No, I Don't Want To Cure My Bipolar Disorder

by Arielle Gray

“Would you cure it?” she asked me with wide eyes. She lowered her voice to a whisper. “You know, your bipolar disorder? Can you do that? I’m sure you can!”

I just tentatively opened up to a long time friend about my long time struggle with managing my Bipolar Disorder. Recently, I became more open about my mental illness and was trying to be honest with the people in my life about what I went through on the daily.
I got a lot of questions from friends and family. Mostly “I would’ve never guessed!” or “You hide it well” or “What’s Bipolar Disorder?” But never before was I asked if I would cure it if ever I could. She wasn’t trying to be malicious or problematic when she tentatively asked me that question. But when she whispered my illness, she unconsciously cloaked it in secrecy and shame. I could tell she was uncomfortable with the situation- I could see it in her eyes every time she glanced down at my scared forearms.

For y’all that don’t know, there’s currently no way to cure Bipolar Disorder. Traditional methods include medication and therapy sessions, depending on the severity. I went through various bouts of self-harming behavior when I was younger and in college, I spiraled out of control. I went to see this doe eyed, white psychiatrist who immediately suggested a hospital stay because of my suicidal ideation. Those eyes stayed strangely blank & glassy as I told her about all of my angst.

When I assured her that I was mostly bark & no bite, she wrongly prescribed me Prozac, thinking that I was clinically depressed when I was really in the midst of a severe depressive episode. The Prozac did me in. I failed all of my classes and had to drop out of college and fly back home to ATL. After cycling through a few therapists, I was correctly diagnosed and started on a regimen of medication & therapy sessions. Since then, I’ve managed via a myriad of methods, mainly therapy, weed and spiritual-examination. I’m lucky enough to be able to manage my symptoms- many are not able to.

A lot of people don’t understand when I tell them about my disorder. Black folk seem to live in this mysterious veil where we think we’re wholly unaffected by mental illnesses. Depression can be cured with prayer, suicidal thoughts are spelled away by the “strong Black woman” trope. We’re especially disenfranchised when it comes to mental health because we stand at a unique intersection of race & gender. Low-income Black women are particularly high risk for experiencing depression at some point in our life and we are also the demographic least likely to seek professional help.

There are stigmas rooted so deep in our culture surrounding mental illness that over one half of Black Americans think long term depression is normal. That’s. Not. Okay. I could write an entirely different piece about the insensitivity of our mental health care system and how our institution’s lack of cultural sensitivity and the normalization of black bodies in conjunction with pain has created a vacuum of space for black women to safely address their mental health concerns.

So when she asked, “Would you cure it?”, I realized that what she was really saying is “Wouldn’t you just want to be normal?” I realized that her inability to connect with my story about mental illness was symbolic of a larger societal & systemic problem- the failure to see black women as vulnerable human beings. Her question centered the conversation around my mental illness and reinforced it as a “problem”.

The longer I thought about her question, the more and more I realized that no, I wouldn’t want to cure myself. “Curing” myself, to me, implies that I have something to be ashamed of, something insidious inside of me that needs extraction- the exact opposite is true.
Living life with Bipolar Disorder is hard. There are weeks where I want to die, weeks where I have days long bouts of insomnia. There are times when my manic episodes cause me to forget to eat. There are times when things get so dark that I think about hurting myself again like I used to do. But ultimately, no matter how fucked it is, this is my brain. My disorder has inherently shaped and in many ways, enhanced my life. Having a mental illness is not always limiting- sometimes, it opens our eyes to how ephemeral yet precious things are. Sometimes, it shows us life exactly as it is- beautiful and at the same time, saccharinely cruel.

I have never appreciated the sunlight more than when I’ve managed to drag myself out of that deep dark pit. Embracing my shadow has allowed me to step more fully into my purpose in life. To live in my truth. There are no bigger demons to face than my own. I face them every night.

My Bipolar Disorder is a part of me. It always will be. If there is eventually a cure, I hope that whoever needs or seeks it receives it. But for me, it’s more than a disorder- it’s now a part of my identity. I am able to write the way I do because I’ve experienced darkness. I am able to connect with other people like me because I’ve gone through the things I’ve gone through. I am able to, in some small way, be a voice for the millions of Black women who stay quiet when it comes to their mental health. My story is not my own, it is ours.

That in itself is a blessing.

Arielle Gray is a Boston based freelance writer, graphic artist & music journalist. You can catch her stalking live shows around the city or eating Lucy's on Mass Ave.

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