From the Shores of Cuba, To the Shores of Lake Michigan

Mental illness is a complex ailment. It is different for everyone, and we still don’t completely understand why it develops in the first place. There is evidence it is genetic. There is evidence it is environmental. Maybe it is a combination of these factors. Maybe it is something else. Maybe someday we will unlock the answers to these questions, but for now we must make do with educated guesses. 

Part of the problem is it can be so hard to untangle genetic factors from environmental ones since the same people who give you your genetics are often the same people who shape your environment. 

My grandfather died when I was very young, health complications that likely developed as the result of the not so healthy lifestyle that existed in Cuban prisons after the revolution. My father and the rest of my father’s family came over shortly after Castro took power, but my grandfather spent years in prison for opposing the Cuban regime. His absence undoubtedly shaped my father, leaving an gap, a hole in my dad’s youth. The shadow this hole cast undoubtedly led to the flaws in my father that in part shaped me, and left me with demons I still struggle with. I can be frustrated with the acts of my father, and heartbroken by the blank that I have when I search for memories of my grandfather, but I cannot blame them anymore than I can blame myself for the demons I battle. 

I am no expert. Most days I am just trying to survive my own battles. But when I look back at the dark tales that led me here, that gave rise to my demons, I can see the ripples of darkness started at the shores of Cuba decades ago, rippling out to the shores of Lake Michigan near where I now live. So I cannot accept that policies that separate children from their parents are harmless. I believe they will have ripples that will spread out, impacting generations to come. 

Cuba. The demons of depression that I struggle with today, perhaps got their start decades ago in this nation, one that is beautiful, but has been marred by complex geopolitical factors. Photo by Yuting Gao via

I have said repeatedly that I don’t want this to be a political site, and I realize that in this partisan world I am coming dangerously close to violating that rule by referencing America’s immigration policy. Yet regardless of whether the U.S. adopts the highly protectionist policies that some advocate for, or instead institute a more welcoming immigration policy, we cannot ignore the harm of developing a policy that lacks compassion. 

My father wasn’t separated from me by any immigration policy. Yet he wasn’t always there for me either. He was often off trying to better himself, perhaps trying to do something meaningful, like my grandfather did when he was imprisoned and forced to be absent from my dad’s early years. 

I am sure I am not the only one who has suffered holes due to tangential geopolitical environments. I am sure I am not the only one who had the darkness of depression rise from those holes. To others out there, struggling in the dark, struggling to reconcile gaps that may have been left by something in your youth, or something your parents did, know that you are not alone. And whether that is the cause of the emptiness and darkness you feel or whether it is genetics or whether it is something else entirely, know that it gets better. With help you get better. You heal that hole and shine a light on that darkness. I know that is true for me. 

I hope someday the leaders of the world can develop more compassionate solutions to such complex problems. Yet such things, like the ripples of my past, and my father’s past, and my grandfather’s past, are beyond my control. All I can control is my own future. And though I still struggle mightily with reconciling these demons of the past, demons that gave rise to the demons I currently battle, I know that the first step is to be honest about it and shed light on it, as I’ve tried to do here. And hopefully, I will let others who might be struggling with something similar know that they aren’t alone. 

I struggled a lot with writing this post. I struggled because I still don’t know how to balance the flaws of a father who I know cares, and who I know did what he thought was best, with the struggles that those flaws helped create. Perhaps I was always destined to develop this depression and anxiety. Aspects of it probably were already starting to appear before my father left, a realization that leads me down an entirely different rabbit hole, as I wonder if my father left because of me, even when I know he didn’t.

And because I struggle with reconciling these issues, I struggle knowing how to end this post, but the truth is it has no end. It has no end because my story isn’t over. Because though I struggle with the holes of the past, I am also shaped by my father’s better angels, which he owes undoubtedly to his father’s better angels and so on and so forth. And I am as much the darkness and demons that I battle with, as I am the angels that make me want to understand my mental illnesses better and help others who struggle as well. How will these issues reconcile themselves? Only time will tell. In the mean time I will try to be as honest as I can about them here, both for my sake and for all those struggling in darkness, who will hopefully hear this and know they are not alone.

Because as I’ve seen, the ripples of actions that happened decades ago in Cuba impact me today in Illinois, and my actions will impact the future in unknown ways. And that reality is as terrifying to me as the demons I face, the issues I must grapple with. But perhaps, realizing this and writing it down will help me heal, and help me better understand the mistakes and successes my father. And perhaps that is the best I can hope for.


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