This story is part of ‘You’re Not Alone,’ a collaborative reporting project by the California Youth Media Network that shines a light on the mental health challenges facing Gen Z and Alpha
We’Ced | Merced, CA
By Carlos Juan Nava
Hi. My name is Carlos. I am 18 years old and I grew up in Merced, California. In my experience, Merced has been a hard place to grow up. My family life has been filled with struggle because of my parent’s drug addictions and, as a result, from the time I was four until I was 13, I moved in and out of foster care.
As a child, I wasn’t aware of the impacts this would have on my mental wellness because it was normal to me.
But, as I got older, I began reflecting and noticing that I was facing adversity. I was saddened by the realization that being in foster care kept me from my family, made me feel unstable and didn’t allow me to be myself because I was living with people that I didn’t know.
Some of the parents would mistreat me and force me to conform to their culture, and being in foster homes with white parents showed me that they believed I was inadequate, which my brother and I normalized. I am currently in the process of figuring out my cultural identity, who I am and who I come from. I know I have Indigenous ancestry. I didn’t need other people from other identities to force me into something that I’m not. My brother during this time, normalized this abuse and I learned to disassociate from it. Mostly, I missed my family. I felt trapped.
I remember one incident when I was about 13 years old when my home was being raided by law enforcement and I was bracing myself to be separated from my family again. This time, I was so emotional that I fought back against the officers. I smacked the officer’s hand off me, “I don’t know you. Why are you touching me?!” I yelled in outrage, trying to remove her from me. This was the last time I was separated from my family.
After I returned home to see my parents reunited, they still had their struggles. I was less stressed though and felt safer with my parents. My mental wellness fluctuated as home was still not a healthy environment for me but things seemed to be improving. As time went on, I was able to become more stable. Knowing no one could help me, I figured I’d teach myself on my own how to help myself. I learned that I was resilient and wanted to have a better quality of life for myself. I became more social and made lifelong friends. I played basketball throughout my foster care experience as a way to cope with what I was going through. Going back home, I made friends on my own and found coping strategies like skateboarding, meeting new people and making friends. that also helped me stay distracted from my past traumas.
If I could offer any words of advice to young people who are struggling with mental health, I would say that it is not your fault. I encourage them to stay true to themselves and never give up, to try to go out of their comfort zones and meet new people. Creating consistency in our life reminds us that we can try over and over again. We are resilient. We are sacred.