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.

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.

Coming Up from Coming Out

When a person decides to come out, it’s supposed to be liberating. Your spirit breaks out of this jail cell it’s been locked in, and you finally begin to feel accepted in this complicated world.

For me, it was not that easy.
In 2013, I came out.
Twice.
You’re probably asking yourself how can an individual come out twice? Well, when I look at the idea of “coming out”I don’t automatically relate it to sexuality. I believe that people, who are coming out, are finally accepting an aspect of themselves that they’ve been insecure or hiding from the public for a long period of time.

My first closet dealt with my eyes. From birth, I struggled with being insecure about my vision. I was born with congenital glaucoma, a disability that left me blind out of one of my eyes. The aspect that frustrated me the most was there was no way to reverse blindness.

You break your arm and it heals.
You break your leg and it heals.
You go blind, and there’s no going back.
When I got to high school, I paid little attention towards my glaucoma. Kids matured so the teasing and bullying died down. I was then able to start discovering things about myself that were positive, and honing in on those skills.

Speech Team allowed me to do exactly that.
Being apart of this community showed me my love and passion for writing, and the impact my words could have. I remember the first speech I wrote titled, “Who Am I”. It was an Original Oratory talking about being a gentleman in today’s society. That piece took me all the way to Sectionals, and I was only a freshman. That experience made me realize that not only do I have a talent, but that my words could persuade and inspire a group of people

Two years later, I decided to write an informative speech titled, “Eye See It Differently”, a piece inspired from my experience with glaucoma. I decided to unlock that door of shame and pity that had been consuming me, and use it in a much more positive outlet.

This was one of the biggest risks I have ever taken.
I was so scared because for the first time I was putting myself in a vulnerable position with my writing. I was going to talk, and even joke, about something so personal, and I didn’t know how my audience would react to that

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Little did I know this would be the best decision of my life.

 

February 16, 2013. At the Peoria Civic Center, two individuals are left on stage. Elizabeth Woo and myself.

“And your runner up in Informative Speaking…”
I take a breath.
Elizabeth Woo.
My body was in shock. I had just come out the closet

 

The medal was great, don’t get me wrong, but that was not what gave me the joy. Coaches coming up to me saying people from their team were inspired to write from watching my speech, that’s what gave me joy.

For the first time in my life I realized that my words matter, and that I could accomplish and inspire so much through writing.
I was so driven after winning state that not only did I decide I was majoring in journalism but I created my own blog, titled Eye See It Differently. I wanted to share with the world my writings and begin inspiring through my words.

Life at that point seemed so great that I decided now was the perfect time to come out again. I knew how guys made me feel, and honestly I loved it. I accepted myself for who I was and I didn’t care if the world knew.

Coming out felt great… then everything changed.
I had a teacher by the name of Mr. Wall. Words can’t describe how much this man meant to me. I had the opportunity of having him as my teacher, director, and as my speech coach.

What I respected about him the most was how much he challenged me.
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I instagramed this pic last November right after our production of Leap of Faith, directed by Mr. Wall.

 

The caption read: A director, friend, and big brother all in one picture. K Wall.

 

In our production he casted me as Jake, a little boy who was disabled after a tragic car accident; but believed that this preacher who just arrived in their town could cure him. This was the most difficult role I ever had to play. I was singing songs outside my range, while also having to execute this pain from being confined to a wheelchair. There were times in rehearsal where I wanted to give up because I didn’t think I could do it.

 

He was the reason I didn’t.

 

That role wound up being one of my most successful portrayals I ever did in high school.
He believed in me so much. Sometimes when I didn’t believe in myself. Whether it was a play he was directing or an assignment he gave me in his creative writing class, he pushed me to my limits and made me feel like anything was possible.

 

Somewhere in my relationship with Mr. Wall, things got complicated. I wish to this day I can go back and “un”complicate it.

 

I can’t go into detail on what happened, but he played a major role in my coming out.

 

Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you? Multiply that by 10, and that’s how I felt when I realized my mentor took his life.

I couldn’t believe it. The person who made me realize all my potential was no longer here to watch me chase my dreams.

 

I didn’t come to school for weeks after I heard the news. Even when I came back things weren’t easy. Felt like I was pushing through the days. It got to a point where no matter how much I prayed, went to therapy, or cried I was still feeling so much pain. So, I did what naturally came to me. I wrote about it. I blogged a story “Are You Okay” basically documenting my life after Mr. Wall’s passing. Getting all those emotions out felt amazing. I was bottling so much in for months and I finally felt a pinch of relief. I meant to go back and delete the blog, but I wound up not doing it.

 

Now, I’m so thankful I didn’t.

 

Remember how I said in high school I ignored my glaucoma. Well, when I came to college I treated the tragedy the same way. That was a dark point in my life that I had no point in revisiting.
A few weekends ago I was working on a group project with one of my friends. We take a break from the assignment, and she mentions to me how she read my blog “Are You Okay?”, and was seeking my advice of what she was going through. Halloween weekend, she found out that her best friend died in a freak accident. She had been feeling so many emotions and after reading my blog, she felt comfortable confiding to me.

 

That moment right there showed me why I write.
I’ve been through a lot of hardships in my life. What I realized is that sulking doesn’t change anything. I believed I was brought into this world to inspire. To speak up and say “Hey, I’ve been through hell and I’m still fighting, and so can you”. The only way I’m going be able to inspire though is through my writings.

I used to be afraid to write about intimate subjects. Never in a million years did I think my glaucoma story and the situation with Mr. Wall would be public for the world to see. However, I am so happy they are. What started as a therapeutic method to get out my emotions has turned into a way to inspire our youth. I write about things that people are afraid to. However, I realized I’m doing this to show people they are not alone. With a pen or keyboard, I’m able to connect to that person who’s struggling with a disability, that person who is afraid to come out, and that person who has lost a friend. My friend served as my reminder why I continue to write. Language allows you to see that you matter, people are going through the same things as you are, and that you can keep fighting.

 

That’s why I write and that’s why I’m not giving up.

 

Coming out was not easy.
 I survived though.
 Now it’s time to come up

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.