– By CEF Member Agyei Ekundayo (AJ)
I never knew what invisible illnesses were until 25 years after I needed to. No one in my family spoke openly about sickness or disease other than colds and flus. I always knew something was wrong with me, but couldn’t exactly put a finger on it. Kids at school said I was crazy and family members teased about what I later understood to be manic episodes. What’s really interesting is how my mother raised me while in denial about her own illness. Culturally speaking, African Americans turn a blind eye to mental health issues, surmising symptoms to be nothing more than attention seeking behavior. By the time I was 30, doctors diagnosed me with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder, in addition to ADHD. Unsurprisingly, my family still has yet to accept the truth about the illnesses they passed on to me or how multiple diagnosis, not character flaws, strain family relationships.
Two more diagnosis have been added to my medical profile since 2011 in addition to three more prescriptions. Day to day life is like an oil slicked hamster wheel. Some days I feel like I’m running to keep up with myself. Other days I feel like I’m moving in slow motion-drifting between side effects and a constant fog. My therapist tells me not to be so hard on myself. That persistent mental illness is just that, persistent. That sometimes when I think I’m no longer having episodes, I’m really just experiencing a long span of stable moods. I wish I could predict when my moods will tank or understood my triggers better. I also wish my ex- boyfriend was a non-factor and something stronger that liquor will make him go away. So, am I crazy? It depends how crazy is defined and whose opinion you ask. Let’s just say I was in the dark for a lot of years until a judge signed off on a check that the rest of my life is mandated to cash. That’s another story.
I will say that my overall health, although unpredictable, is as well as to be expected. I pop pills when I wake up and before I go to bed. Dr. Mac gives me a good reality check (and on again off again motherly advice) every Thursday. Gym visits are my new frenemy when I’m not binging and writing this stuff down until my wrists fall off manages to keep me sane. If I can offer any advice to those suffering with mental health issues or struggling to understand those for whom we care, it’s this. Know that mental illnesses are valid medical problems that require medical attention. They do not simply ”go away on its own in time”.
There are no quick fixes and tough love does more harm than good. Offer a listening ear from a non-judgmental stance and never feel afraid to ask for help-even if you can’t fully explain what you’re feeling.