I never really expected to experience PTSD, but after being with both my Tia Gra (aunt) and my grandpa in their last moments it left me in a state of trauma. It started last June when my Tia came to Chicago to urgently go to the hospital and get checked for her symptoms. After a week the doctors told my family that she had stage 3 pancreatic cancer. It was my first time experiencing fear and grief in my whole life. My Tia Gra was someone so special to me. We had a tight bond and she felt not only like a second grandmother but like a best friend. The seven months I had to watch her lose weight, throw up from chemo, get so sick she was rushed to the hospital felt like hell, but I never regret helping take care of her. I was in denial for most of the summer not acknowledging her sickness and not speaking about it because if I did acknowledge it then it was real and I could not imagine losing her. My anxiety rose and so did my binge eating. My hobbies and interest no longer brought me joy and even getting out of bed required so much energy. Towards the end I spent everyday in the hospital with her until her last moment.
I never knew pain like that could exist but I had to face it again almost a month later.
My grandpa was not just my grandpa, he was my soulmate and father figure. When my mom had to stay in the hospital after giving birth to me, my grandparents brought me home and for a month helped take care of me like I was their daughter, and in a way I was like their adoptive daughter. I spent every day with them. My grandpa would take me grocery shopping, get some ice cream, and picked me up from school. In the summer we would have our designated time to read our books and eat watermelon and then fall asleep. During the fall and winter times he would watch his black and white movies while I read and then again we would take a nap. My whole life losing him was my biggest fear.
A week after his procedure where he got a tube in his liver to help manage the liquid that would build up he got sick. He started throwing up and forgetting things like his name and who my family was. He began to forget how to eat and would start crying. My mom rushed him to the hospital where they examined him and informed us he suffered from a heart attack and a stroke. It felt like I was drowning. After my aunt’s funeral I felt emotionally exhausted and was starting to experience flashbacks. It only made it worse that my grandpa was in the same hospital and floor that my aunt was in. Everyday after school I went to help take care of him like feed him and help translate between my grandparents and the nurses.
It was a Tuesday and I left the pink line to go to the hospital when my mom called me and asked if I was on the way, to which I responded with yes. When I got to his room my mom, dad, my two aunts and my uncle were there surrounding him. That's when my mom told me that he was in his last moments I couldn’t believe it. I remember saying no a couple of times and I fell to the floor. My dad picked me up and took me outside where I yelled so loud my stomach started to hurt. I held his hand and said my goodbyes.
That's when my anxiety went downhill. It was constant bouts of anger and irritability, racing heartbeat and thoughts, nervousness, difficulty focusing, constipation, and fear of death.
If anyone mentioned either of their names or something reminded me of them when I was back in the hospital room or holding their hands—those happy memories brought pain. I finally had enough when I had a breakdown. I consulted my doctor and she prescribed me medication. I have always been skeptical about medicine because in the Latinx community, mental health is not real and it's all in your head, so there is no need for medicine. Growing up mental health was not real nor was it discussed ever. Depressed? Go do some exercise or do an activity. Feeling anxious? Calm down. Mental health is now starting to become less taboo and discussed more within the community, but the idea of medication is still very much ignored and not considered an option. “Approximately 33% of Hispanic or Latinx adults with mental illness receive treatment each year compared to the U.S. average of 43%. This is due to many unique barriers to care,” according to Nami.org. The Latinx community focuses too much on what “la gente va decir” or what people might think of someone if they go and seek help.
My mom would say to block it and go exercise. I did exercise though; I would go for long runs or long hiit workouts and it would help but only for an hour or so then the anxiety, flashbacks, negative thoughts, and feeling detached would come back. I felt immense guilt taking medication because I feel as though I am exaggerating my feelings, but I know I need it for my health. I am taking Hydroxyzine or Antihistamine and Lexapro. The first few days the medicine made me so tired and sleepy. I was also feeling numb and like I was floating. I know it's gonna take some time to heal and medication is only part of the process.
Don't feel ashamed to talk to your doctor and seek help because we need it for ourselves. Grief, PTSD, Binge Eating, and anxiety are serious mental health issues and you should not be going through it alone. Seek out a friend or a professional. If you need medication don’t be afraid to ask your physician. If you are experiencing serious mental health issues, know that you are not alone and there are people out there to support you. Below are links to hotlines for any help.
Grief, PTSD, Anxiety