By Billionna Reyes
May is a special month for me, as it is both AAPI and mental health awareness month. The first offers me an opportunity to celebrate the contributions Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made to our nation’s history, society and culture. The latter gives me a chance to reflect upon my own personal challenges in coping with PTSD. The fact that both fall in the same month makes sense since it is my AAPI heritage that continues to strengthen and support my mental health.
I was born and raised in Guam. The people from there are called Chamorro or Guamanian, which are the indigenous people of Mariana Islands. Growing up on an island is eventful to say the least, and there are constant outdoor activities to participate in, from swimming in the ocean to hiking up mountains. In Guam, we are known for our family values. We love throwing a barbeque at the beach or celebrating a village fiesta. We are also known for having one of the highest military enlistment rates.
After high school, I made the decision to enlist in the United States Army. It is very common for Chamorros to enlist right after high school. This commitment provided me with a way to get off the island, a way for my school to be paid for, and a way to travel the world.
Although my time in the military was challenging, it also made me grow up fast. At 18 years old I was deployed to Afghanistan and fought during Operation Enduring Freedom. When I came back from my deployment, I learned that I suffer from PTSD.
Like many soldiers in our armed forces, it is a difficult topic to talk about. Having to repeat and relive those traumatic events is a powerful trigger and can put you into a deep hole. It took me a while to seek help, but thankfully I did.
I continue to do therapy monthly and I’m constantly working on ways to improve my mental health. Whether it's trying a new coping skill or a new medication, it's an ongoing process. Although I know that there are going to be hard days, I also know I have a support system in place to help me get through those days.
The VA has been extremely helpful with my mental illness. They give me a safe place to express myself as well as find ways to cope and deal with trauma.
My AAPI heritage reminds me that I am not alone and that my islander fire and warrior spirit will always guide me, even on dark days. Women Of Wrestling (WOW) has given me the strength of being part of a company that empowers women from every walk of life, allowing me to pave the way for my fellow Islanders and showing them that although I suffer from PTSD, it doesn't control me, and that you can always find the light in any situation.
Mental health is a subject we need to normalize. It is a tough subject to tackle. But the more we talk about it, normalize it, and support it, the better we become. The better we understand what someone is going through, the kinder we become as a society.
The VA provides many resources for veterans seeking help including primary care, mental health counseling, and women's health services, to name a few. Additionally, a recent law went into effect that allows veterans to seek outside medical treatment from a non-VA medical provider instead of being on a waitlist.
AAPI and mental health awareness month is a wonderful reminder of our shared heritage and values and a great opportunity to bring awareness and support to those in the AAPI community dealing with mental health challenges.