Trigger Warning: Suicide Attempt Mention
Disclaimer: These experiences and opinions are subjective and specific to Alicia’s. Although her methods of healing were helpful and good for her, they are by no means interchangeable with professional care and counselling.
Since her youth, Alicia Raimundo struggled with depression, anxiety, and severe suicidal ideation. Despite having to struggle through these hardships, she stands today as a spokesperson who creates open dialogue about mental illness and is working towards reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. Since 2010, she has spoken over 600 times individually and on the behalf of organizations at schools, conferences and to the media. Alicia has agreed to share more about her journey with mental health and the lessons she’s learned over the years with yWE TALK.
From a young age, Alicia always remembered being different and not finding happiness from the same things as others. At the age of 13, she began to have suicidal thoughts, believing that her friends and family would be better off if she wasn’t alive. When asked how her journey towards mental health recovery began, Alicia revisits the time when she was placed in the hospital after attempting to take her life. It was an encounter in the hospital waiting room that gave her a wake up call. After staring at Alicia for some time, a stranger approached her and placed a silver necklace in her hand. The stranger’s words were, “from one crazy person to another, you are going to need this”. On that necklace was the word “hope”. It was in that moment, that Alicia really thought about hope for the first time. She realized that she didn’t want to die; she just didn’t really know how to live. So she decided that she would hope for one thing, and that was to see her sister graduate from high school. Moments later, that woman’s daughter kindly asked for the necklace back, explaining that her mom was having an episode and was giving away her belongings. It goes to show that people with similar struggles of mental illness can share like experiences, and can uplift and support one another. This encounter stuck with Alicia. It was hope that kept her going and picked her up time and time again, no matter how many times she fell. By the time her sister’s graduation rolled around, she was an all-around happier person who no longer experienced suicidal thoughts. Alicia’s hope now is to help young people understand that there is way to live your life that makes you happy.
When Alicia first became a mental health activist, lots of people began sharing their personal stories with her. She soon learned that when you share your story, people share their stories with you. At first, Alicia made the common mistake of trying to solve their problems. But she quickly discovered that this was not the right way to go. She suggests: If someone close to you is struggling with mental health, sometimes the best thing you can do is listen. By simply being there and lending a helping hand whenever necessary, you are doing way more than you think you are. Furthermore, ask. If you don’t know how to help, ask that person how you can support them. You may be surprised about how little you have to do to make a difference. Alicia has supported some of her friends in their struggle with mental illness by doing little things like making morning phone calls or going to coffee to talk about shared interests outside of the illness itself.
Something Alicia used to struggle with was conveying her challenges and feelings to those around her. When she was asked to pick a topic for her TEDxWaterloo talk, Alicia settled on the topic of superheroes. It was an analogy that she had related to for quite some time. So many superheroes wear masks to hide their identity because they have dual personalities. In the case of Spiderman, he was worried if he told people about his identity, the “bad guys” would come after his loved ones. But juggling being a reporter, a brother and a superhero is stressful. Real people are no different. If you have to hide a huge part of who you are, it’s stressful. Sometimes you need to just step out in the world and say, “I am everything and this illness, and that’s okay”. It doesn’t make you any less of a person and it is Alicia’s experience that you feel so much better afterwards.
One of the biggest misconceptions Alicia points to regarding people struggling with mental illness is the belief that people who are suicidal want to die. The truth, she says, is they may not know how to live through their struggles and feelings. Her advice is simple. The best way to find hope is to sit down and take a moment to think: for every one reason you have to be sad, think of five reasons you have to live. These reasons can be big or they can be small – something as simple as living to take care of your pet goldfish. A lot of people want to know how they can be happy. The truth is, no one can prescribe it for you. As long as you find something that is healthy and sustainable that works for you, be it medicine, therapy or other methods like exercising or creating art, don’t let anyone tell you that it is wrong or bad. They have no idea what needs you have and what it feels like to be you.
According to Alicia, there are so many places you can go to get help. If you are attending school, there are usually places on most campuses you can go to for help or connections to other free or cheap resources. A lot of professional health services seem expensive at first but they make an effort to accommodate and cater to your needs. Many counselors offer differing rates and are open to adjusting for you as time goes by or directing you to free support centers in the future. Alicia points to organizations like “7 Cups of Tea” and “TalkLife” that offer helplines and other resources. For residents of Ontario in particular, there is “ConnexOntario” and “Good2Talk”.
For more information about Alicia and the organizations she mentioned, check out the following links: