I grew up in a culture and in a household where seeking out a therapist meant you were weak or "loca." In fact, the few relatives that were in therapy were often attending either to save their marriage or due to a major life crisis or mental breakdown. It was never perceived or discussed as self-care or life management — which is literally what it is. As a result, it took years of me destigmatizing my own ideas around therapy and mental health to finally cough up the courage to see a therapist. But unlike a lot of my Latinx peers, my first experience with therapy didn't come in my 30s or after COVID. I first took the plunge in my senior year of college.
I didn't know what to call it until my 30s, when mental health became more of a mainstream conversation, but looking back I think I first started realizing I struggled with some degree of anxiety my senior year of college. The 2008 recession had hit hard, and it was particularly affecting the media industry, so I had a ton of anxiety about whether or not I'd be able to secure a job after graduation. I started to notice my thoughts would race, and whenever I was overwhelmed I'd feel like I was about to have a heart attack — when in reality they were actually panic attacks. So I started privately seeing a holistic therapist who specialized in cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation therapy. The only people who knew were my parents and my siblings, who were incredibly supportive. I saw her for an entire semester and didn't feel the need to go back to therapy until my early 30s. I've had my fair share of therapists, the most effective ones always being Latina women. I noticed a major difference in how my sessions would go once I started working with someone who understood my cultural needs and challenges. I say all that to say that as much as I advocate and believe in therapy, COVID taught me that I actually needed much more.
Before the pandemic hit, I was just starting on my own spiritual journey. I grew up in a pretty strict Christian Latinx household that became more progressive and open-minded as my siblings and I started to get older. But growing up, it was hard. As a result, I was pretty agnostic most of my 20s. It was after 30 that I really started developing more of a curiosity and interest in my spiritual health. And while I've explored this — mostly on my own — it was in 2020 that I chose to seek out more spiritual guidance and support.
In 2020, I lost my full-time editor job, the medical insurance it came with, and my apartment in Harlem. I was in my mid-30s, moving back with my folks, and feeling like the world was working against me. I needed support, and so my very good friend Yaquí Rodriguez — who is a reiki healer, a curandera, and the founder of Wave of Healing — started working with me for free for months. I got more out of these sessions than I'd ever gotten out of traditional therapy sessions.
If you're not familiar with reiki, the best way I could describe it is it's a form of energy healing that is believed to have originated in Japan. It is believed to improve the body's energy flow and help remove blocks that can result in pain, stress, or anxiety. These energy healing sessions are typically done in person, but during COVID, Rodriguez and I did them remotely. They often felt like a mix of talk therapy with spirituality. I would share my struggles, Rodriguez would help me unpack them or work them out, and then we'd go into either a guided meditation or a reiki session, where things would come up for me and messages would be sent to her. It was helpful and healing. I was sold.
In 2021, with my Fidelis insurance, I started working with a traditional therapist again while simultaneously working with spiritual coach and reiki healer Zayda Rivera. After doing reiki for so many months in 2020, I knew that only doing talk therapy was going to feel very one-dimensional for me. So Rivera and I started doing a spiritual life-coaching package where we'd meet every two weeks over Zoom. It was a beautiful blend of talk therapy, life coaching, healing, reiki, and manifestation work. I truly believe that the work we did together helped me heal from things that would have taken me another five years to heal from. I also believe that our manifestation work is what helped me secure my current job and my apartment — they were exactly what I was looking for.
Rivera describes the work we do together as "plática, or a heart-to-heart conversation with spirit messages." During our sessions, she tunes in to me and my journey, and as she listens to my words she begins to receive intuitive messages that she conveys to me in assisting with my healing and growth.
"It's similar to talk therapy because our 60-minute session is created on the foundation that I am here to listen to you first and foremost, and whatever we discuss is confidential," Rivera says. "It's different from talk therapy because of the spirit messages. As an intuitive and a clairvoyant, I'm able to tune in to you so directly that I receive messages from your spirit team that are aimed to offer guidance, reassurance, and protection along your path. I am channeling these messages from a higher power. The therapy I offer is driven by our energy and the ability to shift and shape our energy for healing and growth."
Coaching sessions with Rivera feel three-dimensional to me. They address my mental, spiritual, and emotional health in a way that traditional therapy has struggled to achieve. It's no wonder so many Latina mental health experts who are also intuitive and spiritually gifted have been expanding and incorporating both spirituality and ancestral practices and wisdom into their work. It not only addresses cultural needs, but in many ways it feels like someone is finally speaking my language.
My mental health journey started with having to fight the stigmas associated with seeing a therapist at a time when no one in my life was seeing one. Now, while talk therapy is openly accepted, I have to fight the stigmas associated with spirituality outside of organized religion. It's been a challenge, which is why I was so resistant and so agnostic for so many years. Even attending Buddhist temples in Manhattan at one point had my Dominican mom freaking out.
It was when I focused on my own healing and my own needs and set others' opinions aside that I was able to openly seek the support and healing that I desperately needed, especially during this incredibly stressful and isolating time. "When we realize that it all starts with our energy and we focus on ways to find balance it will positively impact the whole of us. If energetic imbalances are left unattended for too long, they begin to appear in our physical lives as various ailments," Rivera says. "This therapy is based on the idea that when we return home to ourselves through meditation, surrender, movement, mindfulness, and shadow work, which is oh so necessary for true balance, we can heal ourselves mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. But it all starts with going inward and reconnecting with our spirit."
My goal for these coaching sessions is to get to a place where I stop giving my power to exterior circumstances and stop allowing my fears, doubts, and anxieties to take over me. One small disappointment or one stressful circumstance has literally ruined my day in the past. But I'm working through it and getting better. Rivera wants me to be able to experience people coming and going in my life without it impacting the peace within me. "The lessons will never end," she reminds me. "The journey is rough sometimes. Sometimes it's boring. Sometimes it's amazingly adventurous and exciting. We are ever-evolving creatures. So, embrace every part of what makes you you, and take deep breaths along the journey to remind yourself that you're alive. And what a beautiful thing that is."