Can Maia Campbell Fix Her Life?

Watching the star's battle with bipolar disorder on Iyanla Vanzant's show was painful and personal.

“As someone who also lives with bipolar disorder, my heart goes out to her,” said my friend, poet Bassey Ikpi, a mental-health advocate and founder of the Siwe Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting mental-health awareness throughout the global black community. “I understand the challenges to come back after your illness drags you down. I hope that she focuses on her healing and her health and her growth.”

To be clear, Ikpi’s support extended only to Campbell getting help, not at all for Vanzant’s televised tough love, which at moments was hard to watch.

“People who live with mental illness and are still in the beginning stages of dealing with their health need to concentrate on their health,” explained Ikpi. “It’s like someone with a broken leg being told how to do the Dougie before the leg has fully healed.”

Vanzant and Campbell had done most of the “work” featured on Saturday’s show onstage at the Matrix Theatre in Los Angeles. A healthy-looking and makeup-free Campbell “acted” through several scenes of her own life: a 12-year-old girl asking her parents if she can try her hand at acting, a 25-year-old actress who’s just blown up on the set and an absentee daughter looking over her mother’s grave. 

It was beyond bizarre watching an actress shift nervously onstage while auditioning for the “lead role” in her “authentic life.” But there were moments when Campbell, who admitted that her medication makes her feel disconnected, seemed to break through, like when she ad-libs, “I miss my kid so much right now I can barely breathe.”

By the end of the show, it’s unclear where Campbell plans to go now. She’s living in a sort of halfway home, her stepfather is still in charge of all her major decisions and her 12-year-old daughter is living with Dad.

There’s hope, of course. Campbell looks nothing like the haggard woman in the YouTube video, but she doesn’t look like the sprightly star of yesteryear, either. Campbell, like the girls who used to sit on their couches and tune in to her back in the day, has grown up, but perhaps not out of needing the support — even from afar.

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter. 

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