Alright, let’s get right down to it. What the f*** is so special about me that I think anyone would want to read about my life? Well, I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, PTSD, and social phobia, and in June, I will graduate from Princeton University. I say this not to brag. To be honest, a big part of me achieving this was willpower, privilege (to have insurance and go to a school with free psychiatric care), and the grace of God. Still, it illustrates my point. We are not defined by our illness. We are capable of great things, especially when we’re healthy, but even when we’re not.
I’m also African-American, and though this isn’t a blog exclusively about race, there is an enormous stigma against mental health in the black community, and minority communities in general. Looking for resources for myself, I could only find one website that even talked about what it’s like to be black and bipolar. Given the lack, I decided I wanted to be that resource for others.
I’ve thought about starting a blog many times, but decided it wasn’t worth doing unless I had something to say. So I promise this is not a vanity project. It’s not a medium for me to post instagram-worthy pictures of myself travelling the world, nor is it a glorified online diary. I’m starting this with the hope that I might help some people struggling with mental health, like I do, and that I can chip away at the stigma surrounding mental illness. Considering the closest many people have been to mental illness is the hyperbolic portrayals on television and in the movie theater, there are a lot of false assumptions about the people who actually suffer from it. Having a mood or personality disorder is conflated with being lazy, crazy, dramatic. Society says you will accomplish nothing, that your life is destined to be forever miserable, that your mental health issues are an inherent character flaw, something impossible to overcome. The stigma is so strong that people struggling with mental health tend to even believe this about themselves. The problem is silence. Considering many/most people wrestling with mental health keep it under wraps except from those closest to them, the only people society sees are the ones who are obviously suffering, the ones in the midst of crisis and with tenuous grips on their sanity–the stereotypes depicted in every psychiatric ward onscreen. What is never mentioned is that many of us are high-achieving, successful individuals, capable of leading happy and fulfilling lives. It took me a long time to believe this for myself. But I’m the living proof.
For the purpose of this site, I’ll be going by the name Icarus (thus the feather on the logo). On one hand I resent the fact that I have chosen to go by a pseudonym rather than my real name. Unfortunately, I’m not quite ready for my struggles with mental health to become public knowledge. Everyone handles the disclosure of their mental health issues differently, but I personally like to have control over who knows what and when. At this time I haven’t yet graduated, I still need to find a job, and next year, I will be applying to graduate schools. As f***ed up as it is, having my name associated with this could result in me being denied opportunities, and given that I’m already a minority, I don’t need any more strikes against me. I hope that one day, as attitudes shift and evolve, and mental health becomes less stigmatized, I can reveal my actual identity. For now, though, call me Icarus. I chose this moniker not just because I’m a fan of ancient mythologies, though I am, but because I feel like the story of Icarus in particular is a great metaphor for bipolar disorder, which I have. In general, I feel it is one of the most poignant stories of all time, so highly recommend reading it if you haven’t.
TL;DR: This website is meant to be a resource for people battling mental illness and their loved ones, and for those who simply want to educate themselves. I’ll be using this blog to discuss my personal journey with mental health, different strategies for managing my disorders that I’ve discovered over the years, how I’ve managed to achieve in spite of it all, the compounded struggles of being mentally ill and a minority, and my takes on a variety of other topics relevant to the mental health community. If you would like to start at the beginning, check out my first post here.