Photographs and story by Garrett Troutman
Oscar Islas, 25 years old, graduate and singer. He would have never imagined struggling with hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. No one does. So I asked him to share his story on his experience with mental health and what brought him to his breaking point.
I am the oldest of six. You know, I was the star child in my family, my whole family, my grandmas, aunts, uncles cousins — I was the only one who went to college; I was the only one not in a gang or has kids. I thought “I have a good life” and I work really hard, why would I want to end that?
It just goes to show that I was in a very dark place for me to even be thinking that I’m not worthy to breathe another breath.
Four years ago, my mom told me “Your father and I are having issues we might get divorced.” And that was all she said.
So I thought “Oh, they are just having problems like every married couple.” And then by the end of my senior year of college that is when I knew something was up, something was different about my parents.
I thought these are not my parents. Just the way they were acting, but I had no idea they were on drugs. No idea.
Oscar asked his aunt, who had past drug abuse issues, if they were experimenting with substances. She confirmed that they had been using.
For me that was a huge turning point in the whole thing, I remember just breaking down in my car crying and not being able to understand why they were on drugs. They were the biggest advocates in my life that it was never a route to take.
I led worship that weekend and put on a show. I was feeling like I did not want to be up there. I was feeling like shit. I was feeling worthless, unworthy.
And that became a weekly thing for me.
Every week it was harder and harder to get up there. To the point where my anxiety was eating me up and I was throwing up every morning. Before I would get in the car to drive to work on Sunday I would be puking my brains out because my stomach was just in knots.
He later confronts his mother about her addiction and she angrily blames him for not being around for the cause of her drug use.
At that time when I’m already vulnerable and already struggling in my own life then for your mom, your parent, your superhero, to tell you that it’s your fault.
It was tough to accept that, but thankfully, my brother was there next to me.
He stood up to her and said “He has nothing to do with your struggle. He has nothing to do with your choices.”
He just really stood up for me. At that time I really felt heard and supported and cared for and someone’s on my side here. I think without my brother being there it would’ve been bad news for me.
We were actually at my house when we had that conversation, and she was obviously on drugs. I just looked at her and said “Get the fuck out of my house. I’m not going to stand for this. I’m not going to accept this blame. You’re lucky I'm in a really weak spot right now because I would be going to town on you on a lot of things you did to me as a child. But I can’t deal with it, so get out and don’t talk to me ever again.”
I probably would’ve ended my life if I didn’t have those people around me: Asia, Christian, the Lucas twins, and Matthew — they were definitely people who helped me up. They reminded me of my purpose every day, even when I think I didn’t have one, they reminded me of that.
Every time I came to them with something, “Hey this is happening...” They would say “Yes, but you’re still Oscar. You’re still a powerful person. You’re still a talented person. You still have purpose on this earth.’
I think if I didn’t have that core group of people, I’d say each one of them were a pillar in my life, even if I was missing one of those people, I think it would’ve been hard.
I had them and I was still thinking these thoughts. I couldn’t imagine if they weren’t there. I could not imagine, my experience without them.
After that whole situation with my parents, obviously I was in a dark place, and so I tried to turn to anything. I turned to partying a little bit more, being involved with the wrong crowd, not like crazy but enough. I ended up putting in my resignation at the church, but at the end of my resignation I had a moral failure.
I was drunk. I was drinking my life away and came up on some mistakes, made some wrong decisions.
I wasn’t in the right state of mind, I was drunk, I was low already, it wasn’t something I wanted to do, but it happened. And therefore that is why they ended up taking away all my credentials, my credibility everything.
That was definitely the lowest point.
I didn’t want to show my face. I didn’t want to live another day. I didn’t want people to know what happened. It was embarrassing.
After people were notified what had happened, did anyone reach out to you?
No one reached out to me.
Not one person did.
Everything I worked hard for, everything I thought I was put on this earth to do. I legitimately thought I was put on this earth to serve the church, to serve the people of Christ through music. And everything I worked my ass for got taken away.
Then there were two key people who heard about what happened and saw the value in me still. They put me under their wing and brought me back to life.
But I told them before they hired me, “This is what you are hiring: I’m a guy who has a past; I’m a guy who has been excommunicated from dozens of churches; I’m a guy who did this, and my family is struggling this way. I could also be triggered by a lot of things. I am not a perfect Christian. I am not your perfect poster child, that I have been my whole life before.”
They said “We don’t care, that doesn’t matter to us. Where is your heart? That is what matters.”
I finally feel like I found my purpose again and I finally found passion for leading people and for mentoring people, for music and for worship. I feel like finally the little thing I had in my heart as a kid is back.
Obviously there is still a struggle with anxiety and depression, sometimes it still lingers around.
I was on medication for it a year ago, because it was affecting my breathing.
Medication is good, great for some people, but it doesn't work for everyone. What happens to the people it doesn’t work for? They have to keep trying other medications for years and years until they find the right one.
For me, I just cut it cold turkey. I read online, what are ways to cope with anxiety and depression: be active. I thought “Well, I’m not being very active right now, I should probably go run, go lift something.”
That is why I’m such a big advocate for health and wellness, and physical activity. I believe that can save a lot of people’s lives.
So I went to the gym and ever since then it has been my anti-depressant. That is why I go five, six times a week, it's my medication. I get to be fit and be healthy not just physically but now mentally.
What would you tell somebody who is maybe in that night where you were four or five years ago?
I would probably say everything that you are feeling is valid. Everything you are going through, everything you are thinking, everything you are feeling in your heart, is all true.
It is valid.
People are suffering with anxiety, depression and everyone just says “You’re fine, you’re doing great.”
But it’s not true.
I would validate them and definitely tell them what you’re experiencing is true and valid. I would also tell them that “You need to surround yourself by the right people who continually pour into you and see your brokenness for what it is, but also see your worth at the same time.”
It is hard to do.
You don’t believe in the dark.
You don’t believe that you are worth anything.
If I didn’t have those four or five people continuously telling me what my worth was, I would’ve not believed it.
Still, to this day, I still have a hard time accepting that. It is going to be a life battle.