholeheartedly believed that I was unworthy of happiness, and this led to my downfall. I didn’t know who I was, who I wanted to be, and where I would stand years from now. I soon realized I was disregarding my mental health.

Facing my reality

The stigma of mental illness within a minority family led to many days of suffering. Living in a low-income community, my parents focused on providing us with the necessities and less on emotional connections. I felt alone in a fight that I shouldn’t have been. In my home, emotions weren’t really discussed. You were perceived to be weak and incapable if you were struggling.

My parents sought help for my brother when doctors informed them that a neurodevelopmental disorder would impact his life. I’d hoped for the same care when it came to mental health concerns, but that wasn’t my reality. When it came to depression, they thought it would go away on its own and believed I didn’t require professional help.

On one unfortunate night, I couldn’t maintain this idea for my parents anymore. They realized the pain I was enduring and sought help. Since then, I have visited a therapist weekly to become more aware of my emotions. Having someone to guide me through my problems and offer me advice has allowed me to open up and build healthier relationships.

Accepting my feelings and wanting change has allowed me to become confident in asking for help. With the power I discovered through focusing on my mental health, I’ve built a healthy relationship with myself and prioritized my happiness. I’m able to cultivate a strength different from before, wanting to live for myself.

3 steps to check in on your mental health

1. Prioritize yourself

Throughout my journey, I've discovered what my needs are in times of distress and push them towards the top of my list of priorities. The hard truth is that the only person who can know us the best is ourselves. We need to be mindful of that. We can’t expect people to read minds, so we have to be vocal about our needs before chaos occurs.

For example, I sought academic support by joining the Disabled Students’ Program when I arrived at UC Berkeley, which established a line of communication for me when school would get the best of me. Being a part of the program allows me to address my concerns and be understood. To many, receiving the best grades is everything, but we need to remember who we are and realize that we all have our limits.

2. Be honest

By talking about your mental health and in seeking therapy, you have to open yourself up and become vulnerable. It can be scary to know that you’re putting everything out there because it makes it more real. Once it's out in the open, you have to address it.

With my therapists, I haven't always felt comfortable sharing certain information. Still, I’ve realized that nothing will be fixed if I don’t reveal the truth. Being open with your mental health professional is essential, so I advise you to try it out. If you find it doesn’t seem like a good fit, it's okay to find another one. It’s your journey, and you’re allowed to decide who will be there to provide support.

3. Trust the process

There are days I still wake up drained, lacking the motivation to go through my classes on Zoom, eat, or even do my self-care routine. On those days, I can’t focus in class, and I find myself lost. I know it won’t always be easy, but I know that I am making progress.

It can be hard to believe that any progress has been made. Especially if you feel the days are going by slowly or you find yourself unmotivated to continue. That can be frustrating, but remember to take it one day at a time.

Looking back, I am amazed by who I've become. It’s hard to pinpoint how exactly I've changed because I continue to struggle with appreciating myself, but everyone in my life has noticed drastic changes. They mention how self-aware I've become, noticing how quickly I address the issues in my life. This has allowed me to reflect and act upon my thoughts to ensure my stability.

There's hope for everyone and we deserve to be fulfilled. Once you understand yourself and what makes you happy, you need to listen to that. You are important and need to prioritize yourself because you deserve the world.

About the Author

Hi, my name is Cynthia Gomez! I am a first-year undergraduate student at UC Berkeley majoring in Bioengineering. At Berkeley, I am a part of the Society of Women Engineering. As both a first-generation college student and a Latina, I'm passionate about helping others.

I joined Close the Gap because I have witnessed first-hand the disadvantages we have faced and would like to eliminate challenges for our future. We are capable of so much but have limitations that prevent us from reaching our potential. We are all equals and should be seen and heard as equals. After receiving my bachelor’s degree in Bioengineering, I plan to apply to medical school to become an orthopedic surgeon.