Victoria Vega: How I Became The First to Graduate in My Family, Learned to Love Myself, & Overcame Depression

Victoria Vega is a perpetually happy young woman on her way to achieving some big things in life: not only is she graduating from high school this year, she’ll be the first in her family to attend college as well. Her story is nothing short of inspiring as she shares her struggles with depression, suicide, and sexual abuse. But, most importantly, she shows us how she overcame her past through building her faith and learning to love herself. If you, or if someone you know, is struggling with similar tragedies, there is hope. And Victoria shows the world that it’s possible. How’s that for #girlpower? 👊

the story of victoria

I was born in Brooklyn, New York to a very young mother, she was 17 when she had me. She was the oldest of four children, so she also had to take care of her siblings because my grandmother always had to work. There was a lot of pressure on my mom and grandmother to make ends meet, especially in a place as expensive as New York. My dad, fortunately, stayed around and helped her out. I remember being able to go to ballet recitals with him and getting pancakes afterwards, and I’m thankful that he was such a good dad. My mom always said that she wanted me to have better opportunities than she did.

When I was 5, my grandma, my aunt, and my uncle decided to leave New York and move to Hephzibah, Georgia. I’m not really sure why, but when they moved they left me and my mom. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and that was definitely the case with me. Even though my other family members left, I was fortunate to still have my Godmother and her family helping out. The area that we lived in (Fort Green, near the Barclay Center) was full of crime, poverty, gangs, and drugs at the time. My mom decided to move out of this terrible environment when I was about six, so we left to Hephzibah, GA to be with the rest of the family.

Looking back, I feel like my personality was shaped by living in Georgia. I remember how different the dialects were right away, so I had to adapt and learn the new personalities in this area. The best friend that I had in New York and I both have completely different personalities now. When I started attending elementary school in Georgia they actually wanted to bump me up a grade, but my mom insisted that I lead a normal life so that I would never feel behind the other students.

I did really well in elementary school, and I remember how excited I was to attend Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School. When I received the congratulatory letter of acceptance, I was jumping up and down and doing cartwheels in the air because I couldn’t believe it! But when I began middle school at Davidson, that’s when things changed. I immediately noticed how much more difficult this environment was going to be. I had quizzes and tests everyday now, and they were pushing us really hard into the deep end.

I didn’t feel smart anymore. Being in an environment where everyone was super intelligent made me feel “less than.” I became discouraged from trying to do better and to be better. My perspective toward school changed, too. Quick tip: If you already think you’re going to fail, then you’re not going to try your best to succeed. And that’s why I was so unhappy during these years. I cut my self short.

Ninth grade was a really rough year for me, too. I had to decide on a “fine art” to study for at least three years in order to graduate, and I had no idea where to start. I decided on taking ceramics, and I quickly realized that I wasn’t any good at it. I hated it. Once again, I felt like a failure. I kept watching my friends succeed in their studies, and meanwhile I felt like I was just disappointing myself making pots. This was the year where I discovered my passion for writing though, and it allowed me to really get my thoughts out. I finally felt like I had a grip on my life. I finally felt like I could breathe when I was writing.

Then, in tenth grade, this is when I started dating my first boyfriend. This was the first time that I was actually with someone, and I dived right in. I was all for him. I started lying to my mom about where I was; I lied so much at that point and I feel so guilty about it to this day. When he broke up with me, it was so bad. When I went home, I couldn’t stop crying. There was a hole in my heart and I wanted to fill it up again. I didn’t feel whole anymore…. so I started serial dating. I did this because I was able to put my happiness in these other boys.

I didn’t even realize that I was doing this until I went on a retreat with my church, and this is when everything changed. None of my family members are religious, so this was something that I wasn’t used to. But the retreat was incredible and it changed my life. After this experience, I started putting all of my efforts into church, into being with God and worshipping him. When you put God first, everything else falls into place. Looking back, and after giving my testimony at church, I can see now how God places everything in your life so that you can become who you’re meant to be.

I started becoming more passionate about my schoolwork and caring about my future. I didn’t have to put my validation into boys anymore. My grades even went up! This was during my junior year, and towards the end of this time I knew that I needed to go to college after having a long talk with my mom. She encouraged me to go because I would be the first person from our family to do it. My mom and my stepdad have always wanted me to go to college so that I can have a good life, so that I can have a good career. They weren’t able to attend college or graduate from it, so they were only able to have jobs and they struggled because of it. Most importantly, she wanted me to do it to make me a better person.

Even though I was ready to start applying, I still felt so intimidated by everyone else at my school. It seemed like they all had perfect grades, and this really got me down and I couldn’t stop comparing myself to other people again. I was able to have a talk with my Pastor about it (I talk to him a lot, he’s practically my best friend!) and he made me feel a lot better about it. He told me that your grades don’t define you, and this gave me a reason to keep pushing forward to achieve my dream of going to college. Don’t let your environments get you down, let them motivate you instead.

overcoming depression & suicide

In ninth grade, we moved into a nicer house. At the same time my mom and my stepdad were also going through a rough patch, so having them not being united made me feel like I had less of a foundation to rely on. They were always great, and they still are, but this was really hard for me to get past. I haven’t shared this with many people, but this is also the year where I felt like I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t have anyone.

One day, I was completely fed up. I could’t handle my life anymore. When I went home from school one day, I knew that I was going to attempt suicide. When I put my mind to something, I know I’ll do it. I didn’t see a way out. I didn’t see a way that this could be better. So that night, I said goodnight to my parents after dinner and went to bed. I was going to do it while they were asleep.

I set an alarm for 4:00am to do it. But that night, I had a nightmare that woke me up at 3:45am instead. I had imagined that one of my friends had committed suicide herself, and it was so realistic that I woke up crying insisting that it was real. That’s when I realized if anyone was going to feel that kind of pain when I killed myself, I am not going to do this. It was a huge turning point for me in wanting to be a better person and to not feel like I wanted to die anymore. The dream was so realistic, and I know that God did it on purpose. I would have done it if I hadn’t had that dream that night. That’s what changed me. That’s when I decided to turn my life around.

the sexual abuse

After my first relationship, even though it only lasted 3-4 months, I no longer felt whole. That’s when I started serial dating, to try to fill in that void that was left after the break up. Looking back, I can see that this was because of my past experience with sexual abuse at the hands of my Uncle.

When I moved down to Georgia from Brooklyn, we moved in with my grandmother and my uncle. A couple months after this, the sexual abuse started. I knew that it was wrong at the time, and the only person that I could talk to was my aunt, who was just a kid herself at the age of 12. It turns out that he was doing it to her too. Because we were both so young, we decided not to tell anybody about it. We didn’t know if anyone would believe us, so we kept quiet. We went through it together for about four or five years.

I had another Uncle who visited us years later, when I was about nine or ten. He came over with his two older daughters, and my bad Uncle tried to sexually abuse them as well. Because they were older, they told on him. I remember that the police came and picked him up; but the whole ordeal lasted for years before he finally went to jail.

I didn’t get therapy after this. I really feel like this is where my self hatred and negative thoughts came from. This is why I was so obsessed during my first relationship, I felt like I could finally be loved. I finally felt worthy of it.

My Uncle took a piece of me that I couldn’t get back.

But when I went to church, it changed how I viewed everything. I can be angry about the sexual abuse. I can let it define me. I can let it overrule any goodness that I have in my life. But I forgive him- I love him. And that wouldn’t be possible without God. He’s my therapy now. It made me who I am today, and now I know that it was a part of the journey.

role models & relationships

When I talked to my aunt after my uncle was sent to jail, the same aunt who experienced sexual abuse, she told me that she confronted him about it years earlier. She told him not to mess with me, and she basically sacrificed herself for me. It turns out that she saved me more times than I could know, and I love her so much to this day. When I told her about my journey with God, she told me that she had been praying for me for years and that she is so proud of me for my faith and love for God.

on discovering God

I had never been to Church religiously as a child, but I had a friend who invited me to attend one day. She didn’t tell me that they wanted to save me, she just told me that her friends wanted to meet me. This was so nice, because I didn’t feel pressured at all! When I attended, it was unlike anything that I had ever been to before. The Pastor was amazing too; he spoke in a way that everyone could understand and made you feel like you wanted to be a better Christian. After that first experience, I knew I needed to be there.

the importance of a good education

Education, of course, is super super important! After middle school, I knew I had sold myself short. But once I changed that mindset, I really began to enjoy learning! I feel like, even if the subject isn’t relevant, there’s always something interesting about it. There are so many women and girls across the world who don’t have access to education, so I know that I’m lucky not only because it’s available to me, but it’s available to me at such a high-level institution like Davidson. I’ve always been grateful for it.

Without education, you’ll always be stuck in the same place. It’s important to be more informed.

her advice on finding happiness

Stop comparing yourself to other people. Look at how you’ve improved, start focusing on yourself. Don’t be dismayed by what you see other people doing! I had to do this in ceramics class, and I still have to do this with my writing. Once I stopped comparing myself to other people, it was easier to start comparing myself to myself.

on her future

I am really interested in nursing. After praying about it, I realize that I want to help other people because I know that I am merciful and serving. I know that I would also love to be a veterinarian for the same reasons, so I have to figure that out soon! Writing still helps me get my feelings and my emotions out. I’m even going to read one of my poems at a church event coming up! I don’t think that I’ll ever stop doing it. It helps me to breathe.

what she would tell herself 5 years ago

Stop giving up so easily!! I would fail one test and tell myself that I was stupid, that I was dumb for life. Instead, I should have assessed the reasons why I failed it! It was so easy to compare myself to others, and I would tell myself to stop doing that too. I needed to find ways to improve myself – for myself.

her mantra

Choose yourself. And choose God.

In the past, I chose boys. In the past, I chose people other than myself. I chose to compare myself to other people. I chose to hate myself. When times get hard, I remind myself of this to get myself through it.

My whole life, I’ve been really lucky. I know this. My mom could have given me up for adoption or she could have aborted me. My dad could have left. I have been so lucky to be surrounded by people who love me and encourage me. My extended family is even coming down for my graduation next year! Having my mom be so tough on me and teaching me through tough love has really helped me grow, too. I couldn’t be more thankful for this guidance, and I feel so blessed by God that he put all of these people around me. I am so appreciative of the people who have encouraged me along the way. Knowing you have someone in your corner can make the biggest difference.

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