Ivan X Cheated Death and Turned His Life Around
Mental wealth to me is: emotional security and self-awareness.
I am mentally real because: I know who I am and I own my story. I now have a new mission.
"It was the wake-up call that I needed. I had to start completely over. I had to remember who the hell I was and relearn how to swallow, read, eat, speak, hold my head up, and move my limbs. I was like a newborn baby at the age of 22."
Honestly, not much. I never really thought about mental health growing up either. Actually, I had no idea what anxiety or depression was. It wasn't until I went off to college did I realize that I suffered from anxiety.
How did you make this realization?
I saw a therapist during my freshman year and she diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder.
That's great you were open to seeking therapy. What prompted you to see a therapist?
I had trouble sleeping and thought I needed help with a possible sleep disorder. After I saw my therapist, she recommended I go to my university’s health services. While there, I was prescribed a medication by the doctor I saw.
Did anyone try to help you understand your anxiety?
Not really. I was told to try the pill I was prescribed and see how it helped. No one necessarily educated me on what anxiety was or tried to help me understand what the root of my issues were. I just thought, “Okay, cool. I guess this will be fixed.”
Did the pill help your anxiety or sleeping issues?
No, it didn’t. I didn't last long with the medication because the pill gave me some uncomfortable side effects. I actually gave other medicines a shot, too. Another doctor prescribed me Xanax and an OCD medicine to try on a temporary basis. I really didn't have any faith in medication after this because I felt like they didn't cure me of anything.
Prescribed medication “curing” mental health conditions is a popular misconception. These medicines can be part of a treatment plan but there is no magic pill that will eliminate a chronic mental health condition. Just like there is no pill to make diabetes or lupus disappear but there are medications to help treat these conditions. How did you cope with your anxiety afterwards
Honestly, I coped through self-medication. For me, that was poly-substance abuse. It wasn’t long before my drug usage became out of control. The thing about using drugs to cope is that, at first, it helps - or at least I thought it did - so you keep doing it. But, eventually, you build a tolerance and you need more and more. Also, drugs like alcohol are depressants so they can actually make your symptoms worse or make symptoms you never had before start. If you have addicts in your family like I do, you're pretty much gambling with your life. At some point, you need to be honest and ask yourself why you are putting poison in your body when you know it's not healthy.
Very true. We live in a society where binge drinking and blacking out from drugs are normalized as just having a wild weekend. Did any of your college friends recognize you had a problem?
Yes, actually a few of my friends did in college. But, honestly, I don’t really remember their exact words or really much of what happened during this time.
What were the consequences of your drug abuse?
Too many. My drug use lasted several years. For starters, my academic performance suffered tremendously and I landed on academic probation. I ended up taking a leave of absence after my sophomore year at the University of Michigan. After that, it was a series of failed stays at rehabs, homelessness and behavior I am not proud of. I was really lost. I know some people reading this may thinking that it couldn't happen to them. I know because I thought like that. But, the thing is I have addiction in my genetics and that's a strong predictor of substance abuse. Anyways, I almost lost my life when I suffered an anoxic brain injury in 2012. I wasn't supposed to survive my first 24 hours in the ICU and my family was told to take me off life support. I turned my life around ever since I emerged from my six-month coma and am proud of how far I’ve come. It was the wake-up call that I needed. I had to start completely over. I had to remember who the hell I was and relearn how to swallow, read, eat, speak, hold my head up, and move my limbs. I was like a newborn baby at the age of 22.
That is such a powerful testimony and I am proud of you as well! Tell us about any other experiences you had with mental health treatment?
Prior to my traumatic brain injury. I had never taken anything about mental health seriously. I had been forced to see therapists during my teen years and was just going through the motions. It wasn’t until I got kicked out of my last stint of drug/alcohol rehab that I got sent to wilderness therapy in Utah. There, I learned a lot of things about mental health care and could regurgitate the information back, but I did not want to change. I ended up walking down a dark path until I almost lost my life.
You are one of few Latinos that go to rehab for substance abuse. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 92% of Latino youth with a substance abuse disorder went to rehab and about 1.1 million Latino youth used illicit drugs. When you reflect on your upbringing and on your experiences, what role, if any did societal messages you received about Latino men influence your self-image?
Thank you! The macho trope was definitely prominent growing up because I saw it in my own extended family. As a kid, I didn't know that this was problematic. I just thought it was an unquestioned norm; men are the leaders. For example, I always knew that my grandfathers were abusive womanizers but no one ever took me aside to explain how bad that was because they were the male elders of the family. That was enough to earn blind respect.There was and is a clear double standard in Latino families. On one hand, we get so much leniency to kind of do what we want. But, on the other hand, we’re expected to be tough and get crazy beatings if we “don't listen.”
I’m familiar with this double standard. What do you make of the beatings you received growing up?
I didn’t know any different growing up. If I messed up, I deserved to get beat. That was my mentality. I can remember being really anxious when I heard the belt clicking. I knew what was coming and I knew I couldn’t do anything to make it stop. That was just the norm in my culture. It's not even a question.
It’s a sad reality that being hit is a norm for us. Time outs are “white people shit” according to many of us. It's like we've internalized and reproduced all the violence inflicted upon our communities. Did you ever act out violently with kids growing up?
Yes, definitely. For example, I was sent to a psychologist after almost knocking a kid’s tooth out in elementary school. The psychologist actually asked me if I was being hit by my parents at school but I didn’t narc on them. I knew better than to tell the psychologist because I didn’t want to be taken out of our apartment. My family has always had a distrust in law enforcement.
Did any racist societal messages about Latino men affect you such as being a criminal?
Growing up, I experienced racist bullying. White kids didn’t know what to make of my brown ass and couldn’t believe that my parents were educated. Even a friend of mine admitted that he was afraid to even approach me because I scared him with my “angry” face. Everyone thought I was Mexican and foreign. When people made these comments I would react, which only reinforced the stereotypes they had of me. Needless to say, I did not fit in and I didn't want to either. I just always felt like an outsider and that didn't help.
What do you wish someone would have told you about mental health while you were growing up?
That it’s okay to talk about and that there’s no wrong answer. I always felt embarrassed and uncomfortable talking abut my feelings, especially the anxious thoughts I was having. I felt it was a sign of weakness to have “mental issues” and those that did have any were “crazy.” So, it felt better to pretend that I was “fine” than risk being humiliated for expressing myself. But, that ended up harming me. I wish someone would have said it wasn't a weakness to say I didn't feel okay.
It should be the norm to express our feelings. Our boys especially need to know this because machismo and other forms of toxic masculinity do nothing but cause harm. Do you have any mental health advice for POC?
No matter what you hear in your household, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and always believe in yourself. Have a strong support system with people you trust and get close to God. Always seek out resources because I myself have used free or low cost services. There's so much help and information out there. You just have to want the change.
What needs to change in the mental health industry to better help POC?
I think overall more dialogue within families and more access to resources. There really needs to be less secrets around mental health. Mental health care should be more mainstream and should be a part of early education.
How can our readers reach you?
You can follow my recovery on @officialivanx. I definitely want to connect with others and hopefully inspire them with my journey.