Me and Mental Health
Written by: Shawanna Hill
“Ain’t nothing wrong with you?” “Go lay down!” “Just pray.” These are some of the remarks made to me throughout 34 years of my life. But, what if this isn’t enough? In the African-American community, an issue with mental health is like a big secret. You know the condition is there, but you just don’t speak about it. “We” don’t need “no” therapy. “We” don’t take “no” pills. But, it isn’t enough?
I was 33 years old before I recognized something was really wrong with me. I was always an intelligent person who was in all honor classes during my school years. I set the standard for other students. I was likeable. I had friends. I came from a two-parent home. I had never seen my father disrespect my mother. I had never really known any real struggles. So, what was wrong with me? Why was my mind racing? Why couldn’t I turn it off and just to go to sleep? Why was I crying all the time? Why was I always downing myself?
The day I decided to seek help was probably the best day of my life other than my wedding day and giving birth to my children. I knew I would have to face the “ugly” in life, and I was prepared? So, I thought… When I sat down in my therapist’s office, I felt a sense of doom. I felt like I had already failed before I even started. She must have detected my apprehension, because her next set of words to me were, “You’re here. That’s the biggest obstacle you’ll have to cross.” Then the flood gate opened. I began to spew out any and everything. And as I talked, she calmly sat and wrote. I don’t know why, but just talking about my issues made me begin to feel better. Was this all I needed to do? Did I just need someone to listen? At the end of my first session, the therapist told me that I shouldn’t expect changes right away. It took a while to seek help; it may take a while to get better. It goes without saying that I DID NOT like this statement. But, she was right. I had finally gotten the nerve to confront my issues. I should be patient with expecting change. During our second session is when my therapist began to probe. She asked questions I felt had nothing to do with the reason for my visit. The therapist asked such questions. “What are your eating habits like?” “Do you get enough sleep?” “Do you think you have enough sex?” “Hit your brakes lady!” I thought to myself. However, I remained silent. After responding to her inquiries and providing more details about my life, she expressed to me that I showed classic signs of being Bipolar along with depression. Bipolar, who me? Child, you have the wrong “chick”. I began to think I was wasting my $60 copay. This therapist must have recognized my attitude change, because she said “and there is nothing wrong with that.” Nothing is wrong with that? Do you know who I am? Do you know what I’ve accomplished in life? I am not crazy. I left that day with a prescription and a whole heap of self-doubt. Even as an educated woman, I knew I couldn’t challenge a professional. Instead, I did my own research. As I read information, I began to see myself. “Were or are you overly sexually active?” I was. Do you frequently have mood swings beyond your control?” I did. “Do you think that you are not good enough?” I do. Hence I prayed. Boy, did I pray. I was stuck between wanting to feel or be better as opposed to resorting back to my old way of thinking. “Ain’t nothing wrong with me?” Yet, I did want to feel better. I didn’t want to be sad all the time. I wanted to be well enough. I wanted to live!
Reluctantly, I went on to fill my prescription. At first, I was afraid. I contacted a close cousin who is a licensed therapist and remained on the telephone line with her. She advised me to follow the doctor’s orders and try out the medication for myself. I followed the therapist’s instructions on how to stay positive and avoid negative thoughts; how to eat better and get the proper amount of sleep. I took
those dreaded pills. In the beginning, it took some time to find what really worked for me. Once the therapist and I found a formulary that worked, I noticed a change. I wanted to get up in the morning. I didn’t fear .the mundane tasks of house cleaning or even showering. Yes, “laughing out loud”…it got that bad. I felt good! I felt for the first time in a long time, like SHAWANNA! And, I loved it!
So, yes I, Shawanna Hill, am an African-American woman who is Bipolar. And, I am not ashamed of it. For too long, I cared about what others thought. I hid my feelings for fear of repercussion and being shunned. Nonetheless, I always remember this: I have Bipolar. It doesn’t have me!