For this African American Man; there is Light, Even with Bipolar Schizophrenia
by Derrick McQueen
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My life up to my mid-twenties was indeed blessed.
Then I was diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia. When the sickness hit, it felt like a rug was yanked from under my feet; I did not want to be involved with the world or its people. I slept like a cat. Trust became a big issue for me. I didn’t believe anyone; my mother, the neighbor, not even my pastor. Everyone is out to get me, I thought. Paranoid. My grip on reality was loose. In essence; I had given up on life. That state of mind revealed issues that led me to seek help.
Things like shame, guilt, and embarrassment support the sickness. The diagnosis illuminated what was going on inside of me. I didn’t understand mental illness at the time or take it seriously. What spooked me the most were the opinions of others; what will people in my community think? I didn’t want the stigma associated with seeing a counselor or having a mental illness.
In the African American community, men are looked on as weak if they have any type of mental illness. Mental health is just not openly talked about or accepted which, of course, leads to further isolation.
The disease imprisons the mind. As of this writing, I’m fifty-three now, and I am finally finding my way out of my mental jail. I wanted to discover life before I died. I didn’t want to just exist. I wanted to soar. I had to find the courage to face the darkness.
The things that were holding me back were keeping my scheduled doctors’ appointments and not taking my medication. I had yet to own the fact that I was ill. All I had to do was embrace the healing process but I wanted my mind to be the way it was on its own.
Another key is that I wasn’t spiritually alive. I knew there was a God or a higher being but I had yet to form a relationship with him. Now I believe spirituality gives sight to live but back then being that far from reality, the shadows seemed like light.
So how and when did it turn around for me? It was when my mother died. The closest person to me in life was no longer here. I was on my own for real, not suicidal, but I had to get serious. I had to try. I had to try and live. I needed a new support system. I also needed to build integrity in myself. I needed some recent victories in my life and on my own—simple things like holding down a job, paying the bills, and keeping relationships. Action propelled me forward.
Life began to change for me when I passed by a church that a high school friend of mine was pastoring one sunny Sunday. I accepted that I would go into Victory Christian Center at least once and check it out. On that Sunday, as I was driving by outside the church at the entrance doors, one brother was giving an earnest hug to another, and that was it. In that hug, there was a lifeline. I knew on a visceral level that the help that I needed was inside that building. That was the beginning of me inching out of the shadows and turning to God and recovery. I needed love or death. Pure love.
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This was the time of my life while attending church services when my feelings were coming back in floods. After each service, I would be an emotional wreck, weeping my eyes out. I was alive.
This wasn’t an overnight process for me; it took bravery on my part. I’m here to tell you that facing your demons and fear is worth it.
Likewise working with your doctor, self-help books, religious services, meditation, family and or friend support, etc. These all help in a healthy healing recovery as well.
Moving closer to the light
“The way of the good person is like the light of dawn, growing brighter and brighter until full daylight. But the wicked walk around in the dark; they can’t even see what makes them stumble.”
All days were not sunshine, but I was becoming a better me. I was all in. Furthermore, I didn’t give up on days when I still struggled. I confessed to God my wrongdoings or thinking and was back at it anew the following day. You know how you drive down a street in a beautiful neighborhood and see the foundation of a home being put together? This was me at the time. I was being torn apart and put back together with truth, light, and love. My foundation in Jesus was being built. Along with my psychiatrist, who prescribes my medication, a real team was formed.
I go to the doctor now every three months but during the early stages, it was more like every two to three weeks. As I got better and acceptance was evident, appointments were spaced out. Appointments last for all of five minutes every three months. My psychiatrist asks about my life in general. Then he asks do I have any suicidal thoughts and if my behavior has been erratic. I don’t see a psychologist. It’s to the point now in my recovery where my relationship with the doctor is like taking your car for a checkup. The goal is to maintain.
I still live with ups and downs but, for me, they don’t seem to be anything abnormal. What I do with prayer and meditation seems to keep my day-to-day bright.
Additionally, living in the moment. Being present is monumental. It’s hard, but it can be done. Live your life at the moment. Let go of the past and don’t worry about the future. Our lives have enough trouble in them for today.
To wrap up, it’s a joy to be alive. I am grateful for my life and life in and around me. Life is beautiful. Faith over fear is needed in you as you move towards the light. Plus great medical attention. Awareness of confidence and fear will help guide you. This will lead to enhanced mental health.
I will always have to stay on medication and see a doctor for life, but you know what; I’m okay with that and at peace with my mental health. The mind is so essential to who you are you. You go to the doctor for a regular physical, so there is no reason why you shouldn’t go to a doctor for mental health checkups, too.
EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman
See Related Recovery Stories: Bipolar Disorder, Mental Health Aloud, Mental Health First Person Essays, Schizophrenia