In recognition of Minority Mental Health Month, for our final blog post of the month, we are featuring a guest post by an African American writer who lives with bipolar disorder. Thank you, Ms. Jordan for your contribution!
– Jay Boll, Editor in Chief www.rtor.org
You would think going to the psychiatric floor of any hospital more than once would be enough to cause a huge blow to your ego. Also, try imagining being a 30-year-old woman, a person of color, and still living at home. Maybe you can. Maybe you’re just like me.
I want you, the reader, to do something for me. Hold out both of your hands in front of you and put down the pinky, ring finger, and thumb of one hand. That’s how many times I have been sent or forced to the hospital over the past ten years for one reason or another. I’ve attempted suicide four times and have actually died once, yet brought back to life. If that wasn’t ego-shattering enough, to be an African American woman in a health care facility that is mostly run by those of a different race made me feel even more alone. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t an attack on any race outside of my own, but this was my reality.
Let the Good Times Roll
In my early 20’s, I was incredibly self-destructive. With a severe alcohol addiction that was supported by the bar around the corner from my restaurant job, I quickly spiraled and descended into chaos. At the time, going to the daily “last call” seemed normal because I wasn’t going alone. Hopefully, I can be really honest here: I enjoyed a lot of my manic episodes. Confidence, Sensuality, and Carefree became my comrades. A living superhuman able to hold down two full-time jobs, drink, and still “function” in society. The partying ended, aging began to grow on me, but my drinking stayed constant. I would stay in my childhood room (after spontaneously quitting my jobs through text message and taking the 6-hour train ride back home) with a 24-pack of beer and drink until I passed out. Drinking was my best friend and I spent money carelessly because that felt great too.
My Stigma and Shame
I was a broken mess. Diagnosed as bipolar disorder with an alcohol addiction to boot. I felt ashamed of myself and had bitten and torn off pieces of my family’s heart, as well as killed the “legacy” that had been repeatedly pushed upon me as a child. My parents, the community, and the church expected me to grow up to be the next Oprah, and I was often nicknamed a “star”. Growing up, there were so many different connections and opportunities for me to succeed. There was absolutely no reason that I should have failed over and over again. Shame and embarrassment frequently latch onto my neurons, yet I am proud to say I have a mother that is unconditionally supportive, loving, and patient. However, here is the painful truth: she wouldn’t want you, any of you, to know who I am or what I have done. My mother has never said that out loud, it is the shameful secret we carry with us as we drag our feet through the community.
I could be any one of you, and any one of you could be me. If you walked down the street and locked eyes with me, you wouldn’t know that I have a mental health issue. Maybe it’s the meds or the therapy. I’ll guarantee you that it’s because I don’t want you to know my secret. I’m friendly, but I would do anything for you not to see me as the label. I’m much, much more than that. Ten years of stories, tragedy, and chaos is what I carry with me. I’m African-American, female, and struggling with a mental illness. We do exist.
Author Bio: Olive X. resides on the East Coast and is a mental health worker and aspiring travel nurse. She can be found managing her blog on mental health on Twitter: @olivexblogs.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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