I was 19 years old sitting in an abnormal psychology class at Eastern Michigan University when I realized that my father had to have bipolar disorder. The textbook lesson created such vivid memories of my dad’s behavior that I was certain I was reading about him. I called my mom and I asked for confirmation, and she sat in silence for a few minutes. I caught her off guard, but I kept asking questions. She replied that she never told any of us because she didn’t know how to talk about mental illness. She still did not understand it herself.
Mom had been living in silence, struggling in silence for years trying to cope with my father’s illness for almost 25 years but didn’t understand it. She suffered in silence because she didn’t know what to say to us and often, she didn’t know how to help my father. Doctors didn’t talk to families back then unless there was an immediate threat to safety. No one helped to educate her about the condition and the black family, and the black church didn’t talk about it and often demonized it as if the brain was not a part of the body.
Since that time, I have found peace with it all and have determined that I will not allow stigma to be a part of my life or the lives of my family or circle of friends.I try to be a “stigma buster”, pointing out the flawed thinking of those around me who misuse certain stigmatizing terms or statements.IT IS EXHAUSTING. At times I ask myself why bother? And then I think of mom and so many others and I believe in the importance of using our stories to encourage and educate.