Mental Health in Culture

I think a majority of us are able to get away with saying “our parents did their best”, right? For me, I grew up with two parents from Trinidad and Tobago who were born and raised with an island mentality that has gone unchecked and passed down from generation to generation.

A mentality that did the job of getting them by in the world, but didn’t necessarily prepare them to deal with their own internal struggles and ultimately prevented them from being able to truly tend to more than just my physical needs. But whether “their best” fell a ways short or was just a complete annihilation of our childhood…I reluctantly still must admit that I think our parents did their best with what they had and what they were taught.

The problem is, of course, that a lot of our parents were taught things through a cycle of generational trauma.

Ideologies and patterns that kept us locked down and away from our true selves.

This way of thinking, while it gave us the idea of progress and forward movement, did the opposite. It held us in a box. And for any of us born outside of the all-white American culture… the weight of this issue was tenfold.

As a child born from Caribbean parents, there were many things about myself that my parents instructed me to push down or “let go of”, crippling my transition into adulthood. There were so many things they told me that (at the time) they thought were right because their parents taught it to them. But now, a decade later, we’re realizing they weren’t right. Far from it. And with empathy and a heavy heart, I’m realizing my parents were truly just kids learning as they went.

At the same time, these teachings left a scar on me. A scar I’ve learned to forgive them for but also one I’m adamant about calling out in efforts to break the cycle with my own children, and hopefully inspire others from similar cultures to do the same.

So let’s break it down.

I’ve accumulated the top 10 toxic teachings from my childhood that not only seem to transcend across many different cultures, but have had the same detrimental effects on the mental health of children born within it.

Read it and learn it so when you identify it, you know to speak up and break it. Cuz it’s 2021 and after a year like 2020, there’s no reason any of us should be giving an ear to any of this shit.

1. Women Should Stay In A Relationship No Matter What

Island men are infamous for infidelity. What’s even more staggering is the women that stand behind them. Now don’t get me wrong, every relationship has its story but within the island community, it’s become almost a badge of honor to “stand by your man” when marital affairs are afoot. There are countless women within my own family who have shared with me that their strength is in being able to “forgive him and soldier on”.

Lots of love ladies, but no. It’s 2021. We’re more than this. We’re not just child-bearers. We’re ceiling-breakers, and we deserve every ounce of respect. By watching women in my family get cheated on—even (mentally and physically) abused, taught me the toxic trait of staying with someone no matter how badly they treated you, and that locked me into a relationship that cut me down for far longer than I’d like to admit.

Breaking out of this took such strength but it had to come with the acceptance that this lesson I was taught was wrong because we’re worth more than that. Our daughters, nieces, sisters, cousins, and friends are worth more than that. If you’re in this situation now, know that you are worth more.

2. Become a Doctor or a Lawyer…that’s it.

“Follow the money,” is what my family instructed me, “and choose a profession that will be needed for years to come so that you’ll always be financially stable.”

That is the key to happiness. “But wait, what if I don’t like it?” I would innocently ask. “Doesn’t matter. Don’t you like money?” I’d be told.

That was the lesson. My passions meant nothing. The things that truly drove me were meaningless because they weren’t cash cows.

You want to be a psychologist? No way. They don’t make much money. You want to be an actress? HA! Only rich kids have that luxury.

Every discussion about an extracurricular would be discouraged but they’d smile proudly at any talk of becoming a doctor or a lawyer because that’s what would pay the bills, it came with prestige, and that’s what we could all depend on.

What did this teach me? There was no time for things not aligning with what they had already envisioned for me. And my personal “dreams” were nothing more than a luxury I couldn’t afford to have. I was only speaking up when I got good grades or when I learned something; highlighting my smarts. Something that would potentially open the door to what they wanted.

But here’s the thing: our kids aren’t living their lives for us. They’re living their lives for them. Parents, encourage your children—in all of their pursuits. Cherish their interests and make sure they know their thoughts and passions are valued.

3. As a woman, you’re not complete until you have a family.

Again, are we back in 1940? If you’re a part of the island community, you know full well how alienating this idea could be.

Whether you get your degree, a big new promotion, start a business, write a book…the first question you’re going to get when you walk through a grandmother’s house will be the same: “When are you going to give me grandbabies? Have you met anyone yet?”

These questions are terribly invalidating, as they push the idea on women that we are nothing without a man standing beside us. That our accomplishments are nothing without albums of children in them.

As a mom who suffered major postpartum depression, I’m happy to stand up and say this is a big fucking problem. I got pregnant (and married), thinking it would be the answer to my problems. The tale goes on to say when I had my son, I was to finally feel complete in my life. He would be the answer.

And then I had him.

And as I stared at my beautiful baby boy in the hospital bed, I shed tears for hours. Hours. Because I felt guilty.

I was staring at this amazing gift I had asked for and I instantly knew he wasn’t enough to make me happy. Neither was my husband standing beside me.

It’s because I was fed lies; lies leading me to believe I’d find happiness in babies and kids. When I should have taught that happiness comes from within.

4. Oh and…no to homosexua