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I’m 21-years-old, lying in my bed, and looking at the cork bulletin board I have on the wall—you know, the kind of board most college girls have in their rooms. Pinned to it are my class schedule, my waitressing shifts, and pictures of me and my friends and family. My eyes zoom into the photos; in most, I’m smiling and laughing. While I see myself in them, I can’t recognize myself at all. Even when I pause, close my eyes, and try my hardest, I can’t remember what smiling feels like. I can’t remember what happiness feels like at all.
That day, as I looked at the pictures of myself and my loved ones (and many, many times after that), I started wondering what it would be like if I wasn’t part of this world anymore. I didn’t gather the courage to plan how I would kill myself—I simply wanted to be erased; I wanted to disappear.
According to a study from the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, Latina adolescents experience depression and suicidal ideations in a disproportionate manner compared to their non-Latina counterparts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 10.5 percent of Latina adolescents aged 10–24 years who live in the U.S. have attempted suicide in the past year, compared to 7.3 percent of white female adolescents.
I didn’t know all of this back then; as a recent immigrant from Mexico City, I was navigating a new system on my own and I was getting lost. I worked full-time to pay my way through school. I took on a full load of classes. I was in a long-term relationship that was as unhealthy as they get. What started as a friendship quickly turned into a poisonous situation that fed off competition, insecurities, and abuse. At some point, I stopped eating.
It was overwhelming, scary, and the most difficult time in my life. I felt paralyzed and immensely sad, and it was the kind of deep sadness that left me numb.
After hitting rock bottom, I realized I needed to get back to some-thing that helped me feel grounded. The only thing I could think of was yoga.
TURNING A CORNER
A few years prior, I had joined a yoga class at a community college. It was taught in a carpeted classroom so small that we had to move the chairs aside to lay down our mats. From the first time I tried yoga, I fell in love with it. I loved the calming effect yoga had on me; I loved that it forced me to quiet my mind and that it forced me to be present. I loved the physical challenge of it, too. But I stopped practicing because my schedule got in the way.
In the midst of my chaos, my friend Ramiro introduced me to Bikram Yoga, and I instantly became obsessed with it. It was so physically challenging that my mind couldn’t worry about anything else while I was practicing. I forced myself to go to class; my only goal was not to walk out no matter how tired, sad, or immobile I felt.
A few other things happened, too: I started going to a free therapy service through my university, something for which I’m eternally grateful. I made myself open up to a friend and three of my aunts, two of whom still lived in Mexico. I started doing the work and slowly understanding that I was suffering from a deep depression that had been untreated for years.
It wasn’t pretty. It was a struggle all the way through. I had trouble sleeping, or I would sleep too much. I had trouble studying. I also cried a lot and for no apparent reason. There were many nights when my aunts literally just listened to me cry over the phone for hours. There were times when my friend who knew what I was going through would have to call me and psyche me up to get out of bed, go to yoga, or go to work.
It was hard getting used to eating again, especially having meals at regular hours and rediscovering healthy portions versus relying on miniature snacks or soup broth. It wasn’t until a few months after graduation that I started feeling like myself again.
It’s been 10 years, and I’ve continued practicing yoga. Sometimes throughout this journey, I’ve fallen off the wagon and quit for a few days—sometimes months—but my body got really good at identifying triggers. My body naturally learned to use yoga to deal with stress, outside pressure, and anxiety. When things were difficult, I returned to my goal of one class at a time, even if that meant going into Child’s Pose, closing my eyes in Triangle Pose to catch my breath, or grounding myself in Savasana in the middle of class. Eventually, my body and mind remembered how to move and breathe.
After a few years of constant practice and feeling much healthier, I started wondering if I could ever teach yoga. This whisper lived with me for many years, and last year, I finally did it. I went into yoga teacher training thinking that this would be the best way for me to deepen my practice and nothing else. However, during the training, I quickly realized that my purpose is larger than that.
The issue of suicide among Latinas is so severe that it’s a national epidemic. It is extremely hard to be a young Latina in the U.S. (or anywhere) right now. In my case, I was lost navigating a new country and a new school system, and I was not well-versed in identifying symptoms of depression—which is taboo to talk about in my culture.
I also felt the unspoken cultural pressure to finish school, find a career, be the perfect daughter, get married, and have kids. I was putting so much pressure on myself to meet those expectations without even questioning if that’s what I really wanted. It was scary to find my own voice without offending those around me.
But if I can help make yoga accessible to young Latina women going through similar journeys; if I can reach girls and young women at school, work, or through organizations; if I can teach them tools to overcome any difficult feelings; if I can be the source of inspiration, comfort, or grounding for at least one girl out there; if they can see themselves in me, even if it’s just for one second; I’ll feel like my past pain was worth it.
About our Author
Alejandra Suarez is a recently graduated yoga teacher based in Dallas. You can find her on Instagram @alejandrasy.