Brown Girl Lost: Exploring Mental Health as a Black Woman in America
Today I go public about a very personal journey, one that I had carried with shame for the past 40 years. It’s time to get real and remove the mask. There is too much at stake.
My mother suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. After multiple attempts, she succeeded at killing herself when I was 14, and she was only 35. It’s been nearly 40 years, and I spent most of my life ashamed of the legacy I grew up under. I now realize that I was being dishonest. I’m in the process of writing a book about my mom, our family, and my final acceptance and embracing who she is to me — and therefore fully accepting who I am. I know that she is within me. She is with me always. This blog is my way of opening up the conversation about mental illness in our society.
My mother was a remarkable woman, despite the brevity of her life. She was brilliant, funny and passionate. She was a good mom and did the best she could in spite of the hand she had been dealt. I want people to see her for who she truly was. I want to start a conversation about the real people who battle mental illness, and how we can release the shame once and for all and open ourselves up to authentic conversations and build community.
My prayer is that by de-stigmatizing mental illness, people will feel freer to get the help they need, without fearing being judged or seen as crazy, worthless or dangerous. My prayer is that others don’t have to go through the horrible experience that my sisters and I share — and countless others who lost someone who gave up hope and committed suicide. I want to help people open up and talk about these things, instead of being scared, ashamed, or uncomfortable. If one person’s life is changed by what I’m starting today, it will be worth it. My prayer is that many more people will be freed from the pain, shame, and stigma that all of these things bring to our families and our communities.
BREAKING MY SILENCE
After living under a shadow of shame most of my life, I’ve decided to take on a monumental task. I experienced first-hand the cost of stigmatizing mental illness and suicide. We don’t talk about things. We stuff the pain. We act as if everything is ok when it most definitely is not. Especially in the Black community.
I’m breaking my silence, in hopes that my journey will help to inspire others to do the same. We need each other. We need therapy and grief counseling. We need community.
I also decided that it was beyond time to honor the two most influential women in my life: My mother and my grandmother, who tragically died four months after my mother. For years, I was viewing them through a lens of tragedy, grief and pain. Now it’s time to give them the honor they earned, despite the difficulties they’ve endured.
My book will not be the typical memoir. Though it will have an autobiographical bent, I am attempting to bring the two of them to the forefront, to add texture and color to their stories — breathing life into them in ways that I had not for years, as I was stuck in my own grief and brokenness. My hope is that by honoring these women, it will also honor others’ loved ones who have been lost as well due to tragic circumstances. One of the things I’ve learned is that while we are all unique, there are many things we have in common.
I’m looking forward to learning and growing together.
Trina Ramsey is an executive coach, author, and nonprofit fundraiser. She launched the Just Do You Institute for Women’s Empowerment for women over 40 who are ready to live on their own terms. Learn more at justdoyouinstitute.com
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1–800–273–8255