By Mwati Mwila
My name is Mwati Mwila, I am a mentor, author, poet and mental illness advocate. I am just an ordinary girl who loves to write stories and poems, loves listening to music and traveling. My story is not that different from most, except I have what I like to call my alter ego, my mask, my hidden side to my life called bipolar I disorder.
Growing up, I was a shy, insecure kid, who could see nothing but a dark, ugly reflection staring back at me in the mirror. I never saw beauty in myself until my late twenties. I believe this was one of the culprits for my depression that manifested itself when I was seven years old. I grew up in Melbourne, Australia, where most people didn’t look like me. There were only a handful of students who were black in my grade school. Often times, I would be the only black student in my class. It was hard getting used to an environment where you were discriminated against for looking different.
My family and I moved to the States when I was 12. I had a hard time assimilating to a new culture and was filled with insecurity and low self esteem. In the summer of 2004, at the age of 19, I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to hear at the doctor’s office that morning, or how my life would change. I didn’t know how profound and precious my life was until I found hope after my diagnosis. My life would never be the same, and I never knew what a valuable platform I would be able to create with my book Strengthening Your Identity While the Shadow is in Front of You.
After months of mood stabilizer cocktails, antipsychotic medication, benzodiazepines and antidepressant trials, my body felt like it had gone through a metamorphic change. I felt like I was morphing into a zombie, while at the same time I had this manic alter ego, where I would go into uncontrollable fits. My body had been going through a transformational change, becoming immune to the medication, leaving my body limp, numb, helpless, and drugged.
My mother really became my champion and my caretaker.
My mother was my doctor, counselor, researcher and mentor all rolled into one. She was a fighter and taught me to fight with action and prayer. She was always proactive, and always thought there was something out there on the internet or in books that could help her daughter. While I lay there slowly deteriorating, and losing control of coordination and the ability to think rationally, she either had her Bible, iPad or research book. She was looking for the thing that would reduce my symptoms.
My mother taught me to “get up and do something.” So, I try to research each medication together with my parents to come to a consensus of whether to try it or not. I found this crucial, because at the end of the day, it’s my body and what I put in it, could be potentially dangerous.
Bipolar was like a hidden disease that surprised me at 19. I was belligerent, manic, in denial, suicidal, afflicted and confused. Surprisingly though, my mother’s spiritual faith was unshaken. I’ve never seen anyone with such poise and control over a situation, a situation that at first, looked like she had no control over.
In one of my recent blog on my site, called “Learn to Depend on Caretaker and Support Systems,” I talk about my support/caretakers like my mother, groups such NAMI, mentors, family members, friends, and doctors that have assisted me throughout my diagnosis. In my blog, I explain how these dynamic groups of people, have essentially shifted the paradigm and changed the course of my life.
Over the course of my disorder, I have learned the importance of patience.
In the world of mental illness, where time is valuable for each sufferer who is a having a difficult time managing their illness, patience becomes challenging. What I learned in group therapy is that, it is important to pace yourself and take it easy, which it’s difficult to do, especially during a manic attack, when you may be breathing hard and moving at high speeds, feeling like the world is spinning at a high rate around you. You might not even want to slow down. This is where meditation and breathing techniques come in. I’ve learned through support groups, that meditation and breathing, can be helpful during a manic bipolar episode.
One of the things that came up in group, is that it’s difficult to do breathing techniques in the midst of an episode. I find listening to music helps calm me down. I like listening to Chinese chimes and music, I pray throughout the spaces of the sounds and meditate as I listen to waterfall sounds.
Bipolar disorder is a hard illness to live with and I’ve read that it can be hard to diagnose, because it can mimic symptoms of depression.
In many impoverished communities, mental health education and resources are scarce. I’m talking specifically in minority communities where, mental illness is seen as a taboo topic and isn’t approached at the core hard enough. As a black woman, I hope to tell my story, through my book, and filter out the stigma, in hopes of inspiring others. My book addresses in detail the stigma of being labelled “crazy” or out of your “mind.” It’s imperative that we bring forth these topics and have a discussion of how mental illness affects our communities. By doing this, I believe I will champion those in need and uplift those voices that are plagued by this illness.
You can find more about me on my website mwatimwila.com