Illustration for article titled No Shame: Me, Mariah and Bipolar Disorder
Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

I’m not ashamed to say that I cried.

This morning, I woke before the sun—both the one outside my window and the healing sunlight alarm clock a good friend gifted me. This clock removes the cruel and jarring alarm sounds in favor of a gentle, artificial dawning that mimics the rising sun. It’s been unbelievably healing the last few months.


This morning, my body was heavy and aching from a workout and the anxiety that seems to follow me to bed, so my sleep was uncomfortable. The muscle pain settling into my thighs and abs met the stirring stomach and sight panic that encouraged me to lie in bed instead of walking across the room to down my morning med cocktail: Wellbutrin and Xanax. The night before, Xanax and Lamictal for mood swings. After a decade, I’ve finally been able to switch out Ambien for melatonin, my insomnia no longer the threat it once was.

I’ve been off Twitter now for almost six months and off Instagram for one, so I’ve replaced reaching for my phone and scrolling until I’m ready to get out of bed with reaching for an iPad and and whatever book I fell asleep reading. Today, the aching body wanted nothing of Amy Tan; it instead opted for a scroll through news via app.


The social media exodus has been productive and healing, but I realized yesterday while in conversation that I was completely out of the loop for most things. A friend was trying to illustrate the latest Twitter outrage over a published essay, and I was unable to conceptualize or understand what she was trying to convey. I had read the essay and enjoyed it, but I couldn’t understand the framing of whatever outrage it provoked.

“Why would someone be mad about that?” I kept asking, and my friend simply responded, “It’s Twitter.”

My app is filtered to avoid all politics and Trump-related news until further down the page. The first thing I saw was “Mariah Carey opens up about bipolar disorder.” I was sure it was a hoax or a meme or a social-media-spawned parody or satire that I wasn’t in the loop enough to find funny.

I clicked cautiously, read quickly and cried instantly. By the time I got to the part of the story stating that she had been living with bipolar II—the exact disorder I was diagnosed with almost 15 years ago—the stream of tears became a body-rocking sobbing.


This was Mariah Carey, a woman who had been an important part of my high school years. A woman who was one of the most successful people in music in our generation or in history. A woman who was doing the damn thing, and she had what I had. I didn’t know that I needed the validation, so many years since, but I was grateful for it.

I remember the infamous breakdown in 2001. I was in my apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., not yet diagnosed and unable to leave the house for days. I didn’t know then, but I was locked in a mixed episode: deep depression and anxiety combined with insomnia and hyperactivity. I hadn’t slept all night, and for some reason, I sat on the couch watching TRL.


Carey was acting “weird” and Carson Daly didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t have the language then, but I certainly didn’t want to see myself in that bizarre display. She was quickly hospitalized for “exhaustion” but bounced back and went on to make the masterpiece that is Glitter (you can’t @ me), among other things.

Over the last few years, the memes and jokes about her lazy performances and diva attitude have been a constant. I’ve used the “I don’t know her” GIF more times than I care to admit. I’d even heard rumors about a possible alcohol problem and remembered the sister who self-medicated with drugs. It may have crossed my mind to wonder if she had something, but to be fair, it always crosses my mind.


I wrote here a few months ago that I wondered what it would be like for a popular black female celebrity to come out and speak openly about her mental health like Demi Lovato. I was frightened in advance for that person, and by the end of it, I kind of wished that they wouldn’t. I feared the backlash and the lazy jokes. I also remember the unkind words Lovato had for Carey via Twitter a few years ago about her behavior toward others, and I wonder if she has walked them back now that they share a diagnosis.

I am proud of Mariah Carey and everyone else who has shared this level of bravery with the world. I remember what it was like to hide, and I remember what it was like to see barely disguised subtweets about a very public breakdown I had about eight years ago. That breakdown led to my second hospitalization, and since then, I’ve been open about my life but careful to curate the struggles and breakdowns. I didn’t want to be judged for them or held by the actions and experiences of that time eight years ago.


I know that Carey wouldn’t have opened up so publicly if she wasn’t in a good place and surrounded by people who support and encourage her health. I know she has the money for the best treatment and doctors, but it’s also noteworthy that money and fame are not shields. It can be anyone. Revelations like this help reduce some of the stigma attached to those living with mental illnesses.

I hope that her story opens up empathy in others and encourages them to see those they joke and laugh about as real people struggling with these invisible illnesses. I hope the people who are able to find strength and solidarity with her news are empowered. I know I am, and I didn’t know I needed it.


Carey admitted what many of us already know: It’s a lonely illness. It can be incredibly isolating even when you’re as famous as she is. I know that my best version of the illness leaves me hyperactive and funny and always on the move, but I can also be irritable and mean and selfish when not sullen and withdrawn and depressed. The diva persona is an easy one to take on. It is a mask in and of itself. I’ve often encouraged it—or, rather, not disputed it—because it was easier than saying what I really needed to say. Often, I say nothing at all.

To see that mirrored in someone like Mariah Carey has helped me come to terms with some of the retroactive guilt and shame for things that I did or said years ago—or weeks ago.


This morning, I looked at the photos attached to the articles and then did an image search staring into her eyes, seeing if there was anything that I recognized within them. The weight gain could have been side effects of medication. The pained and pinched smile I attributed to plastic surgery could be about the balance needed to hold everything together. I even came up with a plausible reason for “I don’t know her.” It was an emotional (and irrational) response on my part; you can’t ever really know just by looking at someone.

But just like when I read Jenifer Lewis’ book, it felt good to be seen. It felt good to be reminded that this thing is real. Especially since it’s bipolar II: the one that requires explanation, the one that very few have heard of. And here is the biggest pop star in the world giving her #NoShame statement.


It’s beautiful and it’s brave, and again, I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried.

American-Nigerian, ex-poet, current writer, constant mental health advocate (The Siwe Project and No Shame Day), underachieving overachiever and memoir procrastinator (Harper Perennial 2019).

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