Sahar Paz, Author and Life Coach Says, 'Find Your Voice' and Use It to Share Personal Journey, Ease Depression
While conversations about social, educational and economic status of Latinas regularly mark the front of newspapers, talks about mental and emotional health aren't visited with the same regularity. Depression and suicide rates have increased for young Hispanic women. Latinas are also less likely to receive mental health support than White women or African American women, but one effective way for Latinas to address mental health challenges in their lives is for them to find their voices.
Sahar Paz, life coach, yoga teacher, speaker and author of "Find Your Voice: The Life You Crave Is a Conversation Away," spoke with Latin Post about her early life in war-torn Iran, challenges she faced as an immigrant in the U.S., her road from self-preservation to self-discovery, and her ongoing efforts to transform the lives of teens and women.
Before relocating to the U.S. as an 8-year-old during the early '80s, Paz slept with the sound of gun shots and bombs raining in her backyard. For nearly a decade, she underwent a shushed existence, dwelling within a community of fear and loss control. After she moved to the U.S., there was no war but she didn't find peace. Many white students weren't very friendly, calling her 'terrorist' and 'bomb-keeping.' However, she became quick friends with members of the Hispanic community, finding similarities in regards to the importance of family of food, and the persisting frustration of being looked down on or talked down to as they entered the workforce. That discrimination, combined with inner turmoil, led to several suicide attempts. She was then hospitalized for two weeks and given heavy doses of antidepressants.
Young people of color who are exposed to racism and discrimination are more likely to suffer the effects of depression, according to reports. Researchers have confirmed that not only do non-white youth experience discrimination, but they experience it in multiple contexts: in schools, in the community, with adults and with peers. That depression matures with many young people as they age, and depressive thoughts sometimes grow into suicidal thoughts.
"I got pissed off; I was tired of not being heard and people trying to shove medication down my throat. I was tired of people telling me who I should be and where I belonged, and those suicide attempts took me to my bottom. The process of coming out of that is what really made me want to speak, coach and write. Then on, my mission was to help women get out of their own way internally," said Paz. "There's a big stigma with your emotions. In Persian culture and Latino culture, going to a therapist or talking to someone is just not what you do, and you hide negative emotions. However, a lot of my depression was because I was emotionally meek. I would not speak my emotions and it ate me alive. There's a beautiful, hopeful place for your sadness, your anxiety, a place where you manage it. When I talk to women and girls, I try to help them to see the positive side of negative emotions, so they learn how to embrace them. That has been a huge tool for my own journey."
Paz's book, "Find Your Voice," is a mixed memoir, which includes nine creative non-fiction stories that focus on important moments in her life. The first chapter focuses on war, the second chapter focuses on emigrating to Denver, Colorado and so forth. At the end of each chapter is a reflective guide for women readers, and it's based on cognitive behavior therapy. The end sections offer readers examples of how to cope and how to consult with the "dramatic voice" that means to emphasize the worst case scenario and forecast an outcome before something has even begun.
"When I began to write 'Find Your Voice,' an inner voice said, 'Girl, you can't do this. Who are you? You don't even have a degree in English. English is your second language, this isn't going to work... go get a job.' That voice was telling me I was going to f**k it up," said Paz. "But, a lot of what happens when you find your voice is understanding different methods for coping. Women are great at talking themselves out of things, and I just want them to talk themselves into their capabilities."
In Persian and Latino culture, although there's a heavy emphasis on how women should look and how women should act, Paz insists that a part of self-healing is giving oneself the permission to embrace opinions or an authentic voice. Also, doing so is a long journey that doesn't happen overnight.
Accepting weakness, rising after each stumble, learning to speak up, and setting boundaries takes commitment to self, and it's a matter of knowing that you have a right to reconsider all of your choices because decisions are not set in stone. There's always a conversation to be had to help individuals reach a happier place. Some conversations begin within and it can be a long process before it comes out, but those conversations should be shared.
"Know that your voice needs to be heard. There are just as many healers and speakers as people hurting. Also, there's this big patriarchal world that we exist in, and we need to be able to bring balance and more femininity into play. There needs to be all of us; all of our stories count. I want to hear from every woman about how they approach the world," Paz stated. "That's how we're going to change how we're viewed as women in the world. We have to acknowledge every living, breathing woman next to us."