When I jumped on the Twitter this morning, I saw a tweet with a link to a blog on Huffington Post titled, "No Shame Day: Working to Eradicate Mental Illness Stigma in the Black Community." After reading it, I clicked on the #NoShame hashtag and saw tweet after tweet from African-Americans detailing their struggles with mental illness and sharing how the stigma within the Black community regarding mental illness has had an impact on them.
I went to The Siwe Project website and cried reading story after story of other Black men & women who have had to suffer in silence because of how crippling and degrading the stigma is. Suffering from and living with a mental illness is difficult enough-having to battle and fight against stigma in addition to it makes it excruciating. It chokes out hope, leaving a person feeling alone, isolated, and unable to use their voice to advocate for themselves or their mental & emotional well-being.
I cried. A lot. I'm still crying as I type this. I wish I could put into words how encouraging and empowering it is to see other minorities living with depression, anxiety, and Bipolar Disorder. Seeing a photo of an African-American woman in a t-shirt that says "Bipolar II" makes me cry with relief because I recognize that I'm not a freak. I'm not weird. I don't have a "that's for white people" disease.
I've mentioned it before and I'll say it again:
Black People Don't Talk About Their Mental Health
We don't believe in the science that says our minds are malfunctioning due to imbalances in brain chemistry. We don't believe in the science that shows that stress, trauma and other environmental factors can alter a person's brain chemistry and thus lay the foundation for a mental illness or mood disorder to build itself upon.
We don't believe in anxiety because the Black Church tells us that we are "too blessed to be stressed."
We don't believe in depression because really, we survived slavery, what in the world could we have to be depressed about? If our ancestors could survive oppression and if our grandparents could endure the cruelties of racism and Jim Crow, then we can get through anything. Without complaining about it.
To be diagnosed with something other than a physical illness just means that you have "issues" , and are "crazy." And if you are "crazy" you and your family don't talk about it. You don't get help for it. You are shamed into silence, an embarrassment to your family.
That's why seeing photos and reading tweets & stories of others boldly declaring their diagnosis' has me in tears. I'm both humbled and emboldened by their courage to speak out loud because I know how difficult it is culturally for them to do so.
Finally. Black people are finally starting to talk about their mental health. Their struggles, their diagnosis', the treatment they are getting.
Finally. I'm meeting other African-Americans who are "like" me. I'm not alone.
So I'm writing this post today to lend my voice to the movement that is saying enough is enough, let's silence the voice of stigma by raising our own.
Many of you already know my story because you've been reading it here, for the past year and a half. But for those who don't here it is:
My name is A'Driane. I have been struggling with mental illness since I was 16. In my early 20's I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety (GAD) & Depression. After the birth of my second son I suffered from GAD and Postpartum Depression. Although I was in treatment for both, my shifts in mood and symptoms became much worse.
I was diagnosed a year ago this month (OMG it's been a year already?!) with rapid cycling Bipolar Disorder II in addition to my GAD. I take 3 medications daily to manage my symptoms and have an excellent psychiatrist. Being in treatment for the past year and becoming educated on what Bipolar Disorder is has helped me recognize that I first started having manic and depressive episodes in my early 20's.
My psychiatrist believes that there are several things that have contributed my developing this illness. Family history (my grandfather is schizophrenic), environment & trauma (I was abused in my childhood & teen years) and the changes in hormones after the birth of my children all created what she calls my "bipolar biology."
My treatment plan involves medication, therapy, yoga, dancing, writing, and painting. I've also found a few fantastic online support groups on Facebook, and read books, blog posts, and articles to help me understand everything I can about my disorder.
Compliance and the road to stability has not been easy and there are days when the weight of it all overwhelms me and I want to give up. There are days when no matter what I do, my illness still gets the better of me and I want to give in and give up hope.
But I don't because I want to make it. I want to live. For myself, for my boys, and so others can know that it's possible to live a healthy life.
My hope is that days like today, and having a month like July deemed, "National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month", will help de-stigmatize mental illness in our community and culture.
African-Americans don't seek treatment for mental illness because they don't understand what it is and what it is not, so I'm hoping No Shame Day and increased awareness educates our community and encourages those who are suffering to seek treatment.
We CAN eradicate stigma in our various communities, regardless of race. But it's going to take more open dialogue, more people choosing to own & tell their stories, and most importantly, being educated.
Dedicating days to doing all of these things are crucial to helping change the conversation around mental illness. I'm proud to be doing my part.