The One Question I Needed to Be Asked as a Black Woman With Bipolar Disorder

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I believe being black with a mental illness is one of the hardest things to accept in the black community. Why? Because having a mental illness only means you’re crazy. That’s it. In my experience, there’s no room for understanding. There’s no acceptance. You’re classified as crazy and then you’re forgotten. How do I know? Because I have bipolar disorder, and for 11 years I refused to get help because I didn’t want my family and my peers to think I was crazy.

I had accomplished a lot when I was diagnosed. I was a college graduate, wife, mother of two small children, business owner and so much more. So I hid the fact that in 2004, I was told I had bipolar disorder. I was ashamed, embarrassed and angry that mental illness was threatening to tear apart my world. No one asked me if I was OK when I disappeared for months at a time and isolated myself from things. No one questioned when I’d go days without eating or sleeping. No one asked about why I would get aggressive or about any other of my erratic behaviors.

All I wanted was for someone to ask me how I was really doing. Do I need help with something? Am I OK? Anything. No one did. Instead, they just thought, “Oh, that’s how she is.” That label stuck with me as I ruined relationships, employment and business opportunities and other great blessings. I plowed through life like a bull in a china shop. But while I was losing my battle to be mentally stable, it seemed like no one cared. It’s as if black people didn’t have mental issues. We’re either crazy, cursed or no good.

Imagine that.

No one bothered to ask me the right questions. No one considered that I might need help. No one asked, “You’re acting out. Do you need to go see a psychologist or a mental health counselor?”

That’s the one question I wish someone had asked me. That question would have changed the course of my life. That question would have made me take a real look at my behavior, and could have driven me to get the help I so desperately needed. Instead, it wasn’t until my primary doctor noticed something in me didn’t seem right that I finally saw a mental health counselor. And even then, after I received my diagnosis, I refused to get treatment because when I told my husband and mother, they rejected the idea.

They didn’t know how much I needed to be asked, “What can we do to help you?” “Where can you get help?” “What does it mean to be bipolar?”

Those questions could have helped establish my support system. But I fought alone, trying to determine what was real and what my mind was twisting up. I experienced so much devastation because I was alone.

But I don’t blame them. I blame stigma. I blame societal ideations that I believe say only white people have mental illness. I blame the lack of education and the health disparities that still plague minority communities. These are the things that keep us from asking the questions to get help.

I finally started to get help in April of this year. I got tired of losing a battle with stigma. Now, I’m on the road to recovery. Now, I want others to know they can get the help they need. Now, I’m transparent and share my story because I suffered for so long in silence and denial.

Now, it’s my time to lead others into the light to make their tomorrow a better place to be.

To hear more of Ivy’s story, watch the video below: 

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s a question you wish you were asked as someone living with a mental illness? How would you answer that question if someone did? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The Proper Etiquette Guide to Gawking at My Special Needs Family

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When gawking at a family with a child who has special needs, please remember to do the following:

1. Be sure to wear a disgusted look on your face. This will help the family to feel at ease with the situation.

2. Walk right on up to the family and stand within their personal space without saying a word. Don’t forget about #1!

3. When walking by a child with special needs, make sure you do a double-take so that you can get a better look. Don’t worry, the family won’t see you!

4. Shush your child who openly asks an innocent question and turn him or her away ashamedly. Then do #3 when your child isn’t looking.

5. Inviting additional family members to your gawk spot is always welcomed. Just make sure you call for them loudly enough that the family of the child being gawked at can hear you!

Yes, this is all rather tongue-in-cheek — and these are all situations we’ve encountered thus far in our short time of having our daughter, Abby, out in public. Seriously, though, I hope people will consider how they would like to be treated if they were in this situation. Sometimes, I just get tired of being a spectacle. Don’t I have every right to take my child to the boardwalk and enjoy some time as a family?

This may not be the feeling of every parent of a child with special needs, but I would venture to say that most feel the same way we do: If you have a question, just ask. We are open books and love to tell people about the miracles being performed on our daughter! I would much prefer to answer a question than to have people catching flies with their gaping mouths. I feel like it’s much more polite to ask a genuine question than to “sneak a peek,” do the double-take (which I always catch!), or — the worst — openly stare in horror at our situation. Don’t you think we know that having a child on a ventilator is not a good thing?

We encountered a few Boy Scouts the other day who asked some wonderful questions about Abby’s tubes. We so appreciated their openness and willingness to ask about her instead of just staring. 

I’m not putting anyone down, and I don’t mean to condemn. I’ve been there. I used to be the one to shush my son when he asked why that man is in a wheelchair. I will even admit to doing the double-take. I never meant any harm by it, and neither do most people (the gaping-in-horror woman might have…), but I would encourage everyone to really consider how they would like to be treated in this situation. If you need some real-life experience, come hang out with us one Friday night on the boardwalk. I think our friends had a real eye-opener.

Because really, all we want is just to blend in with the crowd.

Follow this journey on Life as a Leach.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the Woman Who Wants to Pray Autism Away

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I am autistic.

I am also rearing children who are autistic — along with non-autistic children who have various disabilities. Our home is swimming in acronyms that stand for all of the different diagnoses in our home. We are quite the “motley crew,” my loud, flapping, spinning, scripting, disabled family and I. And though it’s not always easy (which would be the case with or without disabilities), it’s authentic. We love each other. We strive to respect one another’s strengths, challenges, boundaries, and needs. We mess up at times. But we make it work.

In addition to being a family with various disabilities, we are also a large family, an adoptive family, a Christian family and a family of color. We stand out when we go places first because of our size and/or demographics, and secondly because sometimes the way some of us present is a little different than the norm. At times we’ve had negative experiences because of this (like being told to leave movies or plays). But generally the people in our lives are welcoming and supportive.

Our church is also a good place of support. Though not perfect, it strives to include people of different backgrounds and experiences and to embrace diversity, including disability. We enjoy attending there and are actively involved in our church. But something happened the other day that I need to address.

Recently there was a special performance at our church one evening, and we attended. The children typically attend classes designed for youth, but this was a family-friendly event, so I had the children with me. I was a little worried about one of my children (my youngest son) because the sanctuary uses lighting effects (dimming, etc.), and there is a lot of noise (praise team, live band, bass pumping out of the speakers) and a lot of people. So I was prepared to leave if we needed to. Fortunately, this was a “sensory-seeking” day rather than a “sensory-avoiding” day for him, so not only was he able tolerate the environment that night, it seemed to energize him.

The music and the movement enraptured him, and he wriggled out of my lap and climbed to his feet. He moved to a space in the aisle near me, but more in front closer to the stage as if to “feel” the music better. He grinned widely and swayed to the beat. He bounced. He clapped. He spun. My heart burst with joy watching my baby boy become one with the music. I could relate, as there are some things that capture me just as deeply. You see, autistics don’t do anything halfway. We are either all in or we are not in. I can get similarly lost in a book or in my writing or in other things I’m passionate about. When we’re engaged in something, it can be like an all-consuming fire. There is nothing else around us, and nothing else matters at that moment. Watching my child, I knew he was being propelled to move and to express his joy by something from deep inside of himself.

I didn’t worry about people staring or pointing or whispering because our church is not like that. If anything, I think I saw a few people smiling broadly at him as they noticed his joy and how he was worshipping freely and boldly.

When we left I stopped by the restroom before heading to my car. An elderly lady was in there washing her hands at the sink. I walked past her en route to one of the restroom stalls. She caught my eye and smiled at me, and I returned her smile. The woman, who appeared to be about 80 years old or so, was short and had kind, greenish-gray eyes and a sunburst of freckles across her nose. She then spoke. “Young lady, was that you with that little boy who was jumping around out there?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” I answered with a smile. “That’s my son.”

“He sure is precious,” she said with an even bigger smile. Then she lowered her tone, moved a little closer to me and inquired, “Is he touched?”

“Touched?” I had no idea what she meant. “I don’t understand.”

“I was wondering if your son was touched. You know. Special. He seems different. Is he special?” she clarified.

“Special.” I didn’t understand “touched,” but I understood “different.” And I definitely understood what she meant by “special.” My smile fell.

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied softly. “My son is very special to me. He is a wonderful child. He is autistic.”

“Artistic?” Her brow furrowed.

“No ma’am. Not artistic. Autistic.” I struggled with how to make her understand, and decided to add, “Some people would say autistic and some would say, ‘He has autism.’ He thinks and acts differently.”

“Oh!” she nodded in understanding. “One of my great nephews has autism too. Can’t talk, but smart as a whip. Well, I’ll pray for you, young lady. And your son, too. I’ll be praying.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” I replied. “We could always use more prayers.”

“I will be sure to pray. Our God is a great Healer. He can heal your son. I’ll pray God continues to give you strength to deal with autism. I know it must be hard. God bless you,” she said.

I was at a loss for words. I didn’t want to be rude, but this was going completely wrong. “Ma’am,” I choked out, “I don’t need prayers to deal with autism. I understand autism because I am autistic, too. I don’t need you to pray for my son to be healed.”

“Of course not!” she exclaimed. “I am so sorry… You’re right.”

Relieved that she understood the offense, I smiled again. “Thank you, ma’am,” I said, and finally entered the stall.

As I was pulling the toilet seat covers out from their place on the wall of my stall, I heard the woman speak once more:

“Please accept my apology. I will not pray for God to heal your son. I didn’t realize you have the same stronghold. I will instead pray for God to heal both of you. By His stripes you are both healed.” I then heard the bathroom door swish open as she left the restroom.

I know the lady meant well. She was trying to be caring. But her words demonstrate a widespread belief and way of thinking that I don’t agree with and think is extremely harmful. It’s something that needs to stop.

Please don’t try to pray the autism away. I don’t need to be “healed” of autism. And my children do not need to be either. We are not autistic because of some sin, or some defect or some punishment from God. We are autistic because we just are. This is not an affliction. It’s a way of being.

I believe in prayer. I believe in healing. Feel free to pray for us. Just not like that. I believe God made us this way. We are not broken.

We need all types of different people in this world. We need all types of minds as well. The world would be boring if we were all neurotypical, or if we were all autistic, or if we were all gifted or any number of things. Just like the world would be boring if we were all white, or all black, or all male or all female, etc. There is beauty in our diversity. There is strength in it. And I believe when God looks upon it, He thinks it is good.

Please don’t pray for my or anyone else’s autism to go away. It is a part of who I am, how I believe God made me. I am fearfully and wonderfully made, autism and all. By all means pray for me, but pray for my health, my family, my finances, my spiritual growth, whatever; don’t pray that God takes away what makes me “me.”

Follow this journey on Just Being Me…Who Needs “Normalcy” Anyway?

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability and/or disease. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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Why I’m Considered a ‘Soccer Mom’ When My Kid Doesn’t Play Soccer

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I used to be jealous of those “soccer moms” running their children back and forth to games and practices. I used to get mad as hell when I’d hear them complain about a soccer tournament taking up their entire weekend. I used to smile but then cry behind closed doors when I watched their children play. I used to turn green with envy that they had children so able and willing to play, and then shed secret guilt-filled tears because I wished my child was like theirs.

But not anymore.

It’s taken me three years since my son’s autism diagnosis to realize that I am a “soccer mom” too, my child just doesn’t play soccer.

soccermom2 You see, I do drive my child to and from practices several times a week, but we call our practices “therapy.” My child also has days where he gives it his all at practice, and he also has days where his head just doesn’t seem to be in the game. And just like your child, when my child’s name is called, he stands up and we both know it’s game time.

My son’s field may look different than the grassy knoll your child plays on, but it’s really not that different at all. My child’s “goals” may not be between posts dug into the ground, but I promise you he has them (he has many of them), and I promise you he tries his hardest to score. His boundaries may not be drawn onto the ground with white paint, but he knows they’re there and he knows when he’s reached them. And yes, he even has a sideline too, when he has caused a “penalty” or just needs a little time out to rest and recuperate.

I do get to cheer for my child, and you know what? He also has “fans” cheering for him too. Therapists, friends, other parents and even the receptionist give him an enthusiastic high five when he excels at something he’s worked so hard in achieving. When he scores a “goal” everybody stands, everybody claps and everybody can feel the excitement fill the air. Every “goal” is like winning the World Cup. If even just for a minute, I know my child feels like the star player.

No, I don’t get to sit on a set of bleachers or in fold-up chairs along a sideline, but I always get a front row seat. Just like you, I’m the first one there and the last one to leave.

My son also has a “coach,” and even though the correct medical term may be “therapist,” they have similar jobs. Just like you, I don’t always agree with his methods. I get upset when I think he’s pushing my child too hard. I get mad at him when I see my child getting upset and he refuses to let him quit. I may even raise my voice at him, walk towards him and point my finger in anger. But just like you, I know he’s only trying to help.

And just like you soccer mom, I also know the agony of defeat.

I know what it’s like to watch your child practice for hours on end, only to see little or no improvement in his skills. I feel the same way you do when you see your child drive the ball down the field towards the goal with nothing standing in his way and a wide open net for him to shoot at. I too hold my breath in anticipation, muscles frozen, and feel like the entire world is moving in slow motion as I watch my child get so close to scoring, only to have his shot miss or get deflected by an outside force.

I also know (all too well) what it feels like to hold my child as he cries, tell him “don’t give up, you’re doing an awesome job” and wipe away tears when frustration and anger consume us both.

I’m proud of my child every day just for trying. I’m proud of my child for pushing himself past his limits, but most of all, just like you, I’m proud to be called his mom.

So you see, soccer mom, we really aren’t that different at all.

Our children may play on different fields and they may strive for a different set of goals, but that doesn’t make them any less of a child. And it doesn’t make me any less of a parent. 

It took me three years to realize that the world is filled with “soccer moms” all driving their children back and forth, cheering them on, wiping their tears and feeling the triumph of a win and the agony of a defeat.

Yes, I’m a soccer mom too. I just don’t have the bumper sticker or the sweatshirt that says so.

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14 Little Discoveries I’ve Made on a Mental Health Ward

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OK, so almost anyone would agree that spending your teenage years in hospital is not exactly where the fun’s at…

Let’s face it, you know life’s not at its finest when you get excited about a trip to the shopping center to buy… wait for it… cereal bars! (Seriously though, don’t judge because if I see another digestive I may actually turn into one.)

Surely living life to the fullest in a “house” (I use that term loosely for literary purposes…) full of teenagers, with free food six times a day and a free pass to give school a miss for a few months is ideal? 

Eek, not so much. Maybe that’s because I’m currently living it up in Casa del… Crap. Yep, that’s right, a mental health ward! 

But hey, it’s definitely taught me a thing or two.

1. Peeing alone is a luxury.

Yep, you read that correctly. A luxury. You see, in the exciting life of Lauren, privacy goes out the window. Someone watches me pee, shower, eat … It’s literally taking the piss! 

2. I will never listen to the “TOP 40” again.

Have you ever argued over the remote with a sibling? Back in the days when my brother wasn’t the 15-year-old gentle giant he is now, I usually managed to negotiate, OK, manipulate him into “agreeing on something” when it came to the TV.

This is not so easy in a ward with 15 other people. (Somehow most teenagers don’t seem to share my interest in BBC One’s “Holby City.” In fact, I’m generally met with the response, “Oh yeah, my granny watches that!” My conclusion is only pensioners seem to have top notch taste in television.) 

So despite my protests, the music channel seems to cause the least mutual angst and is therefore a constant. 

*Just to let 12-year-old girls everywhere know: Justin Bieber is not even vaguely attractive. I’ve watched his music video on MTV 18 billion times… I’m confident when I say, give up your obsession and make a swift but educated transfer into the world of Channing Tatum*

3. Digestives are the devil’s biscuits.

Ugh. Digestives.

When stuck in the lovely world of weight restoration during anorexia recovery the word “meal plan” becomes a venom and the dietician is the devil’s advocate. 

Seven digestives a day. Let that sink in… seven. I’m fairly certain I’m currently 90 percent digestives.

5. It’s not like the movies.

Sorry to disappoint but this “Psych Ward” features no straight jackets, barred windows or lunatics — just a heck of a lot of adult coloring in booklets! 

6. Mocha-flavored Nutri Drinks are kinda fab!

In the exciting world of anorexia recovery, we drink these horrendous high-cal nutrition drinks known as “Fortisips.”

My flavor breakdown: Strawberry = VOM, Chocolate = WRETCH. Vanilla = RANK. Mocha? Surprisingly pleasant! 

7. I really hate semolina.

*Shudders*

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8. Netflix is a babe. 

Huge shoutout to my hospital for free wifi.

9. My family deserves a medal.

Oh, how I could whine and moan all day about the fact that my dad insists on singing “I’m just a sweet transvestite from Transylvania” (“Rocky Horror” song) loudly and extremely frequently, despite the fact that he is neither of the above. Or I could whinge about the fact that my brother Sam insists on using “Shut up, Lauren” as his catchphrase these days…

But seriously, big shoutout to Madre and Padre for putting their everything into getting me better. Oh, and Sam I guess you’re all right…

10. National Health Services mattresses are a crime.

Blue, sticky and well just general ew.

11. Card games are a life saver.

Got boring 1:1 obs? Cards. On meal support? Cards. Nothing on TV (no, the music channel doesn’t count)? Yep, you guessed it: Cards! 

12. Leggings are 100 percent acceptable as pants.

Believe me, when my food baby is in full swing leggings are my best friend.

13. Coke Zero is major rebellion — how thrilling! 

Contraband, hollaaa.

14. I’m capable of resembling a gorilla.

Speaking of banned items, a razor is a big no-no for all, resulting in furry legs — hawt! 

OK, so I may not be getting a PhD, but I’ve definitely made some major discoveries. Right, I’m off to watch the music channel, until next time… au revoir! 

Follow this journey on Rambles of the Recovering.

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‘The Rock’ Had a Moving Moment With Oprah About His Depression

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What words come to mind when you think about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson? Tough? Rugged? Strong? Manly?

The 43-year-old actor is all these things and more; and he’s proving that experiencing depression doesn’t make you less tough, rugged, strong or manly.

On Oprah’s “Master Class,” a series where celebrities and public figures discuss their triumphs and challenges, Johnson opened up about struggling with depression.

“I found that with depression one of the most important things you could realize is that you’re not alone. You’re not the first to go through it,” he says in the clip below. “I wish I had someone at that time who could just pull me aside and [say], ‘Hey, it’s going to be OK.’”

Watch a moving clip from the episode:

Johnson’s episode of “Master Class” premieres Sunday, Nov. 15 at 8 p.m. central time.

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