Author: Kim Barnett
I was born in 1982 in a small city in Ventura County. I had two loving parents, two siblings, and we all lived in a nice house. We were one of the first black families to move into this predominantly white and Hispanic city. As a child this was a difficult life situation; I didn’t look like anyone else from the very start of my life. I always felt different and extremely lonely. On top of all of this, I dealt with a lot of undiagnosed mental health issues as a child and teenager. I knew as a young child that I was different. Not only in the way I looked, but in the way I behaved and felt at times.
This pains me to say, but it’s the sad truth that I used to pray to God at night, asking to be white. They say “kids say the darndest things,” but they also say things and ask questions, which can sometimes be mean and inappropriate. I was asked by one childhood friend, “Why is your skin so dark and do you taste like chocolate?” A teenager at my high school went as far as to say “I don’t like black people, but I like you.” I remember thinking, I’m the only black person you know, so that doesn’t make any sense. But I just let it go. These instances are only a couple of examples out of many that I went through as a child, teenager, and young adult. The effects are lasting and damaging to one’s self-worth and self-esteem, and devalued my worth as a human being for a long time.
During my teenage years, after my parent’s divorce, is when the odd and unusual behavior began to really manifest. I always, even as a baby and child had issues with insomnia, especially when dealing with stress. My mom has told me before that she thinks I was born manic, as the doctors told her I was the most alert baby they had ever seen. My teenage years were particularly difficult. I was going through female body changes, which affected my moods even more than usual, experiencing an identity crisis due to my racial differences from my peers, and displaying behaviors which were out of character for me. I was struggling to understand what was wrong with me and wasn’t sure I could survive like this forever. But I always remembered what my mom told me about my birth. I was born with both of my hands clenched into fists, which always indicated to me that I was born a fighter, willing to combat any life obstacle.
In high school I was very sociable, had a close-knit group of friends, played sports, participated in choir and a couple of musical productions. I was friendly with everyone, no matter who you hung out with, the color of your skin, gender, or sexual orientation. I was a lover of all people and still am to this day. Who am I to judge anyone? After high school, I went to college and started to experience major depressive and manic episodes, although I wasn’t aware that that’s what it was at the time. Because I had lived like this my whole life, I thought that my various moods, sleepless nights, erratic behavior, suicidal ideation, overly energetic attitude and occasional inflated self-esteem, were just my norm.
In 2003, a couple of years prior to graduating from college, I experienced a manic episode with psychosis that changed my life forever. When I was admitted to the Psych Ward (now called Behavioral Health Units), I didn’t even know who I was, where I was, or why I was there. I was definitely not in my right mind, and not acting normally. At one point, I even told them I was Dave Chappelle. It’s funny now, but for a long time I didn’t mention that to anyone due to shame and embarrassment. I spent the next two weeks in the inpatient facility on a psychiatric hold. While in there I was strapped down to beds multiple times for uncontrollable behavior, which was deemed a danger to myself and to others. I was also heavily drugged so they could get me to sleep, which was something I had not done in 4-5 days straight.
After being there for some time, I was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder. This actually was not a shock to me at the time, but was slightly a relief, as I knew I had been off my whole life and that I didn’t function like other people, but never knew why or if it was just all in my head or my own perception. Finally, I had a name for what this was and I could finally start to address it. This is how my mental health journey began. Honestly, the next couple of years were a blur to me, and still are. I know I started taking various medications as treatment, all of which made me extremely sick, extremely tired, and caused massive weight gain. I went from 165 pounds to 260 pounds within the first year of the meds. I was happy to be getting help, but as a woman this was not acceptable to me. I went off my meds multiple times, trying to lose the weight these medications had caused, and to gain some of the energy back I had lost. Every time I went off the meds, it would just induce another manic episode, sometimes without psychosis and other times with psychosis. It’s a cyclical disorder, but my cycles were more frequent, due to lack of care for my mental health.
When I was 25, I met my now-husband, and around that time I began to take the meds consistently, fearing if I had another episode, it would scare him away. Unfortunately, I was only doing medication management at the time and refused to see a therapist for any real length of time, which would help me develop coping skills for life and begin to heal some of the trauma I’ve endured. A few months after we got married in 2011, was my last full-blown manic episode with psychosis. I had started to get more relaxed with my medication, for reasons I’ll explain in another post. I was okay for about a year, but eventually spiraled completely out of control and ended up back in the Behavioral Health Unit once again.
Upon release, almost 2 weeks later, I vowed to never go off my meds again. Not to anyone else, but to myself. I was tired of not taking care of myself mentally and emotionally. In the years since, I have finally started working with a therapist weekly, and have learned and am still learning how to cope with life changes and situations I cannot control. It’s a constant battle with my mind, but I’m willing to do the work. I write my personal blog, have a page on Facebook as well as an Instagram account, where I share publicly about my illness, spread mental health awareness and attempt to end the stigma attached to all mental health conditions. My next adventure is becoming a Peer Support Volunteer, and I recently applied and was accepted to become one. I’m all about self development, self care and managing my behaviors and symptoms. It’s difficult at times, but I’m doing my best and that’s all I can do.