13 Reasons Why Mental Health Matters to Juana Estrada

As I talked to junior Juana Estrada, I couldn’t help but think about the fictional character of Hannah Baker featured in Netflix’s newest series, 13 Reasons Why. The series has been getting a lot of buzz from around the world, due to its raw portrayal of bullying, sexual assault and suicide as you follow Baker’s journey to understand why she took her life. Both Estrada and Baker embody what it means to resemble strength and courage during moments of darkness. Viewers had their heart strings tugged as they watched Baker present 13 tapes to her classmates, documenting the traumatic events leading up to her suicide. Although Estrada didn’t offer me tapes, I couldn’t help but feel the same emotion that I had felt when watching the series, as I listened to her own individual story. From being a Leukemia survivor, to the overwhelming pressure of being a first-generation student, I was in awe at all that a woman could experience before she could even legally buy a drink.

What’s special about both Estrada’s and Baker’s stories is that they are able to shine light into what mental health looks like when you are a woman. Fighting a battle with your mind, on top of society’s double standards, the male gaze and the continuous objectification of your body can take a toll on someone. It’s easy to assume when you walk past Estrada on DePaul’s campus that she has it all together. Always serving a radiant smile and on the surface it seems that her spirit is indestructible. However, underneath the beauty is a young woman that understands what it means to feel broken just like Baker.

Nevertheless, she has persisted and she’s done so with style and grace. After reflecting on her trials and tribulations throughout her life, Estrada has decided to take her experiences and put them towards her passion, her writing. LaMorenitaJuanita, a blog dedicated to exploring cross-cultural experiences through fashion, was created by Estrada with the hope of creating atool of empowerment for the many who don’t have the means to lift themselves out of their endeavors.” Estrada has not only been able to use her blog as a form of self-expression for her own thoughts and style, but also as an outlet to uplift other women, such as through her #womenempowerment series, “Expressing Confidence Through Your Style.”

With writing being Estrada’s muse, what better way to tell her story than in the same manner. So here’s Juana Estrada, live and in-stereo, and if you’re listening to this you are about find out the 13 reasons why mental health matters to her.

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If you or anyone you know is suicidal call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.

Don’t ever give up on yourself. Find out your reasons why your mental health matters.

Anxious Mind (Part 1)

I can’t explain it
Or put it into words
So I guess I look like a madman
I feel like a madman

Not being able to describe these feelings
Heightens the sensations even more
My throat is closing up, chest is pounding
As I try to find a word that fits best

If I don’t I’ll be perceived as unintelligent
Then you’ll twist your face
And say I don’t understand
Not knowing what you just triggered

I don’t like being misunderstood
But how can one understand something
That I’ve been trying to figure our since
I was 12 years old.

That may or may not be the age
I don’t know for sure
But I do know when my aura
Has been altered

I shouldn’t be writing this
Because I’m wasting time
That I won’t be able to get back
And that only will make things worse

But you see I need this right now
And when I’m better
Someone else will read this
And need this too

So I’m going to keep at it
Even if you’ve stopped reading
Saying it’s too long
And that you get the point

My worst enemy
And my best friend
I guess also my motivator
Is my mind

It races at a speed
That one can’t calculate
Even if they tried
Trust me

Breathe.

I just want a remote
To press pause
On a world that moves
Too damn fast

You know what I want
To just clear my thoughts
And then not let it drift
Into the unknown.

Or into the impossible.
Or into the repressed emotions.
Or into the unforgettable .
Or into the road ahead.

To go on Facebook
And scroll away
Not feeling pressured
To share everything that connects

To me.
You see we’re living in a age
Where we’re connecting through
Likes. Shares. Comments. Re-tweets.

I’ll be honest
Somethings I don’t read fully.
That doesn’t mean I’m uneducated.
I’ll read it later. I promise. I hope.

But most of these I do read.
And they’re beautiful
And sometimes emotional
And sometimes just too damn real

Since when did we all get so political
I’m woke.
Too woke.
That I can’t sleep.

Oppression. Privilege. Every ism.
I get it.
For christ sake.
I’m a gay black Christian man.

Not saying these things don’t matter.
They do. It’s time for a change.
But I’m focused on fixing.
And forgetting about living.

Focused on educating “the hate”
But what about lifting up “the love”
Love. I love love.
I live for love.

Love gives me energy.
Energy to be great.
Nourishment for my soul
And replenishment for my body

Too bad with it comes heartache.
And fear that pain can happen twice.
But I’m a hopeless romantic.
So I’ll never get off that roller-coaster

I fall quickly.
I wear my heart on my sleeve.
Loved ones thinks that’s my problem
I think it’s my advantage

Friendships. Ties. Bonds.
I make those in seconds.
With that forms a deep line
Of compassion that’s unbreakable.

Daddy’s Girl: A Text Thread

‘Hey Daddy. I got called in for work for tomorrow morning. IKR. That annoying new girl I was telling you about on the phone Friday is “sick.” Probably because she dresses like it’s fucking spring break and it’s the middle of November. Whatever. Over it. Over her. So, guess who will be covering that 5pm shift bright and early on her 21st birthday. This girl. Ughh. This is literally pissing me off, because I know I’m breaking our pinky promise. I mean I would skip my bio class tomorrow, if our exams didn’t count as basically half of our final grades. Dad, seriously this guy is a prick. He reminds me of my Mr. Nicholson. You remember in elementary school, when he made me go home because of my Meet the Parents t-shirt? The one that you got me for the premiere. Since when was the phrase “You’re the bomb,” a threat to the classroom?!!! When you said I’ll terrorize your life, if you come at my daughter again, I peed my pants. I wish you could come scare Professor Dickhead so I wouldn’t have to take this exam tomorrow. This is gonna be the shittiest 21st birthday. I’m like texting you as I look at my Monday schedule, and there’s literally no time for me to see you. Stupid Natalie. She’s plotting my demise Dad, I swear. But, any way guess this is the first year where our pact is broken. I’m heartbroken. It’s okay. Maybe we can hang before Thanksgiving. Mom told me she’s trying to cook again this year. I don’t care what you say, she’s envious of your skills, and STILL believes your COOKING is why I love staying at your place. Not the creepy old fart she’s dating, or the fact when I’m home she’s rarely there because she probably picked up a extra shift, or out with him. But, we’ll talk about this more when I see you. Love you so much Dad. I’ll probably talk to you tomorrow.’

‘Thanks for the birthday wishes Dad. You’re so rude for that picture. What the actual fuck Dad where did you get that? Anyway, I woke up late, I’ll text you when I get out of class. Love ya.’

‘Why am I blessed with the best daddy in the world? How in the hell did you know where my bus stop was? And can you pleaaaase let me know where you got Ben Stiller wrapping paper. You are so weird. But you literally made my birthday. Like usual. This stupid little brat next to me on the bus laughed at me, when I read your note. He clearly has never had a pinky promise. BTW GUESS WHO SHUT THE GAME DOWN IN BIO TODAY. Dickhead gave me a 88 on the exam. Highest grade I’ve gotten. Pretty sure, that’s the highest grade ever scored in the class too. Guess, I’ll graduate after all. Speaking of that, I picked up my cap and gown yesterday…I know SCARY, but also we have to email our expected guests to our Dean. So, is it cool if I just say you and Robert? Let me know. OMG. Tell Robert, that his HBIC tank will be worn, every single day, in Jamaica in December. That is if these finals don’t kill me softly before then. Anyways I LOVE YOU DADDY, thanks for making yet another birthday a one to remember. My phone is going to die, so I’ll just text you before I go to bed. Kisses. Lol. Also remember when you said nothing can beat the smell of me passing gas at Taco Bell last month, literally, Johnny “never heard of a pinky promise or deodorant” has me beat. Kk I’ll text you late. Love you.’

‘*later.’

‘ghh’

‘Lol. That was an accident. Booty text.’

‘Rude way not to text me back. Haha just kidding, I see Robert called me. But, I’m just getting back from work. You old turds probably are passed out, so I’ll just call back tomorrow. Nite.’

‘I’m sending this text hoping praying that you are going to pop out of this bed and see this and tell me how much of an idiot you are for not getting dressed up to be in the hospital. Remember, you always said “if this diabetes puts me in that shit hole, I want to look fine as hell so those doctors know that they working with a DILF.” Btw, none of them compare to Robert. So you’re good. He just walked out of the room to get some fresh air. He’s been crying nonstop. Me too. The ugly cry. The same ugly cry you made fun of me when my goldfish died. The same cry I had when Mr. Nicholson called me incompetent and illegal. Or when Mom and I watched you and Robert say your vows last spring. He needs you. I need you. Please wake up Daddy.’

 

How To Let Go

February 14th, your favorite day of the year. A day filled with sappiness overload. Don’t be bitter, though. You’ve came a long way. Just think, it was only last year when you were drowning your sorrows away, with a bottle of Svedka, at a “crop top, short shorts” party.

As you look at your reflection, through the backseat window of your Lyft cab, you laugh. Wow, look at you, you got your laugh back! I bet you didn’t know you still had that. You are a new person. A person who has not only started loving himself, but knowing himself. Forget about your past. Now, you can get back to the old you. You can start giving back. As you pull up to the local children’s hospital, these thoughts run through your mind.

Your Lyft driver says, “Is this it?”

As you start forming the word yes, you notice a man being pulled on a stretcher into the glass doors of the emergency room.

He looks just like him.

You must have been staring at those doors for a long time because your Lyft driver asks, “Are you ok?”

You contemplate your response before mustering out, “wrong address.” As you drive off, you have to reassure yourself this is okay. Like your Mom said, “life is a growing process.” Clearly you have longer to grow.

Changing Our Racist World

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A snapshot of my older brother and I taken moments after he received his Bachelors Degree in Sports Management from Syracuse University. A young African American doing well in society and has a good head on his shoulders.

 

However, these individuals are never documented about in the media.

 

Instead you have cases such as these.

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Thomas Bishop has recently been charged with murder after an attempted robbery on the city’s south side.

The problem with cases like these is that people, like Bishop, are portrayed as the generalization of the character for all African American males. When you turn on your television, pick up a newspaper, or listen to your radio we are portrayed as murderers, thieves, and rapists.

 

Well, newsflash. We are all not Thomas Bishops.

 

The media has not only negatively exploited the image of an African American male, but they have created this war-like relationship between Caucasian police and men of color.

Some people may still view officers as being our “protectors”, however to the eyes of a man of color these people are the enemy.

 

We are well aware of what occurred between Trayvon Martin and Zimmerman last year, and most recently the Michael Brown Ferguson case. But, what may not be publicized is how this repetitive occurrence is manifesting into people’s everyday lives.

I mentioned my brother previously with our image taken at his graduation in May. The reasoning behind my usage of this snapshot is to compare who my brother really is to what’s he been profiled as recently.

 

For the past couple of months my brother has been pulled over numerous times from the police in our neighborhood. Dropping his friend off at home, my brother was believed to be in the middle of making a drug deal. The only reason the cops didn’t proceed with investigation was because my brother’s friend mother just so happened to be coming home at the same time, and was able to confirm these boys weren’t drug dealers. Most recently, my mother had to pick up my older brother, as well as my younger brother who was being taken to soccer practice, from the police station and realizes that the truck my brother was driving was impounded. It’s gotten to a point where my brother doesn’t even want to drive anymore because he knows the chances of him getting pulled over are so high.

 

My household is not the only example of this vicious relationship between police and men of color existing. I participated in a “hands up, don’t shoot” centered march earlier in the school year. I heard multiple people voice their opinions of what they were tired of with regards to the society we are living in. There were so many recollections coming from students of color saying things like, “I’m tired of being watched while I’m shopping in a store”, or “I’m tired of having to constantly turn around when walking down the street because of the fear of police.”

It’s honestly heartbreaking. Heartbreaking that so many young people of color, including my brothers and I, are living in fear daily.

 

I could put all my disgust towards the media and these racist police, but I start to think of that muscular empathy mentioned in, “A Muscular Empathy” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates discusses the only way we can begin to understand the problems our society faces, is to embody this muscular empathy. “If you really want to understand slaves, slave masters, poor black kids, poor white kids, rich people of colors, whoever, it is essential that you first come to grips with the disturbing facts of your own mediocrity. The first rule is this–You are not extraordinary. It’s all fine and good to declare that you would have freed your slaves. But it’s much more interesting to assume that you wouldn’t and then ask “Why?”, says Coates.

 

I believe that the mindset Coates is discussing is exactly the way all of us should be thinking with regards to the recent tragedies our country has faced. Saying things would be different if we were Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, Michael Brown, or Darren Wilson would not only be a false statement but also wouldn’t allow our country to move forward. Together as a country we really need to start looking at those “Why’s”.

 

We can start our examination right here in the city of Chicago.

 

I believe our high crime rate is rooted from the chaos Rahm Emanuel created with our education system. On June 14th, CPS made the decision to close 49 schools, which is the largest single school closure in US history. In a TruthOut article titled, “Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s War on Teachers and Children”, David Bacon discusses the impact that Emanuel’s decision has on the African American and Latino communities. Bacon states, “Out of the 54 schools proposed for closure in 2013, 88 percent are overwhelmingly attended by African-American students, and only 125 of the 16,119 total students – 0.78 percent – are white. The racial and economic polarization of Chicago was visible in the announced closure of George Manierre Elementary, where the surrounding neighborhood includes both the townhouses of one of the city’s poorest public housing projects and burgeoning condominiums worth millions of dollars.”

 

If 88 percent of African American students are not in school, where are they?

On the streets.

 

Now let’s turn our heads and look at the job market for teens.

We as a community need to examine what happen to these young men of color when job opportunities aren’t available. According to a Chicago Sun-Times article by Nausheen Husain, last updated June 9th 2013, “Numbers from Chicago’s Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the number of teens who can’t find work has been increasing since 2000, and went up in the following years as the country’s economy fell in to the recession. In 2006, 13 percent of Chicago’s teens were unemployed. In 2010, that percentage was doubled, according to the most recent data available for the city.” The article goes on to state that this tough job market could directly correlate with the violence and crime throughout Chicago. “Though there isn’t direct data to prove the statement ‘Nothing stops a bullet like a job,’ I’ve certainly heard a lot of anecdotal evidence,” said Roseanna Ander, executive director of University of Chicago’s Crime Lab. Ander is absolutely correct.

Once again I ask a question

If 26 percent of teens are unemployed where are they?

On the streets.

The reason I bring up Chicago’s education system and job market is because I believe that the only way we’re going to see change in the world is to start examining our environment. Instead of judging these teens for their reckless behavior, start understanding why this behavior exists. What I learned from being apart of my Discover Chicago class at DePaul University is that there is a lot that the naked eye does not see. After walking the streets of neighborhood like Pilsen, Uptown, and Englewood I begun to understand the circumstances of these individuals and why they choose to live their lives a certain way

I learned that not all gang member want to be in gangs, but they have to in order to live.

I learned that not every one in Englewood is a criminal, and that some are striving for greatness.

Once we begin to examine our environment then we can realize what we can fix. I believe what’s happening now in America is that are people are not examining, and are trying to change things that are impossible to change.

We can’t change the police.

I believe this was further emphasized in “Reparations for Ferguson”.

“The police departments of America are endowed by the state with dominion over your body. This summer in Ferguson and Staten Island we have seen that dominion employed to the maximum ends—destruction of the body. This is neither new nor extraordinary”, says Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Coates brings up a matter few have been able to see.

We are never going to be able to change police. No matter what the situation, police have reacted the same way with crimes involving men of color, for years.

We as a nation can’t change that.

However, we can work at repairing our education system and job markets so teens are getting proper schooling and financial support, and are moving off the streets.

Have rallies for that!

What I have learned is that life is not easy for an African American male, and it will never be. All eyes are constantly glued on us awaiting for there to be some type of failure or violence. The media will continue to play less stories like my brother, and more stories like Thomas Bishop. Those aspects we have no control over. So, together as a nation we need to utilize the few things we do have control over and start paving ways for young men of color to prove our criticizers wrong.

The journey to bring racism out of our world will not be an easy road. However it is not impossible.

 

Are you ok?

I hate this question, “Are you ok?”  My body cringes, eyes roll, and arms tense up when people ask me this.

I’ll tell you why.

I don’t think no one ever is “ok”. Let’s be honest. How about we define what ok is? Oh right. Ok doesn’t have a definition.

But let’s just imagine if it did.

“Ok is defined as being content with your life”

Well, if this is the case no one is ok. I don’t think any high school senior is okay that college is so expensive. That half of us, if we don’t get a full ride or proper scholarships, will be paying off student loans for a majority of our lives.

I don’t think our parents are ok. They probably might be when their children are first born and watching them grow up. But once their kids are teens and start not needing to be attached to mommy and daddy every day, parents aren’t ok. They feel their children are being distant or secretive or secluded. Need anymore synonyms?

How about cancer patients? Are they ok? I would think not. They didn’t ask to have a deadly disease eat at them every single day. To lose their hair, to lose their strength, to lose their life.

This is the same for

Addicts.

HIV and AID victims.

Alcoholics.

Are they ok?

How about the parents of Trayvon Martin, Hadiya Pendleton, or the Sandy Hook Victims? I don’t think they’ll ever be ok. No one can bring back their angels. No matter how many tears they shed, they won’t see their babies again. And the media on their backs like hyenas, probably doesn’t give them a chance to properly grieve.

I’m not ok.

I know for a fact I’m not.

I’m not ok that I’ll have 50% vision for the rest of my life. Yes, I’ve overcome it and I’ve used my disease as my motivation. But, at the end of the day the people around me have 2 eyes and I don’t. That won’t change.

I’m not ok that I’m sensitive. That every little criticism irritates me. That I over think everything. That I care about others more than myself. That this has been my personality since I was 5, and it still hasn’t changed.

I’m not ok that my love life sucks. That the girl that I love can’t see how much I care about her. That I’ve been struggling with my sexual preference since I started puberty. and that my sexual preference affects my religion, my family and my friendships.

I’m not ok that senior year isn’t what I expected. That the week of homecoming was the week of the funeral of my friend that committed suicide. That my speech season ended way too soon. That by telling the truth about how I felt about a show I was cast in, ended my theater journey. That I possibly can’t go to the college of my dreams because I probably can’t afford it.

That when I was at my ultimate high this year, I lost someone who was a dear friend. To another suicide.

And I blame myself every single day for it.

And that my life won’t be the same.

I’m not ok that the day before my 18th birthday. I’m worried about my sanity, my mother’s health,  about losing my best friend to something that I can’t change, and that I’m writing a blog like this with a heavy heart

SO PLEASE DON’T ASK

ARE YOU OK?

HOW ARE YOU?

WHAT’S WRONG?

I hate those questions cause they bring negative vibes.

This is not a blog to say my life sucks.

This is a blog to say life is hard, and it’s not getting easier.

Ask me.

“What’s good?”

“What’s great about today?”

or

“What are you looking forward too?”

Because these questions will bring positive vibes.

But just please don’t say.

“Are you okay?”

 

The Scary 6 Letter Word.

When you ask people what they’re scared of what are their responses? Spiders, the dark, cliffs, death, their grandma naked. It’s easy for people to respond with these answers. They’re normal, very typical, common answers. But an answer that may not come to mind is something that we encounter every single day.

CHANGE

Now change isn’t a physical thing that we can grab or touch. It’s simply a 6 letter word. So if it’s as simple as that why are so many people scared of it. My reasoning? Because you can’t avoid or ignore it. No matter what you do change is inevitable. From birth we are experiencing change. We enter a new world, with new faces, and a new atmosphere. Change is seen in every country, every family, and every human being on this Earth. I myself have experienced a lot of change in my life. Yes I’m taller, voice is deeper, hair is curlier, but it’s not just my appearance that has changed….

At 5 years of age I attended McDade Classical School located on 8801 South Indiana in Chicago Illinois. The only address of a school that I have went to that is memorized in my mind. That means something. I ADORED that school. The teachers were so nurturing I didn’t even look at them as adults. They were my friends. I loved the fact that my Mom and Grandma were 5 minutes away too. I mean literally if I forgot my lunch, or needed a change of clothes, or got stung by a bee they were there. My Mom was highly involved too being apart of the PTA and all. It was just great you know. No it wasn’t like my Mom and grandma held my hand the whole time I attended McDade but it was good to know they were there. The best thing about being at this school though was that I wasn’t looked at as DIFFERENT. When my parents finally told me the seriousness of my eye condition Glaucoma, I felt different. I knew from that moment on that I wasn’t like everybody else. But at McDade nobody cared. They loved me for who I was. I wasn’t looked as the boy blind in one eye. I was looked as the guy whose voice drops 5 octaves when he sings, the goofball who can make anyone laugh, and the orator who resembles a mini MLK. But that all changed…

I graduated McDade in 6th grade. The kids who I grew up with, my bestfriends, my brother and sisters, went on to Whitney Young, Morgan Park, Lindblom, Kenwood, and Harlan. But not me. Instead I enrolled into Parker Junior High School.

EVERYTHING CHANGED.

My Mom and Dad started showing me the bus route. Bus? But I always rode  with my Mom and Dad to school. We used to listen to WGCi on the way together. Laughing at radio djs.

But I guess things change.

I always loved the first day of school at McDade. Recapping the summer with my friends on the playground, making plans for the fall. First days changed when I came to Parker. When I came to the school in 7th grade, the first day was so empty. I couldn’t even put an emotion to it. I watched as other kids found their friends in class and at lunch. While I just tried to get through the day. Eventually people started to wonder who I was, where I came from, and what was wrong with my eye. But at McDade nobody cared. Why my glasses were thick? But at McDade nobody cared. Why my eye looked lazy? But at McDade nobody cared. Why I sometimes held the paper close. But at McDade nobody cared. Why I wore goggles for gym, why I squinted, why I got different tests.

BUT AT MCDADE NOBODY CARED.

When I left McDade, my school didn’t just change. I changed. I lost my confidence, I lost my light, I lost my sense of belonging. Eventually I found a few friends and made it to 8th grade graduation but I didn’t feel like myself still. But that changed…

When I walked into high school I told myself I was going have to change if I was going to be happy. So I started with my look.

I said goodbye to name brands clothes and got a mohawk. Image

Even though I liked what I saw in the mirror, I still wasn’t satisfied. So I was like maybe I should join some clubs. I was already in soccer. But with the losing streak my team was facing along with the bench player that I was, I needed something else. So I picked up speech and debate. NO THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING. The only good thing that came out of debate was I got closer with my partner Brittany Bautista who is now my bestfriend and I became more aware of our world. But speech is another story. Speech brought back my confidence, my light, and my sense of belonging. Speech changed me. 

I had my doubts about Speech though. After my first tournament I came in 6th place in Poetry.

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And I didn’t even care about my poetry! I wanted to place in Oratory, which I didn’t at all. I thought maybe this is isn’t for me. Maybe I should change and do something else. I’m glad I didn’t go through with that change. My freshman year I made it all the way to sectionals in Speech, Sophomore year I made it to State Finals with my talented cast of Susannah, and Junior year I was a conference champion, regional champion, sectional champion, and finally a STATE CHAMPION.  But here’s the catch. I was a champion speaking about the one thing in my life that was the center of all my changes. My glaucoma. I developed the confidence to finally put my story on paper with humor, statistics, science, the whole nine yards. And then on top of all that I spoke about it to the entire south suburban community. I no longer was a victim.

I was a champion. Image

I changed.     

August 5, 2013, 11:32 p.m. So much in my life has changed. The kid known for his Phat Farm and Rocawear is now known for his signature bowties and being an urban nerd. The kid who was a soccer player and wanted to be a doctor when he grew up is now a thespian and speechie who wants to major in Journalism. More importantly the kid who grew up full of life then lost it finally found his purpose in life which is to inspire and now shines bright full of determination and aspiration. I am about to embark on a lot of changes in this next year alone. I am wrapping up my last year of high school and In May 2014 I will be saying see you later to the place that made me who I am. Then in August   2014 I will leave my hometown and beautiful family to begin an entire new chapter in this book of life.

Everything will once again change.

But this time I won’t be scared. I can’t avoid change or ignore it. But I can embrace it. And hey in the end, it’s just a six letter word.

C-H-A-N-G-E

Change.