Bipolar while black: A constant struggle to appear

in control ... pretty much everywhere.

By: Amanda Chilaka


So far, 2020 has been extremely tumultuous for everyone, but I think we can all agree that the minority community has been under an additional heavy burden.  I want to touch upon an issue that I think all minorities can relate to: trying to not appear out-of-control.  This is no small feat, especially when dealing with hardship and, realistically, a part of that hardship is simply being treated differently for being a minority.  I have been blessed with many many opportunities, through minority scholarships and programs, but something has haunted me for over twenty years.  I also have an illness, bipolar II to be specific, and it is a battle every day to appear “normal,” confident, and strive to live up to the coveted “black success story.”  However, I have unexplained mood swings, get easily confused when frustrated, and my mind plays tricks on me just when I think I have found a moment of stability.  The hardship of being a minority with mental illness is a double-edged sword, especially when lately it seems like being down on your luck can mean life or death. 


Imagine if I were to have an episode in public, perhaps when confronting customer service about a bill.  Scratch that, as an anxious black woman, I constantly worry about the stereotype of being argumentative.  In reality, I would have spent hours crafting the perfect letter, only to be shot down because I was not quite demanding enough.  Fast forward through multiple letters, phone calls, etc… and I finally reach my limit.  I know when I raise my voice it can be intimidating, so I have learned to be soft-spoken and unassuming, even if it means not getting what I need.  Why would I not just be assertive? Well, years of walking on egg-shells have cut so deep, that there are some situations  where I no longer tread.  I’ve seen enough in the news to know what happens in these situations.  So I tuck my concerns away for another day, manifesting itself into a future depressive episode. This scenario does not just apply to handling bills, mind you, these fears travel with me everywhere, through my academic career, personal life, and in the workforce.


Now imagine I am just walking down the street. I live in a tiny modestly-priced apartment, tucked away in a non-minority neighborhood.  I stand out just enough to make a lasting impression.  I vividly remember, on November 4, 2008, after casting my vote for the first black president,  a woman chastised me for taking pictures of flowers just a little too close to an apartment complex;  I  can only assume she lived there and was suspicious of my actions.  “I was taking pictures of the hydrangeas,” I sheepishly said, but the realization that I was still not really a trusted part of the community was further fodder for a therapy session later that week.  New scenario, I’m considering purchasing a home… Actually, I had a few mental health setbacks a while ago.  Due to the constant fear of failure and reminders that I am still less than, I don’t have the confidence to walk into a bank for a loan without bursting into tears.  I have gotten just far enough to claim some success, but avoid going further because I do not truly believe I deserve it yet. 


These are just a few examples to demonstrate the mental challenges of someone who, despite being given so many gifts, is unable to overcome the ingrained insecurities that come with being a minority and who struggles to maintain a sense of control. The point of all this is two-fold.  Hopefully, there are others out there who can benefit from knowing, there are people in similar situations, struggling but persisting. I’d also like to draw attention to the need for social change, creating environments for the next generation to have more stability and support, because there is a fundamental need for all people to not only have the same opportunities, but to correct societal biases that hindered people of our generation from fully being embraced and understood.

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