Moving Past My Upbringing and Inherited Trauma | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Moving Past My Upbringing and Inherited Trauma

By Millicent Franco

Mental health struggles have been a consistent presence in my life from the day I was born. My lived experience has pushed me to explore the connection between identity, inherited trauma and mental health.

I grew up in a Hispanic household, where we never discussed mental health — although we all struggled with trauma and emotional distress. I was raised by my mother, who was a victim of sexual abuse as a child, and never received treatment for her wounds. Her trauma manifested as resentment toward (and fear of) men.

In many ways, I inherited her pain; she instilled in me from a young age the notion that most men — if not all — were out to hurt me. If ever showed affection to a man, my mother accused me of “inviting” him to abuse me. We never had broader discussions about our emotional well-being; if anyone felt depressed or couldn’t get out of bed, we attributed this to “just being lazy.” So I struggled in silence with my depression.

In secret, I contemplated suicide more times than I can count. When I took a chance and confided in my family, they told me that I needed to “suck it up” because I was choosing to feel this way — choosing to be weak. I always thought to myself, "Why would I choose to feel this way?"

I carried these lessons from my childhood well into my adulthood. I internalized my mother’s trauma, which manifested in my other relationships; I measured my self-worth by how much I interested men. With this inherited trauma comes more depression, inevitably remembering my family’s words, I "sucked it up" and stuffed down my pain, feeling like I had no other option.

Despite my attempts to “be strong,” my mental health continued to deteriorate. My mother passed away shortly after I gave birth to my oldest son and, by this time, had perfected looking like I was ok on the outside. After her passing, I turned cold and felt like a zombie. I fully neglected my own needs and concentrated on work and raising my son.

On the outside, it looked like I had it all together. But on the inside, I was falling apart. Six years later, I had another child and my mental health declined even further. My feelings of worthlessness tripled, and there were nights where I would lay in bed and convince myself that my sons would be better off without me. Eventually, I took another chance and confided in a friend. In response, she gave me reasons why my sons needed me in their lives.

This was the push I needed to seek treatment; I was diagnosed with postpartum depression, began counseling and started seeing a psychiatrist who prescribed the appropriate medication. I allowed myself to be vulnerable with my therapist and told her about the trauma I had stuffed down. I wrote (and then burned) letters to the people who had hurt me as an exercise to let out the feelings I had been holding inside. I started journaling to give myself an outlet for all the emotions I had been suppressing. Seven months later, with coping mechanisms and support in place, I felt strong enough to stop taking medication and continue with therapy weekly.

More recently, I've taken to meditating twice a day, in an effort to reflect on and process my emotions. I have become more mindful of the energy I feed myself; I’ve begun to pay attention to what nourishes me and what drains me. I have decided to stop drinking; alcohol has always been an outlet I used to numb myself, but it turned me into a person I didn't like. I have also changed the music I listen to and the ways I refer to myself. Rather than calling myself “a mess,” I say that I'm “a work in progress.”

I can honestly say that seeking treatment saved my life — and I am the healthiest I have ever been, mentally and emotionally. In all of this, I've learned that the trauma I carried inside doesn't define me. I am learning who I am and who I want to be. I have had the realization that I get to choose who I want to be. I share this with hope that it will encourage someone else to seek treatment and possibly save their life.

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