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'Black-ish' Star Opens Up About Using Sex as a 'Painkiller'

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In her new memoir, “The Mother of Black Hollywood,” (excerpted in the current issue of People magazine), Jenifer Lewis, who plays Ruby Johnson in “Blackish,” opened up about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and struggling with a sex addiction.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

When Lewis sought treatment, her therapist Rachel diagnosed her with bipolar disorder, a diagnosis that explained many of her behaviors.

I certainly knew what a depressive mood was, but this other ‘manic’ part was new. When Rachel explained the details, I gasped. You mean, there is a name for describing why I talk fast and walk fast and rage, create drama and speed when I drive a car? Compulsive, you say? The doodling, the braiding and unbraiding my hair? The arguing with people and storming off ? Kicking s—, throwing s—? Yeah, OK, I guess all of that describes me.

According to WebMD, some common symptoms of mania include: having lots of energy, racing thoughts, taking risks, talking quickly and needing less sleep than usual to feel rested.

In addition to talking about bipolar disorder, she revealed in her memoir that her sexual activity increased after moving to New York City after college. While performing in the Broadway productions “Eubie!” and “Comin’ Uptown,” she would habitually have sex after her shows, partly to stave off the “crash” that came after performances.

Let’s just say that post show I had a sort of habit of sex serving as a night cap. I was Cleopatra, Pam Grier, Marilyn Monroe and Jezebel rolled into one. For me, nothing could extend the thrill of a standing ovation like great sex with a gorgeous guy.

Lewis has worked with her therapist to understand the root of her sex addiction. “Just as alcoholism isn’t really about the liquor, my addiction wasn’t really about the sex. It was about the unresolved psychological problems that caused me pain. Sex was simply my painkiller,” she wrote in her memoir.

While Lewis talks about her bipolar disorder and sex addiction separately (and the validity of sex addiction is debated among professionals), a dysfunctional preoccupation with sex or sexual fantasy — also known as hypersexuality — is a symptom some people with bipolar disorder can experience. Mighty contributor Jess Melancholia wrote about her experience of hypersexuality in her piece, “The Symptom of Bipolar Disorder We Don’t Talk About.”

Hypersexuality is, from my personal experience, an overwhelming compulsion and addiction to sex and sexual content. When I’m hypersexual, I get intense cravings for sex. It’s similar to the sort of “butterflies in your stomach” feeling when you fall in love. It’s an intense high that gives me a massive boost in self-confidence. The temptation to act out is so strong I can practically feel it on my skin and taste it on my tongue. The worst part about hypersexuality is I’m never satisfied. I have to actively resist what my body is essentially trying to do on autopilot. If I’m not careful, then I’ll do something I’ll regret.

Lewis is now in therapy and has found using medication to be helpful in her recovery. “I have peace of mind now… It took years to get to that place, but I did it— and I have a smile on my face.”

Screenshot via People TV

Originally published: November 2, 2017
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