My Culture Hid Mental Illness. I Won’t Be Like That With My Daughter

In my late teens, I eventually began seeing a psychiatrist and was put on medication….

My Culture Hid Mental Illness. I Won’t Be Like That With My Daughter

In my late teens, I eventually began seeing a psychiatrist and was put on medication. But years later, after I married and it was time to have a child, I had to stop the medication — and that’s when I realized that although the medication helped in some ways, it had also numbed my true self. Everything inside me exploded like a volcanic eruption. By that time I had some tools under my belt, like years of retraining my negative thoughts into positive ones through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In addition to this, my psychiatrist recommended exercise to replace the dopamine the medication had provided, and writing out my feelings.  

Being an artist is considered a lazy person’s job in my culture, so in secret, I started writing my fiction manuscript, “We Never Said Goodbye,” a love story steeped in the migrant experience. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my psychiatrist was essentially recommending art therapy. This was my first step in reclaiming my life and leaving my job as a computer programmer to become a writer, poet and performer, something I always wanted, but couldn’t fight for. As a child of migrants, my parents sacrificed their homeland and family for my siblings and me, so a financially secure job was the only option.  

Not long after the birth of my daughter, I left my marriage, culture and religion to find who I was. Raised in a strict, Greek Orthodox culture and marrying young at 22, all my life I was taught to do what I was told, and to serve men. I wanted to be a role model for my daughter, but the sad truth was that I was not as emotionally mature as someone might expect of a woman my age. I felt like Lorelai in “Gilmore Girls.” I didn’t want the same for my daughter, so I pro-actively got her into therapy during my separation from her father.

My Culture Hid Mental Illness. I Won’t Be Like That With My Daughter
Koraly Dimitriadis with her daughter as a baby.Courtesy Koraly Dimitriadis

Since taboo issues were so closeted in my upbringing, I wanted to be open with her. At age-appropriate moments in her life, I have told her about my struggles and how I overcame them, the things that worked for me, the things that didn’t. I told her I took medication in the past but I don’t anymore, and that I see a psychologist. When I was diagnosed with complex-PTSD and started hypnosis and psychotherapy, I told her about that, too. I have been able to pass on what I have learned to achieve the best mental health outcomes for her.

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But as she entered her teen years, I soon realized I needed to do more. She was mimicking some of my bad habits around emotional self-care. I needed to implement mental health hygiene into our everyday lives. I began meditating. I learned how sugar can affect my mood. I started understanding my mind more, how social media affects my brain, how reading calms me. My daughter and I started reading and meditating every morning.

Don’t get me wrong — there are hard periods where she abandons all her good practices. Some days are so hard I don’t know how I’m surviving. On those days I put my faith in looking after myself and treating myself with compassion. By keeping myself on track, I find that even though she has veered away, she comes back and joins me. Those of us who have teenagers know nagging never works.