Being OK with not feeling OK

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Media: Taina Millsap

During quarantine I had to come to terms with my own negative thoughts.

By Taina Millsap, Living Arts Editor

As a Latina woman, I’ve always been surrounded by happiness and the mindset that everything is fine. Even my grandma, who fought depression all her life, always put up a positive front. My mom—a single mother—never showed signs of weakness. I have seen her cry maybe four times in my life.

How I deal with my own emotions is in no way their fault. My family and my female role models always encouraged me to share my emotions. Especially with a therapist for a mother, I never felt judged. But I did always judge myself. 

Being open with my emotions has always been hard for me, and maybe one day I’ll go to therapy and figure out why that is. I probably should. A lot of my friends around me seem in-tune with their emotions and are non-apologetic. And yet I cry in silence, away from everyone. All the times I’ve cried in front of someone, I felt ashamed. I have never allowed myself to feel sad or angry for too long. 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, members of Latinx and Hispanic communities have a hard time sharing their emotions. Only around 20 percent of Latinx people actually seek help from others when experiencing symptoms of a psychological disorder, and only 10 percent see doctors.

Entering quarantine, moving away from most of my friends, and being isolated in California with my mom brought up such intense feelings for me. I’ve always been very stoic. Coming to the U.S. at only 13 years old, I had an easy time adapting—too easy. After moving to college, I rarely found myself missing my home for more than an hour. That is not because I don’t deeply love my family and friends I left behind. It’s just how I feel. 

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But this summer hit me differently than any of my previous moves. I lost my independence, a chunk of my in-person learning time, an internship, and an Emerson program where I would be able to live in Los Angeles for free during the summer while learning from my internship. Despite all of my valid reasons for being upset, I knew that many people out there had it much worse than me. I often thought of those directly affected by COVID-19 within their families. I couldn’t understand why I was being such a baby. I was living with a mother I love and have a great relationship with, and I love the few friends I have left from high school. But something was missing. 

On Aug. 4, I made the decision to take this fall semester online. I’ve lost track of how many days since then I spent feeling bad for myself and thinking I wasn’t allowed to feel deeply upset about my new life. I say “deeply upset” because I have never been diagnosed with depression and have never felt the true effects of the illness, so I don’t want to speak for those who suffer from diagnosed mental illness. 

Even now, living with my best friend in Hawaii, I still miss Boston—the snow, the late production nights at The Beacon—I miss work. I miss the darkroom, where I learned how to develop film. I miss the grilled cheese from the Max, I miss my old suite-mates, I miss wearing Docs. I miss red velvet hot chocolate from J.P. Licks. I miss the Common. I miss the T—and I miss, more than anything, a sense of normalcy.

According to a Psychology Today article titled “Feeling guilty about feeling bad” by Dr. Stephanie A. Sarkis, the feeling of not having “a right to complain” is one of the many reasons people don’t look for mental health support in others. 

“You have a right to feel what you feel, regardless of what others say or how you view your challenges in light of others’ suffering,” Sarkis wrote. “Everyone has challenges; just different ones. Your challenges are a challenge to you, and that makes them valid. Period.” 

We all need to look in the mirror and give ourselves a break. Honestly, life is hard, especially during a pandemic, and I am still learning about myself and the world. It’s going to take time for me to be fully comfortable and okay with being sad or upset. And it’s going to take a long time for the world to go back to what it was while recovering from the first global pandemic in a century. 

But I know one thing. Next time I feel sad and miss my “normal” life, I am going to let myself just feel. I am going to look at old photos and videos. I am going to reminisce with my best friend. I am going to take a walk and listen to my Emerson playlist. I am going to let myself just be, instead of shoving it down and feeling bad for it.