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Updated: Mar 3

By: Jhoanna Vega-Rocha

“Nothing is wrong with you; why do you need therapy?” This was my dad’s first reaction when I mentioned that I was in psychotherapy treatment for the first time in Fall of 2019.

I was in my prime career-wise, and everything was going well in my personal life, but I felt the loneliness and most on edge I have ever felt. During this time, I had moved four hours away from my nuclear family for my dream job. I was experiencing being one of the few people of color in the division, the youngest and only Latina in my whole department at the time, and navigating genuinely being on my own for the first time. When my therapist did the initial first assessment, I mentioned some physical symptoms that I was experiencing, such as stomach aches, feeling nausea in the morning and unexplained rashes on my legs. I was laying out these symptoms and not connecting how this was my body’s way of telling me GIRL, YOUR ANIXETY IS ON 10! I was so used to moving through the motions that I did not know how much your mental health affects your physical health.

Individuals manifest anxious feelings in different ways, and for me, my anxiety was showcased through being the “most productive” individual you can ever meet. I thrived on pushing myself to take on new challenges and being dependable and charismatic. As early as I could remember, that mentality engrained in me and led to my thought process of doing everything you’re asked to do and don’t complain. Coming from an immigrant household, there was a heavy emphasis on “echale ganas”. We needed to prove our worth to continue receiving everything my family had sacrificed for my sisters and me. It means, even on days off, taking the time to do what needs to get done because there is always something.

It also explains my dad’s reaction because if you asked them, I’m their perfect daughter who has excelled in everything I have put my mind to. I have achieved way more than they could have imagined; I’m my parents’ wildest dreams. I just knew I wasn’t okay and wasn’t prioritizing my wellness. My parents have taught me so much about hard work and dedication, and it took me until my young adult years to learn that rest is also a way to ensure that I can continue to succeed in these spaces that weren’t meant for me. Although I am not perfect, I try my best daily to balance work responsibilities and care for myself. Nothing is wrong with me; I am just trying to honor my parents’ hard work and dreams by ensuring that I see a long life to see my blessings.

Jhoanna Vega-Rocha is a first-generation Mexican from the North Suburbs of Chicago serving clients in Central IL. She is in her final year of completing her Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

As a Licensed Professional Counseling (LPC) Intern supervised by Dr. Venus Evans-Winters, Jhoanna is learning cultural competency, trauma-informed care, and other skilled-based counseling techniques. Jhoanna's goal is to continue to learn advanced skills under supervision and create a safe and welcoming space for all clients.

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By: Lynette A. Shaw

I have always heard people discuss the different things they have learned throughout the course of their twenties. Some of these lessons entailed the ins and outs of navigating relationships, career goals, or an existential crisis. However, my twenties have revealed something much more unexpected. In high school, the people around me are what "typical" American teenagers looked like, or older. However, when I was out in public, I was repeatedly mistaken for a middle schooler, or younger. I thought changing how I dressed or acted would make a difference, but it didn't. I thought graduating from high school would make a difference. It didn't. I remember once hanging out with a friend of mine shortly after graduation, and I was mistaken for her daughter. I was older than she was. When I told people I was moving to another state to attend school, people would give my parents very concerned looks and ask them if they would allow this to happen, and why. However this same concern was not expressed similarly to my peers.

I thought graduating from college and living on my own would make a difference in the way people viewed me not only physically, but maturity-wise. But I'm still "carded", still stared at, still judged. I honestly would not care if I did not face the social and political ramifications of these events. But now that I am in a master's program, I have found myself in an incredibly terrifying position to be in. Soon, I will begin competing against others to secure internship sites where I can practice clinical counseling, and I have realized that my race and gender are not the only two strikes I have against me. How am I supposed to be taken seriously in comparison to others when the employees at establishments stare at my ID in disbelief? Others have tried to cheer me up by saying this is a "compliment". I also used to view it that way before I realized the opportunities I have been denied and the credibility that had been snatched from me throughout my life. Seeing the difference in the way my peers and I are respected is astonishing; it doesn't feel like a "compliment" at all. For a long time, I had let the comments and the microaggressions roll down my back but little did I know it was all building up to one explosion of frustration and fear.

When I expressed frustration about these things while growing up, I was told that this was a gift and that I should not be in a rush to grow up too fast. And though I agreed, I now feel as though I am between a rock and a hard place. I wish people could understand how people talk down to me in a condescending tone or the way that my other identities already give people the agency to not take me seriously. In fact, I recently realized that much of the behavior I portray is overcompensation for this.

In the midst of all this, I would also like to call attention to the way that we regard aging in Western culture. Heaven-forbid someone has "crow's feet" or smile lines, or signs of aging. The disgust and fear we show towards aging and the elderly is utterly disturbing. The standards of beauty or "coolness" are just always out of reach...just a $49.99 container of under-eye cream away...

No amount of degrees under my belt or the length of my CV is going to convince someone I'm not 15. However, carrying around the resentment of this experience is not helpful either. I am grateful to have explored this, but I still feel fearful for the future. I still worry about the way I am received. However, I would never let that prevent me from offering all that I have to share with the world.

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By: Lynette A. Shaw

As a Black woman growing up with Generation Z, the expectations to perform well and represent my ethnicity are boundless. However, as a recent college graduate (Bachelor's in Psychology), and incoming graduate student, I am beginning to realize that much of the pressure I feel to perform well is often coming from within. I graduated from undergrad in three years, with my final semester consisting of 23 credit hours (7 classes). It was strongly advised that this may be an unwise decision, and I was elated when I received an email from the Dean cautiously signing off on my maximum course overload. At the time, I was working two jobs and maintaining two internships. At times, I began to wonder why I was so married to the idea of graduating early. When people asked me "why", I retorted, "why not?". It had been a serious ambition of mine since high school. Part of me believes this is because I like a challenge. It had nothing to do with pleasing my parents or proving myself. It was something I knew I could do, so I did it. I graduated Magna Cum Laude in May of 2022.

As I reflect on this past summer, I can genuinely say I relaxed and practiced serious self-care. I can't tell you what happened the first two weeks after graduation, because I was sleeping. I had to teach myself that it was okay to recuperate and rejuvenate before graduate school. With graduate school on the horizon in a few weeks, it dawned on me that success is no good if you are not practicing self-preservation and care. I used this summer for reflection and good old-fashioned fun! On the one hand, I could let the approaching of graduate school trigger my anxieties and fears, or I could appreciate the calm before the storm and bask in the last few moments of summer. I am excited to see what graduate school has in store for me, as I am one step closer to my dream. Going into the field of counseling psychology has provided me with a lot of time for self-reflection, and has caused me to ponder the phrase, "you can't pour from an empty cup" which was once said by a social worker by the name of Joseph Fleming. I think this phrase serves as an appropriate mantra for women of color when we experience fatigue, exhaustion, stress, and frustration. I believe it is incredibly important to remember this as we enter the new academic year.

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