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The Shame I Carry Because of My Mental Health

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Editor's Note

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction, the following post could be triggering. You can contact SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

You would think going to the psychiatric floor of any hospital more than once would be enough to cause a huge blow to your ego. Now try imagining you are a 30-year-old woman, a person of color and still living at home. Maybe you can. Maybe you’re just like me.

I want you, the reader, to do something for me. Hold out both of your hands in front of you and put down the pinky, ring finger and thumb of one hand. That’s how many times I’ve been sent or forced to the hospital over the past 10 years for one reason or three. If that wasn’t ego-shattering enough, to be an African-American woman in a health care facility that is mostly run by those of a different race made me feel even more alone. Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t an attack on any race outside of my own, but this was my reality.

In my early 20s, I was incredibly self-destructive. With a severe alcohol addiction that was only supported by the bar around the corner from my restaurant job, I quickly spiraled and descended into chaos. At the time, going to the daily “last call” seemed normal because I wasn’t going alone. Hopefully, I can be really honest here: I enjoyed a lot of my manic episodes. Confidence, sensuality and carefree became my comrades. A living superhuman able to hold down two full-time jobs, drink and still “function” in society. The partying ended, aging began to grow on me, but my drinking stayed constant. I would stay in my childhood room (after spontaneously quitting my jobs through text message and taking the  six hour train ride back home) with a 24-pack of beer and drink until I passed out. I drank because I liked it, and I spent money carelessly because that felt great too.

I was a broken mess. Diagnosed as bipolar with an alcohol addiction to suit. I felt ashamed of myself and had bitten and torn off pieces of my family’s heart, as well as killed the “legacy” that had been repeatedly pushed upon me as a child. My parents, the community and the church expected me to grow up to be the next Oprah, and I was often nicknamed a “star.” Growing up, there were so many different connections and opportunities for me to succeed. There was absolutely no reason that I should have failed over and over again. Shame and embarrassment frequently latch onto my neurons, yet I am proud to say I have a mother that is unconditionally supportive, loving and patient. However, here is the painful truth: she wouldn’t want you, any of you, to know who I am or what I have done. My mother has never said that out loud, it is the shameful secret we carry with us as we drag our feet through the community.

I could be any one of you, and any one of you could be me. If you were walking down the street and locked eyes with me, you wouldn’t know that I have a mental health issue. Maybe it’s the meds or the therapy. I’ll guarantee you that it’s because I don’t want you to know my secret. I’m friendly, but I would do anything for you not to see me as the label. I’m much, much more than that. Ten years of stories, tragedy and chaos is what I carry with me. I’m African-American, female and struggling with a mental illness. We do exist.

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Photo credit: diego_cervo/Getty Images

Originally published: August 4, 2019
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