Thereâ€™s one on the periphery of every crew: the chick who used to be the homie, but now everyone thinks sheâ€™s â€œcrazy.â€ Whether she has flipped on you at the club or locked herself in (and you and her boyfriend out of) her apartment for weeks, you know exactly who she is. But while weâ€™re all laughing at her anticsâ€”or going out of our way not to hang out with her anymoreâ€”she may be dealing with a very real illness.
Sadly, we often feel more comfortable dismissing chicks as â€œcrazyâ€ than we do trying to help them. I canâ€™t say that I ever gave any serious thought to what could really be going on until I met Simone, a 25-year-old Black girl living in Harlem. When I learned that this beautiful, successful lady was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (BPD) at the age of 13, the beautiful, successful ladies in my life were all I could think about. We were at an event about BPD, a mental illness that affects an estimated 8 million adults in the United States (it used to be called manic-depressive disorder, which describes the extreme highs and lows sufferers experience). And when I heard about her depressive periods, episodes of hypomania, suicide attempts and more than a dozen hospitalizationsâ€” â€œRegulating my emotions is often challenging, even with meds and talk therapy,â€ she told meâ€”I realized that Iâ€™ve been doing those chicks a real disservice by not being upfront with them. Sure, we talk about their behavior with our other friends, but we donâ€™t discuss it with the people who matter.
Why? As with many things, fear is probably mixed all up in this one. Within the African-American community at least, mental illness still carries a huge stigma, as if by speaking about that-which-must-not-be-named we invite it into our lives. But we fail to realize that itâ€™s already there, and refusing to shine a bright light into the dark corners doesnâ€™t mean the cobwebs are just going to disappear.
Iâ€™m not saying we need to grab sisters and start in on the â€œwoo-woo-woosâ€; as Simone puts it, â€œEmpathy is one thing, but I donâ€™t need to be coddled.â€ And you obviously can’t help someone who isn’t ready to be helped. But retelling stories about â€œCrazy Whatâ€™s Her Nameâ€ isnâ€™t doing anyone any favors (and yes, Iâ€™m definitely guilty of doing this). In fact, I would imagine that part of what makes it so hard for women to realize that something might actually be wrong is that weâ€™re all so busy acting like there isnâ€™t. (Seriously. On average, it takes ten years to be properly diagnosed with BPD.)
So hereâ€™s my challenge, if you’re up to it: First, read about the symptoms. Then,Â stop calling your girl “crazy.” Finally, talk to her. Don’t try to diagnose her, or push her to make big decisions or admissions. Just ask if sheâ€™s okay, if she needs you. Maybe sheâ€™ll say no or get upset with you, but maybe youâ€™ll be exactly who she needs to talk to.
Know exactly who this girl is in your crew? Gonna take the challenge and reach out? Have you done this before? Give us some tips.
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