By Katerina Mesesan, Farm Fellow
Mental Health is Health.
I live with this mantra every day of my life. Just like “regular” health, I have ebbs and flows in which I thrive under the perimeters of my depression and there are times in which I don’t.
When I first started AMI, I wrote about the excitement around the journey I was about to embark on. The amazing workshops I have attended, the wonderful people in my cohort that I built connections with, and the ability to work on the farm day-to-day have truly been magical moments for me.
In addition, it has also been a complete shift in my lived experiences. Coming from a very liberal and diverse city like Los Angeles to rural Virginia, it has been an adjustment, to say the least. I miss easy access to my friends, family, and support group. I miss being able to have privacy in my house. I miss being able to separate my work life from my personal life. I miss being able to speak Spanglish. I miss being aware of what’s going on in my community and being able to make an impact. Those don’t go away even though I am on a beautiful mountain.
I have needed to develop systems of coping and living with my depression. Mediation, making sure I stay in communication with my support system, writing frequently, attending therapy regularly, and staying active physically are all ways to help me through my day-to-day life. On the mountain, I can practice some of these things, but not all of them.
Some mornings when I wake up, I don’t want to get out of bed. The voices in my head truly cut deep and make a simple good morning so difficult to say with any type of sincerity and joy.
As I am writing this blog, I am getting emotional thinking about those days when all I wanted to do was joke with my cohort members or revel in the crisp air of the morning dew, but was unable to do so. Instead, I retreated, I tried to silence the voice, I tried to meditate, I tried to be a good community member, I tried to keep going.
Retreating is a defense mechanism for me, because talking about the struggles of mental health in my family is taboo. For many Latinx folks, this story is not uncommon. Each time that I talk about my depression, I work to make it a little less shameful. I view it as an act to reclaim my depression in order to integrate it into my life - and to thrive as I move through it.
AMI and the community I have cultivated and lived with for these past 5 months have been amazingly helpful in that process. Although there are times in which the constant check-ins exacerbate my depression, it’s also incredibly thoughtful and warming to have folks that can see I am struggling and want to help. I appreciate my supervisors and second-year Community Fellows who have stressed the importance of utilizing my wellness days. I appreciate my cabin mates - Back Creek OoHaHa - for making me feel safe and grounded, especially in my lowest moments. I appreciate my other cohort members for making puns and showing kindness to everyone every day no matter what, for calling all my 90’s music “Grocery Store Music,” for being solid despite the intensity of the Fellowship, for saying Swag ironically, for teaching me so much, for dancing to Flo Mili and being so willing to step up and be there for all members of this community. I could not have done this without you all.
In my final month on the mountain. I want to continue to reclaim my mental health struggles. I want to go on hikes, dance with my friends, cook delicious meals, and revel in the magic of the farm. I believe that to know true happiness, unfortunately, you need to experience pain. But pain doesn’t need to be permanent. The amazing experiences and people that I have met this year are not tainted by my struggles with depression. Instead, it has made it a much more fluid and dynamic experience - one I will treasure and take with me on my journey back to Los Angeles and into next year.