A friend from high school told me recently that I have too many secrets because every time we talk she is learning something new about my life. She has known me most of my life but there are things I was struggling with even in high school and college that none of my inner circle from Huber Heights knew about because I kept it all in. I kept my family secrets as taught.
I realized that is probably true today at work, in the sorority, with friends and some family members today. I know that keeping things in the dark opens doors for assumptions so I had to pause and think about how important is to recognize that your life is your story and when you write it well and allow God to use that story perhaps it can be a blessing to others.
So here I am stepping out of that box that I tend to stay in to share stories related to mental illness and the stigma that comes along with it. I am a long time advocate for physical and mental health because physical health impact mental health and mental health impacts physical health. However, I am an advocate and educator, not a provider, for mental illness as well.
As I see it, there is a huge difference between mental health and mental illness, the unwanted genetic inheritance that affects millions of people. I am saddened that so many feel it is necessary to suffer in silence because they don’t feel safe enough to talk about it.
Caregivers providing support for those they love who have a mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are some of the strongest people you will ever meet. You probably don’t fully know what they are going through because they probably don’t talk about it.
I have worked for years looking for ways to get information out in the community. In the early 2000’s it was coordinating community forums with speakers and vendors and providers seeking to encourage families to get the right kind of help. From 2015-2020 it shifted to using performance art to raise awareness and spread hope for not crying in the dark with an award-winning evening of spoken word called Expressions of Determination Strength and Triumph that I helped create for the Tampa Alumnae Charter of Delta Sigma Theta.
In 2021, with the launch of my first book of the series “Manic Love” I hope to try something different in the desire to reduce stigma. The first book, The Unwanted Genetic Inheritance of Mental Illness, is presented as the voice of a caregiver. It openly shares the struggles of two generations of a Black Christian family that has struggled with mental illness in secreat, hiding from the stigma not only in the church and community but also within this proud family that cared about the shame that such illnesses bring to their family name. The results of not addressing mental illness are mixed with tragedy and triumph in this fictional story inspired by true events.
It is one in a series because genetics do just go away. It is fiction because it's a combination of stories I have heard and continue to hear from many people over the years.
I hope you will not only read but share the book with others who need encouragement, support, or someone who feels all alone in their struggle. Some may even struggle with their faith because of stigma in the church so be someone who wants to embrace caregivers and seek to better understand what they face.