How TikTok Helped This Latino Father 'Find Happiness' After Suffering Depression for Years
Vicente Avila isn’t your typical TikToker.
For starters, Avila is 45 and has three kids. His videos, posted under the alias Vinny the Twister, have gone viral time and time again as Avila, originally from Jalisco, Mexico, enthusiastically tells viewers about his days from home in San Diego.
“Hey, guys! I’m making scrambled eggs for my kids early in the morning guys,” he told the camera with a huge smile as he showed off the eggs he was making in a video from late February. “Are you ready to go to work? Tuesday! Check it out, it’s almost ready.”
He then hopped into his car with the same smile and added, “I know that after eight hours, I’m going to come home and see my kids and play around. It’s going to be okay, let’s go.”
“See you later, alligator!” he ended the clip, using his signature phrase.
All of his videos showcase this same bright, family-driven personality — but the content has taken a cautionary turn as the coronavirus outbreak has grown.
“Please stay at home. If you don’t have nothing to do outside, don’t go outside, stay home and be safe,” he added in a new video.
“I’m following the directions,” he tells PEOPLE, adding that his children are now taking classes from home, while he is keeping his day job as a fiber glass technician, making gas tanks for small planes.
“I’m still going to work because they haven’t told me not to,” adds Avila. “When I get off work, if there’s no reason to go out, I don’t. I’ve also been reminding my followers of the CDC guidelines for what to do.”
In another TikTok, he talked about California Gov. Gavin Newsom‘s statewide “shelter-in-place” order and told his followers that he’ll keep working because “my boss just gave me this letter saying that my job is essential, so I have to keep working.” He then joked that maybe he should get a raise for his continued hard work.
But the motivating dad, with over 15 million likes on the app, wasn’t always so light hearted.
In a recent TikTok, Avila revealed his struggles with mental health.
“It’s time to share a secret. I suffer depression and anxiety since I lost my father. But I’m winning the battle for the family,” Avila captioned the video.
After his father died in 2002 of a heart attack, Avila says he fell into years of depression, an illness left undiagnosed until 2014, when he was sent to the hospital after feeling vertigo, spasms and heart palpitations while making balloon animals at a restaurant for tips.
“That’s when my depression exploded,” he says in Spanish, which PEOPLE has translated. “Since my dad’s death, I was quiet about it and never told anyone that my body and mind felt really different. I always wanted to cry, but I would hide because I didn’t want anyone to know.”
By 2014, Avila was already making videos on YouTube, creating short balloon animal tutorials to a small set of subscribers in Spanish. He’d earn some extra cash by making those same balloon animals at a restaurant for tips.
After his 2014 health scare, he says he decided that things were going to be different for him — and he used his dad’s death as motivation to echarle ganas, a phrase that means “keep at it” in English.
“I decided to live life in the moment and always remind people I love them,” he says. “I live life thinking that this is my last day here. Maybe tomorrow I won’t be on this planet.”
And TikTok became the perfect place to channel this positivity. Before joining the app just six months ago, Avila’s online presence was solely on YouTube, where he had gone on to create cobblestone and carpentry tutorials for his 600,000 subscribers.
Although his start was on YouTube, TikTok — and his nearly 820,000 followers — won him over.
“Here, I can be who I really am,” he says, laughing about his six months on the app. “I can let go of my feelings, my worries. It’s a way to release the stress and depression I bottled up for so many years.”
And he says that along with making his videos, his family keeps him more positive than ever.
“The best medicine for me is my family, my children,” he says. “When I see my children doing well, I feel secure and confident. Always.”
Avila adds that a lot of his followers tell him that he reminds them of their own Latino family members — many of whom share similar immigrant experiences. For Avila, his first day in the U.S. came on a very special occasion.
“I got to this country in 1990 on the Fourth of July,” he says. “I’ll never forget that. I didn’t even know what that was.”
After migrating at just 16, Avila spent a month and a half living on the street before finding his first job as a landscaper.
“That’s when I think I became a man,” he says of being homeless.
Despite his struggles as an immigrant, Avila says it helps bring him closer to his fans.
“It touches my heart when people comment that I remind them of their parents,” he says. “I know what it’s like to be an immigrant and to suffer. I know what it’s like to sacrifice everything for my family. Reading those comments motivates me to keep making videos for the youth.”
And how does he always keep that bright smile on his face? His answer is simple.
“My motto is to always find happiness first,” he says. “That’s why you see me with this attitude.”