So many people fight their battles alone, afraid to speak out. They isolate themselves and let themselves go slowly. We need to let the world know it is okay to talk about these things.
MENDOZA, Argentina — After living the most horrific incident of my life, I could not imagine ever feeling happiness again. A deep-rooted depression took hold of me.
Today, I fight to raise awareness about mental health and suicide. Every morning for the last six years, I stand outside on the streets of my city to motivate others. I never expected my actions to impact so many people.
As a kid, I used to help my mother sell raffle tickets around the neighborhood. By the age of six, I became good at it, knocking on doors and selling tickets with a big smile. It worked well.
One day, I knocked on the wrong door. A convicted rapist lived there. I stood at his door, and a chill went up my spine. He invited me in, and unaware of his intentions, I accepted. That man abused me.
I went home that day and spoke nothing of it. It took me years to finally talk about what happened without breaking down. I felt unable to say the words and cried instead. I isolated myself for a long time afterwards. My days seemed endlessly gray. I carried what happened with me everywhere I went. I neglected my mental health completely, and it worsened.
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Eventually, I went to the United States as an adult. After I returned to Argentina, things felt different. The country changed from the one I grew up in. People who were once happy seemed filled with gloom.
I felt helpless, and my depression deepened. I made the mistake of alienating others around me. Speaking out about mental health often feels taboo. I did not think anyone could help me or understand.
One day, my nephew wrote a song. I remember hearing the words for the first time and the way it made me feel. It hit me with a sudden wave of positivity. The lyrics spoke of someone, a fighter, who managed to make it out of the worst period of his life. It reminded me of my story, and the challenges I faced.
I felt heard, seen, and less alone in that moment. I never imagined music could have such a strong effect on me, but there I stood, weeping at the beautiful words being sung. Right then and there, I knew what I wanted out of life. I wanted to put a smile on people’s faces. I reflected a lot on what happened so far in my life. It felt vital that I fight for myself again. Now, I aim to be the voice of those who do not have one. I work to send a message of hope even in the worst times.
After a weekend alone, I motivated myself. I wore my best clothes, which happened to be my old wedding suit, to bring me luck. Then, I painted motivational words on a giant poster and went out on the main streets of Mendoza, right near the gates. I wanted people entering the city to immediately come in with a positive mood. Initially, I felt terrified. The idea of standing in front of strangers who might reject me scared me. I stood my ground, however, holding a sign that read “Smile because you’re alive and today will be a beautiful day.”
When I first started doing this, I planned to test it for two months to see people’s reactions. Now, six years later, I continue. It has impacted my mental health greatly, and I see it changing other people, too. Looking up at the rows of cars in the middle of traffic, and seeing nothing but smiles fills me with joy.
I never planned to make it on the news. One day, a girl took a photo of me and sent it to a local newspaper. The next day, I saw that same photo with the title, “The Road Junction Motivator.” I could not believe my eyes. I loved that so many people felt touched by my actions.
Though I became an optimistic man who loves life again, it was not always the case. I lived through horrible moments and attempted suicide nine times. Yet, I remain alive, fighting and happy. Today, I feel optimistic. I want to be a constant voice for the people, to remind them that though life has a way of tearing us down, we are much more than our past. People constantly change and evolve. What we choose to do with the ‘now’ matters. It means everything to me if my words heal one person.
Through this incredible journey, I began raising money. I help fund causes dear to me, like community kitchens and new schools in the city. Most recently, I traveled to Spain to give a TED talk on my story. I met incredible people, who shared their stories with me. They told me they felt less alone because of me.
I aim to raise awareness about suicide, harassment, and violence. I want to teach others the importance of talking about mental health. Removing the stigma and liberating others becomes my most important pursuit. I hope to hold more of these talks in other cities and countries around the world.
So many people fight their battles alone, afraid to speak out. Like me, they isolate themselves and let themselves go slowly. We need to let the world know; we can talk about these things. Speaking out reveals strength, not weakness. We are never alone.
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