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Patricia’s Journey: Becoming a US Citizen

Kyleigh Leist

WhiteFlag Outreach Coordinator

WhiteFlag’s COO, Patricia McCoy, has recently become a U.S Citizen. I had the opportunity to sit down with her, ask her questions about the process, the uncertainty that followed it, and how it affected her mental health. Through sharing this conversation, we hope that others in the WhiteFlag community who might be going through something similar, will feel less alone.

How long have you been in the United States? Share with the WhiteFlag community your journey!

I arrived in the United States on April 12th, 2018, after waiting one year for my fiancée visa to be approved. And during this one year of waiting, I wasn’t allowed to come visit.

What was the hardest part of adjusting from Brazilian culture to American culture?

I think it was getting used to the food and what type of food is consumed in each meal. For example, I never had bread for dinner before.

How was the adjustment to having the rights of an immigrant before having full citizenship?

I felt unsafe. It felt like I needed to be perfect, or they were going to send me back to Brazil.

What is the difference in mental health care in Brazil and the United States?

Even though the United States still needs to improve their mental health care, Brazil is way behind. I never met anyone in therapy before I came here, because in Brazil it just isn't something people do.

What was the process like to become a US Citizen?

Exhausting. Scary. You always have the feeling that if you say something wrong or make a mistake, you are going to lose everything you have and they will send you back.

How long did approval take?

It took 4 years since the day I arrived in the US.

Describe the emotional stress it took on your mental health.

Every time I received a letter from the immigration department, my heart would beat so fast. If the letter was saying that an interview was scheduled, I would think about it and be anxious until the interview was over.

What would you say to someone going through this process and who needs to keep their mind from going to a dark place?

Having a support system is very important. They’ll help you realize that some of your fears are irrational, and they will help you make sure you have everything you need for the interviews.
What has not being able to see your family done to your mental health?

I haven’t seen my family in two years and a half, and I feel that my depression got really bad after 6-8 months without seeing them. I cry every birthday, holiday, or if someone in my family gets sick. I think the hardest part of the entire process is not being able to have your family around.

What methods did you use for the process? Mentally, emotionally, and physically?

I really enjoy “to do” lists, so for interviews I made sure I had everything I needed in advance and also, I’ll always bring extra documents just in case. But the affirmations from my support system were very important, they would always remind me that “I got this,” that it would be over soon, and that they were there for me in case something went wrong.

If you were to go back and do this process over again, what would you do differently to take better care of yourself?

Unfortunately, what I needed to help me was out of my control, having my family with me. Because of their financial status, they aren’t allowed to come visit. And because of COVID-19 I wasn’t allowed to go visit them.

What would you tell someone who is reading this that is going through the same process as you?

You got this! You have everything you need; you know everything you need to know. So, take a deep breath, hug a loved one, and try to feel safe.

How important is peer support to you now that your family is not around?

Having a support system is the most important thing, it helps you with your fears, loneliness, and they will give you the emotional support you need.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the WhiteFlag readers?

Even though the process is scary, you got this and we’re here for you no matter what!

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Having a support system through any process, especially one as lonely, time consuming, and detail oriented as the process of becoming a US Citizen, is the only way to manage the dark thoughts. The struggle of not being able to see family, the uncertainty that the process brings, the stressors endured going through the process, and the loneliness and cultural shock that might come with arriving in the United States, might make you question if this was the right choice. Find a support system. Make to-do lists. Don’t stress out about things you can’t control. Don’t let the nerve racking process consume you. And as Patricia said, “you got this!”

If you are going through this process, please know that support is out there. On the WhiteFlag App, you are able to talk to others who understand and can provide instant support. Remember, you are loved, you are worthy, and you matter!

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