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.

NOLA Boy

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His spirit is in sync with our own. We welcome this stranger with arms wide open. We want to give him the time of his life. He deserves it. His loud voice resonates off the bright colored scenery surrounding him. The rhythm of his body moves to the music our city sings. He is new, that we can tell. His deep caramel eyes widen in every moment. The day is winding down. He has had enough. We will allow him to rest until dawn. When the sun rises, the boy shall realize he has found home.

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.

 

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