by: Lacee Be
Growing up, I didn’t have a positive representation of what it meant to live with mental illness. I had stigma on top of stigma. I knew from young adulthood that I had bipolar disorder and PTSD, but I was terrified to get officially diagnosed. I studied both of these diagnoses in college (I majored in psychology), and I knew that mental illness ran in my family. But I kept telling myself, “No. It’s not me.” I listened to the stigmatized thoughts that everyone had filled my mind with.
Then I learned about Dior Vargas. Dior Vargas is a queer Latina feminist mental health advocate. She’s been advocating for mental health since before 2015. Her advocacy has won her awards, ranging from the 2015 Champion of Change for Disability Advocacy Across Generations, from then President Obama, to 2022 Mental Health Equity Journey Award from the NYS Office of Mental Health. Hearing Dior Vargas speak and share about her mental health diagnoses openly helped me break down my own stigma. Her story helped me understand things like, “You aren’t alone,” and, “You can succeed,” and, “You have worth.”
Finally, after experiencing open conservations about mental health, I sought diagnosis. Two years have passed since then, and I’ve gained a perspective about myself that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’ve gained confidence in my ability to care for myself. I’ve gained my true personality. None of this would have been possible without the awareness I was offered around mental health through friends, family, and public speakers like Dior Vargas.
Perhaps if I had positive representations of living with mental illness from a young age, I wouldn’t have stigmatized my own symptoms and feelings. Perhaps I would have sought treatment and diagnosis sooner. Perhaps I would have grown into myself a lot sooner.
I’ve discovered people like Dior Vargas who have become important representations of what living with a mental illness can mean for me. Dior, among thousands of others, shows us that it’s possible to have a mental illness and to be healthy. To be experiencing mental health symptoms and to be successful. To be sad and to be happy. It’s not either/or. It’s and.
This representation changes the world. It breaks down the stigmas in different cultures and communities. It reduces harm amongst those of us with mental health diagnoses. It encourages strength and growth and power. It changes lives.
For all of these reasons listed here, and so many more, this is why it’s important to me that Dior Vargas comes to Iowa, that I’ll be registering for and attending this event, and that I hope you do too.