I love a cold Jamaican Red Stripe beer or if I am in the mood for a drink, I will order a rum and coke with ice. I love the art of communication. I enjoy talking to my fellow human beings but I have not mastered the art of articulating my inner emotions. I rely heavily on my favorite vocabulary words. Fuck. Fuck, this one-syllable word can express my annoyance, happiness, and anger like,” Fuck it”, and “fuck you” and or “I fucking love you!” It gets right to the point just like dirty jokes. I would use the word fuck in a lot of my dirty jokes, except, I no longer tell dirty jokes. I failed at this art form called Comedy. Each time, I began to tell a joke, I would fall into a fit of laughter for fifteen minutes straight with tears rolling down my face as I scream “wait! wait! I am going to tell you”, “Fuck hold on!” I am going to tell you the joke” but I never did. It did not matter to my friendly audience because at some point between my laughter and waiting for me to tell the joke they started to laugh with me. It was a blessing my audience was family and friends. I believe laughing is infectious. I love to laugh and watch people laugh, the way the body jolts, the head swings back with the mouth open and the sound of the person’s distinct laugh can alleviate the mood in the room. My body contains two distinct laughs. The first laugh is my public laugh that comes from the pit of my stomach that includes a very unladylike snort. The second laugh is a private dark ” shining” Jack Nicholson’s type of laugh that terrifies me as it bounces off my bedroom room walls, vibrating at a high frequency against my abdomen over and over again until my back relinquish and curves into a perfect letter U. My body retracting back and forth into a psychotic ritual dance I am unable to control. The torrential downpour of tears creates a body of a river under and around my head like a fallen halo on to my pillow. My very own Pandora box, my brain, is wide open exposing my secret, my shame, my disease. Slowly, I sit up on the edge of my bed and walk to the other side of the bed where it is dry to lay my head, knowing all too well how silence can kill even when you are living.
* Why you wanna fly blackbird? You ain’t gonna never fly
Cause your mama name was lonely and your daddy name was pain
So why you wanna fly Blackbird…by Nina Simone
There are days when I imagine myself a blackbird who found her wings and flew away because being free is truly living. For over a decade, I have been fighting this unrelenting disease where the beginning can feel like the end, and the end can feel like the beginning. When I fly out of that cycle is when I feel boundless. Some days I am unable to differentiate if knowing I have this disease is more painful than knowing I have this disease and unable to stop it in a blink of an eye when it is ready to do battle with me. How do I stop a spirit flesh-eating disease that paralyzes my body? It always begins with the crying. I run to the bathroom, run the shower and place my head under the showerhead and cry until I feel that uncontrollable violent spasm in every limb of my body. I turn off the shower and exit the bathroom. My body is fatigued and I am spiritually broken, but I dress quickly to avoid the bed at all costs. I walk aimlessly in an apartment that I can usually walk in the light and in the darkness because depression altered my eyesight. Sometimes, I fail and slide into the bed and continue where I had left off in the shower. These are the times my mind begins to play with me. I begin to ponder:
“Why am I here? I do not belong to this world. Why, can’t I do anything right? I am a failure. I am born in sin. I am born with a defective gene. I am a nobody. I am worthless. I am unloved. I am incapable of feeling love. I am a degenerate. I am broken. I DO NOT belong to this world.”
Then there is silence. My bedroom, my sanctuary from the world, becomes my holding cell. My mind is my prison. I am cold all over with two heavy blankets sheltering my body but nothing sheltering my shivering mind. I blink in the darkness becoming aware of the reaper standing by the entrance of my bedroom door staring at me with no face. He is waiting and I am contemplating. We are both waiting for each other’s next move like a real-life game of chess. Immediately, I began digging in my memories searching for one good memory- just one to pull me back up. In the depth of my depression, I wonder if a soucouyant had kissed the crown of my head when I was baby sleeping peacefully between my grandparents.
I had no idea a war had started in my head. I thought my regular ups and downs were normal; I thought my high energy was normal, I thought insomnia was a residue from college life. I thought I heard my doctor say I have Bipolar as I sat in front of him with my medusa matted hairstyle and three-day-old stale body odor as he repeats my diagnose to me:
“Ms. Shaw, you are Bipolar,” he said.
“Huh,” I said, with a look of disbelief. I began to think about Hester Prynne, the character from The Scarlet letter, and how her community publicly shamed her, stripped her of her identity, forced her into silence, and ostracized her due to their dogma. Hester was condemned to wear the letter A on her chest. She was reduced to a letter. My, letter is M.
“Ms. Shaw, Do you know what exactly Bipolar is?” he asked,
“No.”, I replied.
“It is a form of mental illness. You suffer from a mental illness called Bipolar”, he said.
He continued. I could not hear his words even though I am watching his mouth moving. I had tuned him out after I “heard mental Illness.” I began to feel the immense pressure inside my head and then I heard a crack, like an egg, a second later. I had cracked. I had been crying all along in a ghostly silence until I laughed. I laughed. I laughed. I laughed and then I cried. I cried. And then I laughed really loud. The same way I had witnessed the homeless lady at Grand Central laugh as though someone told her a good joke. But no one is sitting or standing near her. Someone was with me, my doctor, but he was not telling me a joke and he was not laughing. I watched his manicured slender hands adjust his glasses on the bridge of his nose as the other hand softly touched my forearm and moved up to my shoulders.
“Don’t worry. You are going to be alright. We are going to take care of you. You are going to get better. We are going to start you on some medication. The medication will help you”, he said.
The humanity of his touch and his confident wide smile made me a disciple of faith. I wanted to believe the medication would heal me. “Lord hears my prayers,” I whispered to myself. I walked into my white hospital room thinking, “this must be a misunderstanding”, “I wanted him to retract his words”, and “I wanted him to take back the diagnosis.” “I am a fighter, not a victim!” Otherwise, all my small life victories would seem futile and I would have to ask myself, why I have been fighting all these battles. Nevertheless, there is no dispute most warriors do not return from a battle without scars. Some scars are visible and others are naked to the human eye. I was at a crossroads. I can wave the white flag and succumb to this disease or fight it. I decided to fight this battle. It was all I know how to do. So, I began to chant to myself, “I am a strong black woman” over and over and over all the while hearing tiny fractures of my bones throughout my body. Still, I continued to chant over and over, I am a fighter, not a victim. Sharon, Lèvè! Lèvè! Sharon.
* Lèvè *
Power lies in knowledge and I believe only knowledge can give you freedom. I desperately wanted freedom like the blackbird. I wanted to soar and dip but I soared and relapsed. Many times, I relapsed because the medication was no longer effective or due to medication readjustment left me vulnerable to rapid cycling. I had to approach this battle with a different strategy to win. I had to educate myself about this disease and become an active participant in my treatment plan. I had learned and recognize my triggers and my symptoms in order to live in a society that did not comprehend nor empathize with people that suffer from any form of mental illness. I had to give myself permission to grieve a part of me in order to love myself through a different set of lenses. Every day, I have to learn and relearn how to love me all the while knowing the world will fail me time and time again until the stigma is removed.
Mental Illness is not a trend. It is not a hashtag. It is not a moment of “having a fit”. Mental Illness is a lifelong battle: a warfare of the mind. Every waking hour, I fight to live with the same strength I fight to die. Every day, I struggle and dig beyond the clutter of my mind to rectify the question “What is my life purpose if I was born this way? How can I experience life in a positive way as I move through shifts of a kaleidoscope of emotions? How does one live? How do I live? I meditate on these questions after losing friends and family members and being ostracized or gossiped about because of my openness about this disease because I refuse to be shamed. I believe being open will help to eradicate the stigma of mental illness by educating everyone who inquires, so more people battling their mental illness will feel comfortable living with their disease and live their best lives rather than seek the graveyard.