Young, Black and Bipolar
by Ivy McQuain
I can’t believe that I made it 35 years without a single incident with the police that could possibly affect me for the rest of my life. But there I was, on my mother’s birthday, sitting in jail for an alcohol-induced physical altercation with my boyfriend. I knew I crossed the line and had allowed my mood swings to get the best of me. I ruined the romantic weekend that he planned for us by harping on something that happened almost a year ago. I was in a tailspin because of the stressful weekend that I had dealing with both my sons and my business (emotions were high, finances were low). I was a mental wreck and I knew it. He hoped that going away for the weekend would allow me to calm down and gather my thoughts — but I just couldn’t. My mind was a mess. Every little thing set me off and I didn’t want to play fair, so I drank the restaurant’s three-drink limit and everything I had been feeling came out verbally and physically.
I had completely lost control of my life.
An episode of Ivy McQuain’s YouTube series “Young, Black and Bipolar.”
This video is about finding happiness.
MENTAL ILLNESS AND THE BLACK COMMUNITY
Why did I let it go on for so long?
Honestly, I was embarrassed and ashamed. Being Black with a mental illness is not the best thing to have. You can have a million other illnesses but NOT a mental one. You are instantly categorized as crazy or “throwed” off. It’s shameful. I am sure that’s why Blacks suffer the most from many common illnesses, because we refuse to (or are slow to) educate ourselves on the different things that afflict our bodies.
But mental illness is a different beast. It’s a beast that carries more shame because, for some families, it can’t be explained or prayed away. When you are Black and suffer from any mental illness the easiest thing those around you do is say, “Oh that’s just so and so,” or “Oh he/she is just crazy as a …” No one really cares to go to the doctor to see what their loved one is suffering from. They can only rationalize their ignorance by putting a big label on them and then never talk about it. It’s a horrible situation. That’s why I kept it a secret when I was diagnosed in 2004.
I knew that in my family we didn’t get depressed, we didn’t suffer from mental illnesses. We only had diabetes (“sugar”, as they call it), high blood pressure or high cholesterol. That’s it. There was no room for anything else, except maybe cancer. So to have this mental illness meant I either was seeking attention or I wasn’t right with the Lord. That’s another reason why so many Blacks suffer in silence because the first thing they will hear when they admit to having a mental illness is:
- Just pray about it.
- You don’t trust the Lord enough.
- What and who did you do something to?
- God must be angry at you.
I mean with responses like this, would you admit to having anything other than the common illnesses? I didn’t want someone to question my relationship with God. I didn’t want someone to think that I was out vexing people. And I definitely didn’t want anyone to think that I was crazy. I was a mother, wife and college graduate with her own business, so for anyone to think that I couldn’t — or wouldn’t — be able to handle business was a definite no-no.
It’s amazing because I realize now that I did more harm to myself over the last eleven years by refusing to get help than I believe I would have if I had just admitted that I needed help and then went to go seek it. But my pride blocked me from opening my mouth and my fear of being labeled caused me to suffer in silence.
That is my one regret. Not getting help then.
BACK TO ME IN THE JAIL CELL
Crazy thing… I called the police when he pushed me off of him but they arrested me because I threatened to keep going. So I had to call my mother on her birthday and tell her I was in jail. Great way to start your birthday, right? Hearing your business-owner-daughter who has several colleges degrees and a lot to lose tell you that she was sitting in the county jail. She was afraid and confused. Me? I was calm and joking with everyone in the jail because at the time, it really didn’t hit me that I was in some serious trouble. In reality, assault was a Misdemeanor Class I, a tag that could hurt my business reputation for years to come. But I was in a bubble at that time, still trying to justify everything. I didn’t care that I was sitting in jail because I was going to get out and finish the job I had started in the restaurant. I was a complete mental nightmare.
It only hit me after I made several calls to people who did not answer my collect call that I was there because of me. I was okay with my actions, or so I thought, until I lay down on that thin mattress in that cold cell with that nasty blanket, in those horrible grey-on-grey jumpers.
The words of my doctor hit me like a ton of bricks, “You know you can’t beat this right?!”
And she was right. Since my diagnosis in 2004 I refused to get help for bipolar disorder (then called manic depression). I thought that I was young, smart and strong enough to beat an illness that didn’t have the face that I wore. I figured so many times over the years that mental illness as a Black woman was a death sentence and it really only affects the lives of white people. A stereotype I know, but don’t we all stereotype things that don’t affect our world until they do?
My doctor’s words repeated in my ears as I stared at those horrible walls trying to keep warm. She was right. I couldn’t beat bipolar disorder. In fact it was beating me. Finally, it made sense. I was sick and I needed to get help.
I whispered, “Okay God, I surrender. I’ll get help.”
Then I drifted to sleep before I was called out of my cell. My boyfriend posted bail for me.
The ride was very uncomfortable. We didn’t speak. He was so angry that I embarrassed him in front of his family. Again. I was angry that it took him so long to get me out, but more so, I was focused on getting help. I called my legal counsel and told him what happened and that I was ready to get help. When he asked me what I was ready to get help for, I boldly told him that I was bipolar and had refused treatment since 2004. He was the first person I told outside of my personal life that I was bipolar.
Instead of avoiding me, he immediately set the plan in motion to connect me with a doctor and medicine. I listened to him intently. My life and reputation were on the line. He also divulged that his son’s life was taken by his son’s girlfriend who was bipolar but refused treatment as well. When I got back to home, I was only focused on getting help. I had embarrassed my mother, my kids and myself for the last time. I needed to get help.
An episode of Ivy McQuain’s YouTube series “Young, Black and Bipolar.”
Support systems is the subject of this video.
MY HISTORY WITH BIPOLAR DISORDER
Oh, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder because I hit a low and wanted to run my new SUV into a barrier going 90 miles per hour. At that time, my now ex-husband and I were not getting along. We were having money issues. I felt worthless. He wasn’t helping. He was a silent spouse who didn’t encourage or discourage. He was just quiet. There was too many times where I was left to my own devices, which is why I wanted to do a face plant into the barrier. I only survived because someone called me and talked me into counseling. I went to the counselor who told me I was manic depressive, because even at that time I suffered more from mania — no sleep for days, no eating for days and crazy irrational thoughts and behavior. I researched the diagnosis and thought to myself that this only meant I was crazy.
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NO THANK YOU! I am good.
So I carried on with my moody life. What I did over the years was worse than getting help. I have so many stories of spending sprees, evictions, homeless and joblessness, random sexual encounters, no sleep, horrible work habits. I have been all over the place. I never did illicit drugs nor did I consume alcohol because for me they were more extreme mood makers… meaning my mood was more prone to violence. I just let my natural or irrational mental state take me wherever it wanted to take me. I moved from place to place, state-to-state, job-to-job … all with two children in tow. If someone made me mad I was out of there, including my mother. I would cut people off then come back like nothing ever happened.
Fortunately, I have great friends who loved me through it all, but I believe with everything in me that I caused so much damage to my children. What I thought then was that I had to be stronger for my sons by not taking medicine to stabilize my moods. But what really happened is that I took them on the worst journey anyone could ever imagine.
CHILDREN AND BIPOLAR DISORDER
Being a parent and suffering from bipolar disorder are two things that need to be monitored carefully. First, you have young lives for which you are responsible, and you have a mental disorder that you must take care of so that you can be a productive member of society. When you are not medicated and parenting you can honestly become the worst parent in the universe. Trust me. While others don’t think that I was a bad parent, I know there were times when I was a monster to my boys because I was confused trying to parent them.
I have kicked them out of their rooms because they didn’t have it clean. I would go full rage mode on them if I didn’t see completed homework. I would overreact to the smallest thing. I thought I was teaching them discipline, but I was replacing understanding with fear and soon bitterness. My oldest son became an introvert. I believe it’s because I scared him so much that he no longer had a desire to express himself. My youngest son became angry and would act out all the time. I responded angrily so much so that it felt like World War III in my home. There was no peace because I was all over the place. Sometimes within minutes. They didn’t know how to respond to a mother who was always in a different mental state.
I refused hugs and kisses, not because I hated them but because in my mind I didn’t like hugs and kisses and I thought that anyone touching me would make me different (I told you I lived more in mania than depression). I never did anything to hurt them intentionally, but most of the things I did do hurt them because I was rarely in my right frame of mind. I was either the overly hyper parent who was all over the place or the mean mother who barely let them play video games and monitored everything they did. I was extreme and for a while I bragged about being an extremist.
As I look back now, I realize how wrong I was. I hurt my boys’ development. While I can’t get that back with my oldest because he’s an adult, I am trying with my youngest. I give more attention. I think before I speak harshly. I am becoming the parent I always thought I was but didn’t realize I wasn’t. I pray continually that my oldest son will come around or talk to me more frequently. However, I had to accept what he told me on a phone call… that I caused most of his issues because I was all over the place. You see, he learned that I was bipolar after my arrest. I guess that’s a good thing, because he was finally able to explain why I was never mentally stable. I know he needs time. I just pray that one day he’ll understand — I didn’t seek treatment because I thought that I needed to be a better mother without drugs to think straight.
An episode of Ivy McQuain’s YouTube series “Young, Black and Bipolar.”
This video focuses on the topic of parenting.
LEARNING FROM LIFE, TELLING MY STORY
Now that I am living in the truth of being bipolar I am working to keep from going back to the shadows. I have been able to have great conversations about my illness with my mother, although her initial reaction was the thought that she failed as a parent. She now knows that my illness has nothing to do with her. I have shared my story with the world because I think more Blacks need to stop hiding their illness and refusing treatment because they are afraid of labels. I decided to share my story with the world after another (and final) argument with my boyfriend who was exhausted by all of my antics and decided to call things off. To a degree I was devastated — he always worked hard to show me that he wanted to be with me for the long haul — but I was relieved as well, because I felt that I wouldn’t hurt him anymore and that all the drama from our relationship was over.
So I jumped on my web camera and created the first episode of “Young, Black and Bipolar” as a way to help other people navigate through the craziness of accomplishing a normal life after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The series of webisodes I created chronicles my journey and to discuss different issues associated with bipolar disorder. “Young, Black and Bipolar” airs on YouTube.com every Thursday around 10 a.m. CST.
I choose to talk about being young, Black and bipolar not to slight any other group of people. I just believe that Blacks suffer in silence more because they don’t associate with an illness that the media portrays to be of “White” origin. What do I mean? Most mental illness cases that are explained in the media in the past were not related to Blacks. So naturally it became hard for us to identify because we didn’t share the look of mental illness. I want us to stop hiding and hurting in silence. Too many Black people hide in shame from their illness; thus causing them to not get treated. I wanted Blacks to get more education on mental illnesses as a whole instead of giving their loved ones a label and being done with them. Yep! That happens a lot.
I need to let other Blacks see that it’s an illness that can affect us. I need them to know that it is time to stop being afraid and to get help. I need them to educate themselves so they can save their lives instead of living in a mental cage. I need to let others know that they are in charge of their medical plan. They can tell the doctor what works and what doesn’t work as it relates to their medicines. Too many times people just take what’s prescribed and deal with the side effects. That doesn’t have to be the case. It’s your life, your mind and your body. I do the videos because I need to apologize to myself and my sons for denying my illness and refusing help.
My videos cover the things that I have been through prior to diagnosis and through treatment. I have no shame. I figured since I didn’t have shame doing those things, I shouldn’t have shame sharing with others who may be experiencing the same things I went through. It’s not a difficult task. It’s actually very easy and it’s therapeutic.
Since my first video I have received a lot of feedback, most of it positive. There are some people who try to convince me that I need more Jesus or that I don’t believe hard enough and that they are praying for me. I smile because they only know what I share, therefore it doesn’t bother me. I know it’s a testimony that some people will like it and others won’t. But again, I didn’t start this journey for myself. I am doing it for the people who send me messages telling me that my story is giving them courage to speak out and get help. I talk to people about their journey and tell them how I am making it and let them know that they can make it too. It has been heartbreaking to know that so many people are suffering in silence because their families don’t accept mental illness as an illness.
My goal for “Young, Black and Bipolar” is for it to become a national and international platform for Blacks and others to get the help they need and to start the conversation in the home and at their place of worship. It’s time to stop saying, “Pray it away,” “Give it to God” and other avoidance statements and it’s time to get help. Real help.
I realize that my story isn’t really my story. I tried to pray away my mental illness over the years but then I realize it’s my thorn and it has to be used to help others get the help they need.
Hey I’m young, I’m Black and I am bipolar but I’m going to make it. You’re going to make it. We’re all going to make it!