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My Blues Ain’t Like Yours: Journey Back from Madness

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My biggest, greatest issue is inadequate health insurance coverage. No job equals no health care. Bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that must be carefully managed throughout a person’s life; and having it without health insurance is dangerous. You never know to what extreme you will end up; and being off your meds truly isn’t an option. I’ve experienced bipolar psychosis often over the years. Bipolar psychosis causes a break with reality, loss of reasoning and ultimately, resistance to treatment when it goes too far without medications. Bipolar psychosis can be very disruptive and cause significant work and relationship problems due to misperceptions and false beliefs. I mostly kept such psychosis to myself for fear that I would be hospitalized. I didn’t dare tell my therapist I talked to my dead mother on a regular basis. That would have got me a first class trip to the mental ward.


I think this is really something important that needs to be visited by the black community. There just isn’t a relationship between mental health and the black community and there is such a need for one. We need to build bridges to connect those in need to get the proper treatment. 


I was excited to read Bebe Moore Campbell’s book 72 Hour Hold because it finally told a much needed story about a black person with bipolar disorder. Bebe Moore Campbell was a best-selling novelist who understood the struggle of dealing with mental illness. She spent years caring for a family member afflicted with one. Campbell’s personal experience inspired the story of an owner of an upscale Los Angeles clothing shop whose teen aged daughter is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She also wrote a children’s book, “Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry,” which depicts how a little girl copes with being reared by her mentally ill mother. Reading these stories gave me the courage to survive and strive for a better understanding of how this disorder affects the black community as well.


In April 2008 Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month was established and is celebrated each year during the month of July. It was established to enhance public awareness of mental illness, especially within minority communities. I’m here to tell you no matter your gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality, race or religion, mental illness doesn’t discriminate. “According to the National Mental Health Association, an estimated 2.3 million Americans have bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depressive illness). The rate of bipolar disorder among African Americans is the same as all Americans, except African Americans are less likely to receive a diagnosis and, therefore, treatment.”


Some of us suffer for years before being properly diagnosed and treated. I made desperate attempts at silencing the madness in my mind but it wasn’t until I lost everything that I understood the power of the disorder. I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2002, but didn’t accept it until just recently. I knew for what seems like forever that something was wrong with me but I hid behind my bad temper and used it as an excuse. But now I’ve put away the fear of being “labeled” and got treatment. I stopped letting the stigma create self-doubt and shame; and came to terms with my illness. I realized that any judgments probably stemmed from a lack of understanding rather than knowledge based on the facts. And I’m learning to accept my condition and recognize what I need to do to treat it. I’m seeking support and helping educate those close to me has made a big difference in my life. I now take a daily medicinal cocktail that helps regulate my moods. And I’ve accepted the following as ways to gain a new perspective on stressful situations:


  • Building skills to manage my stress
  • Increase self-awareness
  • Focusing on trigger points and avoiding them
  • Reducing negative emotions
  • Learning about my condition, my moods, feelings, thoughts and behavior
  • Using the insights and knowledge gained from psychotherapy
  • Picking up healthy coping and stress management skills
  • Talking about my condition and related issues with a mental health provider


So here I am reinventing myself; accepting that I too am a face of bipolar disorder. Knowing that this is not all I am. I am a daughter, a sister, a mother, a partner and a friend. I’ve made new discoveries about myself and the human condition. I have the power of a black woman’s spirit, armed with the knowledge to fix my broken wings and triumph over this enormous obstacle. And I’ve learned to love myself just as I am.

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