I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I’m not going to explain what that is, this moment is not about that. This moment however, is my formal coming out to the world, so hey, hello, pleased to meet you and lovely to finally be seen properly. I’ve come back revitalised from a much needed break; only to be triggered and offended the day I touch back down on the ground. Nice one London.
I went to my local GP who I have been registered with since birth. I wanted to book the appointment face to face because nobody is waking up at 7:00 am with a hangover and jetlag, to hear 80s rock ballads as waiting music, followed by “you are number 954 in the queue your call is important to us, alternatively you can visit our website and book online” by a voice that sounds far too happy to be automated. No sir, I shall wake up and do the whole “I’m never drinking again” speech with pride as I walk into my GP surgery.
I’m greeted by a delightful white woman, we bantered about my recent trip away and she complimented my hair, I told her I wanted to book to see someone about my mental health. She sssssshhhhhed me.
She then lowered her voice as she continued to speak AT me instead of to me. She lost her eyes in my big 3c curly wig and kept them there. She asked who the last doctor was that I saw, and as I replied, she asked me to lower my voice and made a gesture towards the people behind me, as if to say ‘there are people behind you and this topic is not okay.’ I flinched and waited for the confirmation receipt. I couldn’t decide whether it was the microaggression or ableism that upset me most. I don’t have to choose. They existed together.
The woman felt unsafe. Unsafe to the point where she felt she had to be discreet for the benefit of the other patients behind and herself. Bearing in mind we had at least a good solid 6 minutes of stranger banter to the point where she complimented my hair and she definitely lifted her hand in an attempt to touch my curls. Also bearing in mind, that the actual person whom she was talking to *waves* was very comfortable at the level she was talking at and if she *waves again* wanted to be ‘discreet’ about her business she would have been discreet. Of course that was a ‘one off’ experience. Sure, she needs to be either dismissed or cautioned – whatever the protocol is for somebody who cannot do their job properly. It applies to her.
Outside of that moment, that 3 minute moment where I no longer felt like a human, when will society allow me to take the space to be. Properly though. Genuinely. I generally want to be supported and it never feels adequate. I break my leg for example; and everyone can see the cast, the crutches and even the bruises. People will assist you and you’re supported. Strangers assist with doors, people give you more room and sometimes more time to be flexible with. I simply say I want to book an appointment to discuss my mental health and I’m now the black woman who is ‘cr*zy’ and my curly hair is no longer endearing and beautiful but wild and unruly like the person wearing it right? Black women stay being hyper sexualised and feared/hated. Black women who are open about their mental health conditions stay being feared and still sexualised as if to say the sex would be just as ‘cr*zy’ and wild as her. What if the patients behind me were all booking for other needs similar to my own?
We’re having conversations, we’re having exhibitions, and we’re writing about it, we’re sharing content online. We’re creating brands, we’re making art, we are saying: “Yo! We are here, we always have been here and we are human.” We’re discussing mental health in the black community. Recovr.com has launched and they’re dedicated to supporting black mental health. Unmasked women exhibited an important exhibition about black women and mental health. We’re even at a point where we can share a video detailing ‘what not to say to somebody with bipolar disorder’ and its actual people with bipolar disorder featured and not a health care professional who doesn’t have any personal relationship with bipolar disorder. But the same people sharing the videos, don’t want to tell their friend that they can’t articulate their anxiety, for a reason they can’t explain, instead they know it’s easier to say they are tired.
People don’t police themselves because they want to. People don’t spend days actively ignoring people because they’re so overwhelmed with an emotion and don’t know how to speak because they want to. My friend didn’t miss work because she wanted to miss work. She missed work because she didn’t want to be around people that weren’t supportive of her depressive state and the last time she ‘pushed through’ at work she ended up biting her nails so low down, her nail beds were bleeding. If the space was there for that freedom to express without judgement then people would express. I guarantee you would be surprised at how many of us are hurting ourselves mentally, spiritually and physically because we must hold up this persona of ‘having it together’ for the sake of other peoples comfort.
The phrases ‘you need to see somebody/are you speaking to someone/are you on medication’ are questions that are important but there are ways to ask them without sounding condescending. Ask. The moments/days in between my therapy sessions are ones that vary with intensity and transformations. Sometimes I feel as though I have control and sometimes I feel as though I don’t. Sometimes taking a long bath feels amazing and sometimes being immersed in water is too much for me. It is what it is. From when highly visible people with lots of influence are being brave and showing you who they are and social media is showing the support via retweets or likes and then offline, to your friends you’re still calling that same person ‘cr*zy or ‘ins*ne’, we need to do better. But like actually better. We’ve been conditioned in this capitalist, patriarchal, racist, sexist society beyond ways that constantly need to be checked and unlearnt. Ableism is deep rooted. And whilst I do feel we’re making necessary important leaps and bounds, prejudice towards people who are abled differently, especially black women, it hangs around like the smell of a wet, sad dog.