Mario Gonzalez was born in Mexico and moved with his family to the United States when he was three. Up until first grade, Mario lived in California. “My first memory is living in California as a four year old, so the United States is all I’ve known. My parents were immigrant workers, so everywhere that there was work, we were there.” Mario and his family ended up in Manson, Washington, because of the work opportunities in the local apple orchards.
Due to his parent’s long work hours and being the youngest of eight, Mario grew up with a lot of freedom as a young kid. The summer before sixth grade, Mario began to run with a bad crowd and started doing drugs and drinking alcohol. “I was eleven when I first started to smoke weed and get into trouble. I got the urge to just be the cool kid or whatever. I had a little bit of myself just being like ‘this is not you.’ But for the most part, I ignored that completely and did whatever I wanted to do.”
Around this time, Mario’s parents moved to California because there were more job opportunities there, but Mario, describing himself as a stubborn kid, told his parents he wasn’t moving back to California. “I felt like if I left for California, my education would be a little messed up and I wouldn’t be on the right path…. I think I needed some stability.”
Instead of moving with his parents, Mario moved in with his sister and her family in Chelan, the town that he says feels like home to him. Later that year, his parents ended up moving back from California to Pasco, Washington where his sister ended up joining them. Mario moved in with his brother who remained in Chelan. Even though his mom was miles away, she would always call Mario to check in on him, ask if he was eating, and show her concern for him.
One day, after coming home from school Mario talked to his mom on the phone. “I didn’t know that that was gonna be the last conversation I had with her.” Five minutes later, Mario got a phone call from his sister telling him that their mom had a severe stroke.
When they got to the hospital in Seattle, Mario, his dad, and his siblings had to make the difficult decision about whether they should leave their mom on life support, although she was brain dead, or pull the plug. “We called it. My mom passed on September 29th, 2014. I was 13 years old and I remember that day – those two days – very vividly.”
That night, Mario walked out onto the hospital patio overlooking the city of Seattle and made a promise that he would be the best version of himself he could be.
“I was like, I’m gonna do whatever it takes and whatever I can in order to be a better person and make my mom proud. I was standing out there and I was just looking up [at the sky] and I was like ‘this is my promise to be the best version of myself that I can possibly be.’”
Mario says he didn’t understand why he made that promise until this year. “I didn’t see God in that at all. I felt like I was alone. I felt the loneliest. And now revisiting that memory like seven years later, I just see that God was like ‘I’m gonna take care of you and you just gotta keep moving forward and I’m gonna take care of you.’”
Reflecting on his mom’s death, Mario says, “Grief is a process and it’s just not so structured. It really does have its own way of moving in your life and it’s got its own pace. It’s not linear at all. People go at their own pace and that’s okay. That’s the way it should be. Take your time. Don’t force it. Don’t repress it. If you don’t talk about it, it’ll eat you alive. If you try to hide it, it’s gonna eat you alive. But if you take your time with it… process it slowly. You’ll find some good healing in that. You gotta take that one step at a time.”
The year after his mom passed was rough, but heading into his freshman year of high school, Mario kept his promise to his mom.
“Things changed. I changed.“
“I was getting involved with school, sports, clubs, community… whatever it took.”. This, he said, “forced me to let people in and find that community. I think once you implement yourself into a community, there’s no way that you’re not letting someone in.”
Unfortunately Mario suffered several concussions throughout the football season of his freshman and sophomore year. During the first varsity football game of his junior year of high school, he suffered another severe concussion. This time, the severity of his concussions restricted his ability to be active, participate in practices, and required him to take breaks from the classroom every 15 minutes, ultimately cutting him off from his source of community.
“[I was] completely isolated. I had my first panic attack when I was alone and I was like ‘this sucks,’ because an anxiety attack is just your body completely freaking out. Your brain freaking out and your body reacting to it. I wasn’t myself. I was always on edge because I felt like every little piece of information was just super extreme, it just felt like I was dying. That’s what my brain would trick me to believe – you’re gonna die. That’s so irrational to think, but that’s what your mind goes to.”
During this time, Mario was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and his doctor placed him on medication. “That just kinda of numbed me. I wasn’t myself then either because the medication was just not for me. We never found the right medication. For a lot of people, medication does work, but I would say find the things that work and talk to a professional about it because it’s important to find out what your body wants and needs. But for me, medication was not the route.”
Mario got off of his medication and started using meditation to control his anxiety. This meditation turned into prayer. “Prayer is what helps me now. Like talking to God and having that experience is what helps me now. But truly find what gets you to that space of peace and comfort. That might just be talking to somebody.”
Also during his junior year, Mario became a DACA recipient. “That’s another part of my story that is very lonely. I feel like when I went to college or even back in high school, people didn’t understand what DACA is. I’m not like a citizen. I’m not like a resident. I’m nothing. I’m just someone that applied for this very, very, very, very long process in order to get a work permit. That’s very lonely.”
While on the topic of experiencing loneliness, he reflects on his childhood. “As a kid, I just experienced so much loneliness. I felt like I was being neglected all the time. I’m the youngest of eight and I felt left and I felt unseen and I felt like I wasn’t worthy. And that drove me into doing drugs and being a bad kid. Later that drove me into feeling like I need to do whatever it takes to be significant.”
Mario says the learning and growing he’s been doing this summer is letting go of his childhood, “not let it go, but learn from it. Grow from it and understand that this isn’t me anymore. And I now have this perspective and I get to do something with it.”
To kids in a similar situation, Mario says, “You have people that care. And at least for me, I never let those people in. Accepting love was something that it’s been hard for me to do. But understand that you’re not a burden; you’re worth it. You’re totally worth it to reach out to, and you’re totally worth it to fight for.”
It is “because of the people that I let in and because of the people that have supported me and have told me that I matter, that I’m at the place that I’m at now. I want to tell you that you’re totally worth it. And you matter so much to this world and you can make a difference.”
Mario’s faith and community have been a key part of his journey. “I can’t take credit for the things that I’ve done. There’s no way to go into high school and get good grades and be the first one to graduate like from my family, from all my siblings, all eight of us, and to do that for the first time and then get into a really good college and get a whole bunch of scholarships. It’s my senior year and I literally graduate college this year. I can’t take that credit on my own. Like, I didn’t do that on my own. It took everyone around me. t takes a village to raise a kid. But it’s also God who has guided me and kept me safe for so long.”
“COVID was the worst time because I was alone. I was very, very alone. Like COVID came and I found myself in my room by myself doing nothing but thinking. That’s all I could do. All I could do was think. And when I started to think, I started getting anxious and I was like, ‘this is not a good thing’, because all those intrusive thoughts came to mind.”
In September of 2020, Mario’s college campus transitioned to online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Mario came back to Chelan. Isolated from his community, Mario’s anxiety began to grow even worse. “I was really suicidal. There were just so many times where I was like, this is the time where I can just end it.”
During this time, a friend Mario met in college kept reaching out. “She would text me and be like ‘Hey, thinking about you. Praying for you. Hope you’re okay. What do you need today? What’s going on in your life?’ It was during my worst moments where I was about to do something and she would text me. It was totally a godsend. She felt like she needed to tell me how much she cared about me.
She felt like she needed to tell me how much she cared about me. And because she took that time to tell me,
I’m here and I’m alive today.”
“I was literally so close to the edge and because of the this message, literally like only seven seconds, it only took her a little bit of time to reach out and talk to me that I’m alive now. I’m a living example of what this message can do.”
“I still have times I don’t wanna let people in; I wanna just go hide and run in my little hole and be alone. But again, and again, I found that when I do share or when I do shed some light to the darkness, it vanishes.”
It was during that same time that a friend invited him to get involved with Only7Seconds and he began creating content with the Only7Seconds team. “I still have times I don’t wanna let people in; I wanna just go hide and run in my little hole and be alone. But again, and again, I found that when I do share or when I do shed some light to the darkness, it vanishes.”
“We’re not meant to do our lives alone. I finally realized that I need to let people in and it is important and it is so valuable to just have conversations with people and trust people.”
Lately, Mario is learning how to find his significance in his value as a person and not in what he does. “I’ve been struggling with busyness. I stay busy because it gives me a sense of importance or some kind of significance or value. If you’re burning yourself out, you’re setting yourself up for a mess. Because if you’re burning yourself out, you’re not emotionally there for the people that you really care about. You’re not giving your body rest and you’re always thinking.”
“Rest is something that I’m still learning how to do. I just have to let go of that childhood trauma of trying to feel significant and trying to find my worth in the things that I do. It’s so important for kids to be told that they are significant because of who they are.”
Mario’s advice to you: “Take it one day at a time. Make sure that you are being very intentional with every part of yourself – in the conversations that you have, in the way you think about stuff, the way you reflect – be very intentional because this life is very short and you only get one shot. Make sure you tell people you love them, make sure you acknowledge people and receive the love that this world has to offer too. I’m preaching to myself because I need to learn how to do that.”