The great lie of our society is that mental health and mental illness are the same.
Lorenzo Gomez wants to dispel that notion for good. In his new book, Tafolla Toro: Three Years of Fear, he reaches back in time to share stories of his turbulent, traumatic, and often violent middle school years in one of San Antonio’s most crime-riddled neighborhoods. He opens up to reveal the fear, anxiety, and hopelessness he felt as a teenager and how those forces shaped his life until he began taking steps as an adult to improve his mental health.
Alternating between shocking stories from his youth and letters written to his 12-year-old self, Lorenzo shows young people how to retake the battle of their mind by dealing with what is true and dismantling the lies that lead to self-deception. I caught up with Lorenzo to learn what made him want to write the book and his favorite idea that he shared with readers.
What happened that made you decide to write the book? What was the exact moment when you realized these ideas needed to get out there?
I always wanted to write a book about my middle school. Even back then, I felt like the things I experienced reminded me of stuff I saw only in the movies. It wasn’t until 2016, when I found the right therapist, that I was able to process all of these stories and put them in their proper place.
My therapist taught me TA, or Transactional Analysis, which quickly became the most helpful tool in my life to deal with mental health. The tools of TA were so helpful to me that I decided to embed them in the book. So for anyone who reads the book, I will draw from all the lessons I learned in TA to walk the reader through some of my most helpful mental health exercises.
What’s your favorite specific, actionable idea in the book?
It’s the notion that you can stop negative self talk right in its tracks with a simple reframe. There is a line you will see in the book over and over which goes something like this:
“In the past, I have done or felt such and such, but today I have decided…”
This notion that you declare with words that the past cannot be changed and the decision to think differently — and, most importantly, act differently — can happen right now in the present tense is so powerfully game-changing. This one simple idea has absolutely transformed my thought life and put me on a path to better mental health.
I am so thankful for this tool and now I want to share with it with my readers.
What’s a story of how you’ve applied that idea in your life? What has this lesson done for you?
One of the many struggles you will see in the book is anger, guilt and shame. I used to think that these were just emotions that I could not control. And because of that, I would tell myself so many lies about myself. A great example is anger. I used to say things like, “Well, in the Gomez family, we are hot blooded and we have a temper.” Now I will say, “In the past, I have lost my temper too quickly, but today I have decided to slow down. To go for a walk or to be more patient when it comes to the things that trigger my emotions.”
The first example is one where I am framing it like I have no control. In the second I am taking back control right now. When I first started seeing my current therapist, he stopped me about ten times in our first session and pointed out my negative self talk. It really blew my mind and I went home thinking, if he just stopped me ten times in a one hour session, how many words do I speak a day and how many of them are negative self talk?
I realized that I was literally poisoning my own mind and that changed everything for me. After that I was more motivated than ever to win the battle of my thoughts and regain control.
For more advice on dismantling the lies that lead to self-deception, you can find Tafolla Toro: Three Years of Fear on Amazon.