Sometimes I look back and see a blur of memories from the spring of 1997.
I remember being up consecutive nights in the throes of mania and feeling like I was imprisoned by a renegade mind. There were so many rapidly changing thoughts, feelings, and emotions spinning through my mind and heart. They included euphoria, sweeping waves of hyperactivity, paranoia, and the lows that led me to entertain ending my life.
It was unreal.
Here I was, a young college sophomore, striving to be the best I could be. I had cultivated a list of activities and achievements: Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, Volleyball Captain, Student Council, Eucharistic Minister. But none of it mattered.
In an instant, I went from being a good girl to a rebellious outlaw with a few broad strokes. I did everything I could to dismantle the facade I thought my parents and others wanted to see from me. My 180-degree change stunned my closest friends and caught the attention and concern of my family.
I was completely blindsided by what was thought to be Schizophreniform disorder and later diagnosed as Bipolar I Disorder.
As a Filipina, I shuddered at the thought of what this could mean for my life. The cultural stigma attached to mental health conditions was no joke back then. I was flooded with feelings of shame, embarrassment, guilt, and disgrace. I assumed this label would surely tarnish the reputation I painstakingly built.
What were my parents going to say? How would I show my face in public? Is everyone going to condemn me for being "crazy?" How will I get a job? Would anyone want a bipolar girlfriend, much less a wife?
There were no other people of color, nor peer movement, to share my experience.
I thought I was being punished by an invisible demon in my attempt at being a respectable daughter and citizen. I tried to do all and be all in order to please others and garner praise and respect. So why was I dealt this hand? It seemed so unfair.
When I began my recovery after my first psychotic break, I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew there were bigger plans for me.
I credit my family for helping me survive side effects, hospitalizations, relapses, and navigating the cumbersome, oppressive mental health system.
A group called In Our Own Voice, offered by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), helped me to become a self-advocate and speaker. It was the hope that I sought after wrestling alone, in the dark, with my symptoms.
👐Fast forward to today, 23 years after my recovery breakthrough, I have shared my story with so many individuals, helped them begin their own personal journeys, and transform their lives.
You may find yourself in a similar situation of wanting to be a part of a community who knows and understands what it's like to be a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Color) with a mental health condition.
I'm here to support you.
Join our new, private Facebook Group, BIPOC Mental Health Forum - Black, Indigenous, People of Color. I want to share that my intention in this group is to make sure that the BIPOC involved feel safe, heard, and seen.
This is a peer-led forum whose aim is to connect BIPOC to interact with others, engage in dialogue about mental health, forge connections, share resources, create community, and exchange support and information, as well as meeting and exchanging ideas with other participants in the group. We invite you to share space in which you can breathe, be heard, and feel safe.
I created this group because your voice matters.
What issues are important to you as a BIPOC? What would you like to learn about mental health recovery? How can we make wellness a sustainable practice? How can we be more culturally aware and made more comfortable when addressing such issues? How can we engage with our children about mental health: its struggles and strengths?
If you are among one of these marginalized groups, I invite you to partake in this dialogue with your BIPOC peers. We experience things differently from our white counterparts. We're no better, nor worse, but inherently different. We are not always seen. We try to blend. We try to hide.
I see you. You are not alone. I know there are many of you who are silently struggling and cannot reveal your hardships for fear of retribution or stigma. This is the exact reason we come together now.
No matter who you are, or where you're from, or what you've been through, or where you are headed, your presence and voice matter. We cannot stifle our spirits any longer. We must commit to this work because our lives and our children's lives depend on it.
We can face life's trials together. We can overcome this pandemic because we already address our anxiety, phobias, stressors, and symptoms on the daily. We need your voice, your perspective, your courage, and your magic.
If you aren't already on my mailing list and you want to receive the inside scoop that I don't share anywhere else, send me a message saying, "I'm in" and provide your e-mail address.
And if you are not a BIPOC, thank you for your help in sharing this post with a friend.
Sending you all strength to endure these difficult times. Please keep reaching out and know that your open hearts will welcome in the love you need.