This is an edited version of an episode of my podcast. If you prefer to listen, click Make Me Whole Podcast to find this and all other episodes!
Warning: brief strong language
Hello, and welcome to the first installment in my Make Me Whole series. I am so excited, and, if I’m honest, definitely a little bit nervous to be doing this. Now, I’m a girl that loves to talk, but this isn’t my norm, so we’re going to figure this out together. It’s been a little bit of a challenge to get here, and I’m sure anyone who has learned or attempted something for the first time can totally understand that. I think that the most important thing is to trust what I’m capable of, give myself grace, understand that I’m not supposed to be perfect, and just get it done. And that doesn’t just come naturally. It has taken me a really long time and a lot of work to figure out who I am and what is truly important to me. I have a lot to say about what I’ve learned, so here I am.
The idea of podcasting became really interesting to me after I had the opportunity to be part of a podcast several months ago called Stronger Than You Think, hosted by a woman named Erika Diaz-Castro. If you haven’t listened to it, go check it out. They cover diverse topics related to mental wellbeing, so it was right up my alley. I had so much fun being a featured guest, and thought, “I can do that!” I wanted to get my message out, but I didn’t understand yet how hard it would be. You start recording, you erase, you record again, you write scripts, you look up Youtube videos, you get the right equipment, you hope you have the right sound, you stop again, you pick it up when you feel more comfortable, you make tons of excuses…this sounds familiar, right? This has been my process to get here, and so feet first, head high, I am here to share my knowledge, answer questions, and talk all things mental wellness.
There’s this Youtuber I follow. Her name is Sunny Lenarduzzi, and she is just amazing. She speaks to entrepreneurs about finding a focus for our lives and also about how to not let obstacles stop us from getting where we want to be. She totally speaks my language, and she came up with this idea of the Hero Story. You create your Hero Story by reflecting on some of the struggles that you’ve been through, how you got through them, and how they’ve made you grow. Then you can share that with others so that they understand some of the context of your life and achievements. We’re not superhumans because we can pay our bills, have our family together, keep a job, or have a home. There’s something about our history and experiences that has honed the gifts that we have. We can celebrate and share our stories with those around us, getting and giving inspiration as a community. I’m not better than the women around me because I struggled and survived. I’m a better version of myself because I know my strengths and how to use them. That being said, here’s my Hero Story.
Let’s turn back the clock about 11 years to when I was living in New York, trying my very best to maintain some kind of a "normal" life while raising 2 kids in a 2 bedroom apartment. I was making pretty decent money, but never getting ahead. I was really at the bottom of the barrel, and I’m not talking can’t-buy-Starbucks-or-McDondalds broke. I’m talking about cars being repossessed and paying bills in parts, hoping that the electricity and the cable would stay on so that I wouldn’t have to explain what happened. I come from a pretty large family, and unfortunately, there was this expectation that no matter what you were going through, you had to figure it out for yourself. I found that out very early on when I would be interrogated instead of supported when things didn’t go according to plan. So there was no way I was going to let anyone know that my life was less than perfect. Many times, I cried alone, pretending I was strong in front of others, but knowing that I was slowly but surely breaking down. Looking at where I come from and who my family is, one might say, “Come on, you have both your parents living, you have siblings, are you really going to tell me that no one was there to help you? You couldn’t turn to anybody?” We were taught to be self-sufficient, not pendejas, and if we didn't get something right, there better be an answer as to why. Any help that was given came with conditions, and they were sometimes harder to deal with than the original struggle. So, I often kept my trouble to myself and made sure that the mask that I put on showed exactly what I wanted other people to see.
As sad, and sometimes really bleak, as things seemed, I can say that I did have a strong force that helped me see things more clearly and keep my head on straight. That was my grandmother, Aida. She had always been there since the day I was born, and her strength and stories of survival were ones that really made me look at what I was going through and know that my genes were strong. I remember many moments that I received the unconditional love that only a grandmother can give. She would celebrate my successes as well as sit and hold me when things just seemed too difficult to deal with. I remember her mantra: God will never give you more than you can handle. And boy, was she right. So as things continued to be challenging, being both a new mother and a new wife, she paved the way of understanding for me and helped me see the abilities I had within myself. It wasn't always easy to move forward, but all it took was for her to say, “Don't worry, I lit a candle for you.” That just gave me a little pocket of peace.
After some time of living day-to-day, paycheck-to-paycheck, I received a phone call from a very dear cousin of mine who had similarly been struggling in California and then made a home in South Carolina. We talked and she said, “ Hey, I think it's time for you to move down here.” I said, “Down there? To the country?!” Listen, I am born and bred in the Bronx, and all I knew and understood was the city life. But she spoke to my heart, saying, “I want you to get ahead. I want you to win. Come and live with us. You won't have to pay rent. You can get settled. You can create the life that you want for your family.” I thought, “How can I? No one's going to understand. How could I leave my grandma and know a life different from New York?” I remember going to my grandmother and talking to her about it. She was one of the first people I told that I was even considering it, and basically she told me that I had to do what was best for myself because this life in New York wasn't serving me. She knew I was meant for more, and even though my family was in New York, I needed to figure out what my next steps were. It was with that blessing that I decided to take the risk and move myself all the way down to South Carolina and give it a try. My only regret, and it's a deep one, is that 2 months later, my grandmother died. That support, that unconditional love, that voice that I relied on for so many years, would no longer be there to cheer me on. It truly was one of the hardest times for me. I received a lot of questions, as expected. Why was I doing this? Why was I taking my children away from their family? What was I thinking moving in with someone I've never lived with before? Why couldn't I just make it happen in New York? I got tired of answering the questions. For some people my move was a real difficulty, and others just watched and waited to see if I failed.
As I said earlier, I wasn't in a good state financially, so I borrowed $330 from my mom. That's all I had in my pocket. I had a job lined up, which was really helpful. And it didn’t take my husband long to get a job, which was not only great, but surprising as he had his own doubts about the move. Now he freely says he knows it was the best decision for our family. I remember that soon after I arrived here, I would say between 2 and 3 weeks later, I was asked for that money back. And while I understood that it wasn't mine, I had asked for it out of sheer necessity. I hadn't gotten paid yet, so I had to put it off for a little while until that check came in. As soon as it did, I sent that money back to my mother. It brought me to a point of clarity for myself. Nothing I had at that moment was mine. I was starting from zero, and I decided that from then on, I would never be there again
It took us 14 months and lots of work, patience, understanding, and faith to find a place to live, enroll our girls in school, and get settled in jobs that we were comfortable with. Finally, on February 28th, 2013 my husband, my two girls, and I sat on a four-seater card table in the middle of our empty home and ate pizza for the first time. It was one of the best meals I ever had in my life. From then on, this has been my mantra: you can and you will. Now, that doesn’t mean I think everything I want is going to be handed to me on a silver platter. That's just a statement of purpose, of intent. There will be people surrounding you, thoughts surrounding you, situations surrounding you that will make you doubt yourself. But if you channel your energy into those things that you truly feel you are meant for, that are important to you, it can happen. I didn’t know at the time what exactly I wanted my future to look like, but I understood that if I was going to be successful, I had to figure out my priorities. Once I did, I put my whole person into creating the life that I felt that I, my family, and most especially my children deserved. And in that, so much has blossomed, and so much has changed. I'm not the same person. My faith has grown stronger, and it’s not some hokey faith. The real deal, guys. I believe that there is something larger than me that listens to my desires and my pleadings and then responds with a challenge. It asks how bad I want it, how hard am I willing to work for it, and if I'm Just talking shit here.
There are things that you desire, whether that’s a different job, more money, a healthy relationship, a grade on a test. Take a second and think about what it is in your life in particular. Listen to me when I say this: it’s yours, as long as you focus your energies and your intentions towards getting it. You have to put everything into it. You can’t do 5 things at the same time or concentrate on 7 different goals. You have to focus on that one thing and drive towards that finish line. I'm here to tell you it is possible. There are lots of things we're going to talk about in the upcoming posts, but I wanted to start off from there because I truly believe that there are changes that are possible as long as we're willing to face them. We must be willing to understand that there's a balance between what we're going to ask from the universe and what the universe is going to ask of us in return.
That was a lot to get through in my first post. I really hope you enjoyed it! I want to just give thanks to all the people who have given me support so far, who have sent their messages of love and praise. I especially want to thank my family who has put up with closed sessions of recording and editing. They have been my north star through this journey. Remember: let’s complain less, do more, and make sure we are exercising all our strength and power!