There is a myriad of battles fought in the minds of those who wake up every day wearing dark brown skin in a world where the less melanin you have, the more freedom you may enjoy. Doubly so if the cloak of mental illness hangs itself over you at its own discretion, creeping in like a thief in the night and sometimes staying for weeks or months on end, a squatter marking its territory. Being bipolar, black, and female, with ADHD is quite the ride. I’m always teetering back and forth between being grateful for my struggles, having gratitude for the experience that is uniquely my own, and—to put it plainly—just straight up wanting to die.
Bipolar disorder makes life a constant struggle in more ways than even I fully recognize. Forming and sustaining meaningful relationships is not easy when you’re constantly fluctuating between emotional highs and lows, waves that threaten to pull you under without a moment’s notice. When I’m manic, I’m in love with life. I am like a bird soaring through a sunny sky—elated, careless, and free. I’m larger than life, and I can conquer the world. Grandiosity transforms me into a kite that can fly on my own fumes for days and weeks on end. But it never lasts. There is always a dark visitor waiting for the dust to settle. Waiting to cut the line that sent me soaring through the clouds. And when I hit the pavement after flying for so long, I always come crashing through the Earth, falling even further than the last time. Each depressive episode feels worse than the previous, and sometimes, it even lasts twice or three times as long as my mania.
Having Inattentive ADHD means literally living with your head in the clouds, no matter how hard you try to keep yourself grounded and present. It means giving the wrong impression that you aren’t listening when someone is speaking to you because sometimes your mind just slips off into a nameless wonderland and you can’t bring it back. It means going to college where committing to only one subject is the scariest thing in the world, because your interests are vast, and they run deep—but they don’t last long. It also means that while you’re in college you’ll feel intellectually inferior to your peers, and you’ll have to work harder to understand even the most basic concepts at times.
And if my brain working against me wasn’t enough, let’s consider adding my blackness to the mix. Not only am I black, but I am black and was adopted into a majority white family. I’ve been told countless stories from my childhood where I am comparing my dark skin to that of a family member and retorting that our skin color is the same, in only the innocent and naïve way a child can. Often this story is accompanied by laughter, and a statement along the lines of, “You have always been our baby girl.”
My childhood was beautiful. It is often a safe space for me to take refuge in when the present is not being kind. It was not uncommon for my family and extended family to spend several weekends with each other over the course of a given year—partying, hanging out, just congregating for the sake of sharing each other’s company. They were my everything. I always looked at my family members as being tolerant and open-minded—after all, my older brother is also half-black, openly gay, and wears makeup—and he has never been rejected by anyone in the family. Neither have I.
Until the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election happened.
The mirage of acceptance, empathy, understanding, and tolerance I heralded my family as being the pinnacle of washed away completely. I was shocked and deeply hurt to discover the opinions of many of the members of my family when I learned of their decisions to support a candidate and a political agenda that viewed me as less than. In an instant, everything I held dear to me was ripped away, and I once again fell through to the deepest, darkest corner of the Earth. And I was alone.
I am still working on picking up the pieces of my shattered psyche after that event. More recently, I have begun dreaming of living a simple, slow-moving life. A life where I live somewhere semi-rural and remote, where mountains abound and the air is crisp and cool. I currently live in the South, but I have dreams of moving up North. And that gives rise to another set of issues: if I move up north, I will likely be living somewhere where I am the only black person for miles on end. Not only is this an extremely lonely experience to have, but it is also dangerous. When you’re living in the South, you’re among other “skinfolk,” even if the threat of white supremacist violence looms over you like a heavy cloak. When you’re black, that cloak will follow you everywhere you go, and the further away you are from other black people, the heavier it becomes. The more it threatens to smother the life right out of you.
The effect all of this has on my psyche is palpable, I can tell you that much. The work I have to put in to create fertile ground for hope to blossom is endless. But I do it for me. I do it because I need to have hope. I do it because I deserve to have it, too.
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