By Maya Zumaya ’12
When I was growing up, I felt like I had no one to talk to. I didn’t know how to voice my trauma. I skipped the whole fifth grade and started running away when I was in sixth grade, sometimes for weeks at a time. At age 11, I was the victim of two sexual assaults and already a witness to profound domestic violence.
Still, throughout my life, as long as I can remember, I encountered strangers who made me feel seen. When I was in elementary school, I would roam around the neighborhood. I would frequent a particular coffee shop, and the owner – I don’t remember her name – would give me a muffin and she would acknowledge me. She would acknowledge me. I have six siblings. With everything else that was going on, I never really felt acknowledged.
I have met quite a few people who kept me going when I couldn’t find the strength. Two in particular named Debbie (both of them) supported me. I met both Debbies when I was bartending and becoming the first person in my family to go to college. They celebrated and supported what I was doing.
My car broke down and a fellow bartender, Brandy, gave me $500 to fix it so I didn’t have to give up on school. That’s profound. Sometimes they were far in between, but people throughout my life have helped, including school counselors and teachers.
I was a mother of four when I earned an associate degree at Ventura College. I had no intention of applying to a four-year school then, but my counselor really pushed me to do it. I applied to Cal Lu and thought, That’s not going to happen. But along with an acceptance letter, I received a Provost Scholarship that I hadn’t even applied for. I won two additional scholarships and other financial aid. Then I literally did my homework while I was bartending.
I also got accepted to SOAR (Summer Orientation to Academic Resources), a weeklong program on the Cal Lutheran campus for first-generation freshmen from low-income backgrounds. I was older than everyone else, away from my kids, and staying in a dorm in my late 20s. It was difficult for me to push through that week.
On the fourth day, my daughter didn’t have a babysitter and ended up coming with us on part of a field trip. The counselor was extremely supportive, and we worked it out so somebody could pick my daughter up. In my mind, I was just like, I don’t belong here. These are problems that people shouldn’t have. I’m a burden. But I got through the last day. The program prepared me for what was to come and taught me how to navigate Cal Lu.
There are so many experiences I could share, but with every struggle there was a Cal Lutheran staff member who was supportive and understanding and who gave me direction. A counselor in Student Support Services matched me with a young student in Oxnard to get rides to campus. My Spanish teacher eventually referred me to counseling services, where I learned that the Spanish language triggered my PTSD. That’s why we need trauma-informed care and trauma-informed teaching, because a lot of people experience things and you never know what their triggers are going to be. I really feel like Ventura College and Cal Lu were both special places for me where people understood these things and where counselors and teachers believed in me.
That is why I do what I do, both at my work and as a volunteer with numerous organizations. Often, people experience trauma in their upbringing, and they don’t have support. It’s important to acknowledge this and to be aware of it, and I’ve developed a keen sense of who looks lonely and who needs a friend. I put myself in positions where I can actually walk life with somebody, because of the people who’ve done that for me.
I joined Vista del Mar Hospital to work in the mental health field. As the community liaison, I advocate for mental health awareness, suicide prevention and ending the stigma surrounding mental health. My job gives me a platform and opportunities to advocate, speak out and share my story.
Recently, I opened up to an audience about another sexual assault that I endured, this one at age 19, and my attempted suicide afterward. Only in the last few years have I been able to share my story in public. I am still finding my voice. But when I see others suffering, I want to connect and do something. I always have. Over the years, I’ve worked with victims of violence and recovering addicts and have mentored at-risk youths.
Right now, I want to highlight the need for mental health services, the need to be more compassionate, and the need to stop stigmatizing mental illnesses. We can change how we approach these issues in order to treat more than just the symptoms. There are reasons behind behaviors. I’ve had difficulty in relationships and it was always hard to express why.
I grew up not being seen. Even as an adult, the feeling that I’m not being seen is something I struggle with. But I’m getting better.
Maya Zumaya is the community liaison for Vista del Mar Hospital in Ventura, California. She serves on the Ventura County Behavioral Health Advisory Board Prevention Committee and volunteers with the Ventura College Foundation, Ventura Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals Group, Ventura County Community Health Improvement collaborative, and Downtown Ventura Lions Club. She is the community service chair for the Ventura Women of the Moose and fundraising chair for The City Center Transitional Living. She is seeking certification in QPR (Question, Persuade and Refer, a suicide prevention protocol) to assist the Bartenders as Gatekeepers program. And she is a representative for the Jason Foundation, which focuses on ending the silent epidemic of youth suicide through awareness and education.