It’s en route to New York from your home in Baltimore. The other passengers are silently listening to music, catching up on work or asleep. None of them have any idea that you’re completely out of control. That your mind has been hijacked. It’s as if an evil reckless spirit has overtaken you, made you more confident, less inhibited, bent on destroying your life as you know it.
There are $10 in your bank account, which is spent on dinner once you arrive to the city. You have nowhere to sleep for the night, but you’ve asked a new friend to help you find a place to crash.
You’re on a beach. Someone you’ve known for a while graciously invited you to meet with them in Long Beach, New York. You ended up finding a place to sleep last night, but you weren’t afraid you wouldn’t because everything has to work out for you — you’re the chosen one.
That’s what this all is, you’re being tested for something greater. That explains the homelessness, the joblessness, the undue criticism from everyone; the savior must go through pain.
The beach is quiet, except for the sound of waves, the birds and your screaming. You’re yelling at the top of your lungs and running as fast as you can into the ebbing tide.
Moments later you’re on your knees, your body covered in sand. You tell yourself that you’ve “finally arrived.” For the next several months you’ll say this same thing to: anyone who crosses your path, your social media followers and the people who love you who miss the actual you.
You’re in an apartment. It’s drafty. Baltimore is covered in snow. Days ago, your psychiatrist confirmed that you have bipolar disorder. It’s difficult to digest this.
You’re beginning to come down and the depression is setting in. You tell your wife that you feel like you’re sleepwalking through wet cement. It’s hard to get out of bed and you feel absolutely hopeless. You’re in a dark night of the soul, in a tunnel of mirrors that only reflect shame and despair.
You’re in an improv class. It’s only a 20 minute drive from home. The theater community lovingly accepted you back and invited you to do something you loved again. The teacher explains a comedic concept through an analogy. He says, “Comedy is like Mario Kart. Heightening a joke is like hitting one those ramps on a course. Once you do, you’re flying.”
That’s me, you think to yourself. That’s my bipolar disorder. Hypomania is me driving towards the ramp, mania is me hitting the ramp and flying high, and bipolar depression is me crashing in my car, and completely wiping out.
You’re in your bedroom. It’s time to take your meds. The pillow feels cool against the back of your head. You think about all you’ve been through, and how all you want is a boring year. Free of savior complexes, free of dark nights, free of wiping out.
“I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I don’t know what to do.”
My inbox and timeline have been filled with messages like this over the past year. It’s heartbreaking. Being met with a new diagnosis, especially bipolar disorder, can be like getting hit by a train when you didn’t even know you were on its tracks.
I remember being diagnosed back in January. I begged my wife not to tell anyone. I begged my psychiatrist not to tell anyone. I was struck with fear and didn’t want to prove people right. A lot of my family, friends and followers thought I was acting manic (which I was) — and I was so resistant to their armchair diagnosis. I felt they were making me into an enemy and something to be hated. I felt pushed to the edges of society where other shamed and labeled people exist — convicts, murderers, felons, liars, thieves, all of them.
I reassured myself, “What others viewed as recklessness wasn’t actually recklessness, right?”
“I was acting from a place of being liberated, right?”
I was free. I was wrong. When I got my diagnosis, I was afraid.
For me, one of the most challenging things about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder is the weight of the stigma surrounding it. Oftentimes, it’s not something that’s talked about in the kindest of ways. A lot of othering takes place. Inaccurate statements are made and people living with this illness are often labeled as untrustworthy, unpredictable and incapable of ever making rational decisions again. What a terrible way to boil down a person’s entire existence!
Another thing that’s hard about hearing the words, “You have bipolar disorder” is the uncertainty that consumes your mind. You worry about the pills you’ll have to take, how you’ll break this news to friends and family and how you’ll feel about yourself in the coming days. It’s so overwhelming and so much to carry.
When I was diagnosed, it happened in the midst of me coming down from my mania. Depression was beginning to drown me and getting out of bed was a chore. So bearing the burden of living with this new information wasn’t something I felt equipped to do. I cried so many nights. I vented. I lamented. I found it hard to rest or feel relaxed. I had begrudgingly begun this new journey I never wanted to be on.
When someone reaches out to me because they just found out they have bipolar disorder, I’m already with them in their fear, their pain and their despair. No, I don’t know exactly how they feel but I readily tap into my suffering and see them fully. I share my suffering. I tell them that their feelings are valid. I invite them into my story. I share the hope I eventually found and let them know how dark things were and can still be for me.
There aren’t a lot of, “You got this!” or “You’re going to make it” in my initial responses because I know those messages might not land. Instead, I seek to be present to the story they’ve let me in on and just be with them in their moment.
If you’ve recently received a bipolar disorder diagnosis or if someone close to you has, I want to make a few things clear:
1. How you feel right now makes sense.
There’s really no right way to feel about something so life changing. And no one can tell you how to feel.
2. There’s no rush when it comes to healing.
Regardless of what anyone tells you, healing is your process. Will meds help? Maybe. Will support groups be effective? Maybe. Is journaling the best way to process your emotions? Maybe. But you don’t have to figure that out right now.
It’s OK for you to just sit with this new information and breathe. And I mean actually breathe. We often hold our breath when faced with impossible things that require us to be brave. So I invite you to do the brave thing of breathing.
3. Ask all the questions you need to.
There’s a great deal of research being done regarding bipolar disorder and so much has been discovered thus far. Still, you get to ask questions about what you can expect, what your new normal might be, what caused you to be manic in the first place or how your depression might impact your life. You get to ask about how the meds will affect you and what the common side effects are. Question as much as you’d like to.
I spent a lot of time asking my psychiatrist and therapist these same questions. I didn’t feel amazing when I heard their responses but I was able to rationalize some things and come up with plans of action to help me move forward.
Also, know that some questions won’t be answered. You might need to wait to see how different meds affect you. You might have to wait and see how seasons or different foods affect your moods. Uncertainty is part of this and knowing that can be helpful.
4. Try no to isolate yourself.
Personally, I burned down a lot of relationships since I was manic last fall. But I’ve held on tight to the people who have continued to fight for me and reach out to support me. Without them, I don’t know where I’d be.
On my own, my thoughts take over and I’m not in a good place at all. I hope you have at least one person you can bring your wounds and scars to, even if all you say is, “This is me right now. I don’t know what to do and I just needed to tell someone.”
5. Just do the next right thing.
I got that from author Glennon Doyle Melton. In her book, “Love Warrior,” she talks about the importance of showing up as best as we can to the little things that lie before us — especially when the pain of what we’re experiencing has become unbearable.
So think about it. Is eating lunch the next right thing? Maybe it’s showering. Perhaps it’s turning off the lights and resting for a moment or watching “The Office” on Netflix because it’s one of the greatest shows of all-time. Your next right thing is your next right thing and you get to do it — no matter how small it is.
Here’s to us doing the next right thing, even if the bigger picture looks bleak and impossible.
Everyone was where they were supposed to be: in class, in an office, in bed. But, I sat in my 2014 Toyota Corolla with the air conditioner blasting and gospel music filling me up.
If I got out of my car and walked quickly to the office, I’d get to the staff meeting in time. But I didn’t want to attend another meeting that could have been an email.
I didn’t want to see my coworker’s faces or hear my boss give updates. My workplace was toxic. You could feel the disappointment when you walked into the office. Some people job searched during meetings, openly, unashamed.
We had a reputation around campus.
How is it in your department?
I heard Jack is leaving soon. Wow! He just got here.
You guys aren’t able to keep anyone for long, huh?
They weren’t wrong. Our office had more turnover than a hipster bakery. It was bad. I was getting sick. The kind of sick Urgent Care couldn’t do anything about. It was the kind of sick that made it hard for me to breathe, to actually show up and do my best work.
Quitting felt like the only option, and that wasn’t an option because I needed that job.
I was burnt out. Have you ever been there? Are you there now?
Burnout is you when you are:
Snapping at people more often than usual
Very easily frustrated by others
Tired of showing up
Lacking any shred of motivation
Overly sensitive to anything that’s said to you
Ready to call it quits
Inclined to settle for less
Far from being aligned with your values
Repeatedly making a lot of avoidable mistakes
Feeling isolated in your distress
And it’s not just at work. You can be burnt out with the significant other who keeps disappointing you and breaking promises, with the friend who seems to intentionally go against any sound advice, with a project you’re working on, with being a parent or guardian, with unreliable members of your church small group, with your government, with your life.
All of us hit a wall at times. Burnout is like hitting that same wall over and over again and feeling like you’ll never get around it, over it, under it, or through it.
It’s when you’re at the end of your rope, you’ve lost all hope, and you’ve said enough is enough for the last time.
Step one: Get clear on your goals.
So, what can you do about burnout? Well, first you need to get clear on your goals and you need to be realistic.
Keep in mind, stress is at the center of burnout. You can’t breathe and you’ve told yourself that you don’t have time to even figure things out.
Your goal might be to have more head space. It might be to have better boundaries in place. Maybe you want to be reassigned to a new team or group. Perhaps you want more help with the kids and it’s time to actually ask for help.
It’s going to look different for everyone.
The question to ask yourself is: If I had a magic wand, what would all this look like?
Step two: Identify what’s in your control.
Who can you work with to give you leverage at your job? Have you been clear with your partner about your needs and frustrations? Are you continuing to pile too much on your plate, thus getting in your own way again and again? Are you playing therapist with your friends when it’s really you that needs to book an appointment?
Be honest with yourself.
Step three: Take action.
I suggest taking one small action, then another, and building momentum. When you’re stressed out, it’s overwhelming to make big changes. Remember the last time you wanted to clean your house, but didn’t because it all felt like too much.
Don’t try to fix it all at once. Instead, pick one thing to tackle first.
Whenever my computer desktop is cluttered with files, I create a folder titled Old Stuff and a folder titled Current Stuff. Then I sort everything into the two folders.
My desktop is now clear and I feel better.
Your small step might be to put up an away message and close your office door. It might be requesting a few days off in the next month. It could be cancelling a meet up with a friend who can be extra draining.
The key here is to take a small, simple, and effective step. It needs to be something you can get done in less than 10 minutes. If not, you’re just adding more to your plate and falling even deeper in to burnout.
Final step: Get accountability and support.
If you’re overwhelmed or feeling over it, you might be keeping all this in your head. It’s time to vent and share your frustrations with someone you trust.
It’s also wise to let this person know what you plan to do and to ask them to hold you accountable. If your plan is to set up a meeting with your boss to have a difficult discussion about how you’re doing all the work on your team, your accountability buddy should be following up with you to make sure you’ve actually had said meeting.
Putting it all together.
Get clear on your goal, identify what’s in your control, take action, then seek accountability and support. You might find that it’s time for you to change jobs or leave a relationship, and if that’s where you land that’s okay.
But, sometimes, we’ve just got to a point where we don’t know which way is up. Where leaving isn’t the only option, and where things can be reconcilded and improved.
There aren’t always easy answers.
You can do this.
You don’t have to let burnout win. You can dig yourself out of this no matter the size of your shovel. Stepping back and getting a different perspective can make all the difference. It can give you a chance to see what’s been stressing you out.
I won’t begin to assume what you’re going through, for there’s a spectrum of Blackness and man-ness and person-hood that exist, but I just had to write this as I sit in the delivery room hours before the arrival of our firstborn child.
I’m mostly writing to connect, reach out, and encourage.
To let you know that you’re not alone, and to remind myself that I’m not alone.
See, there’s this perception that a lot of black men aren’t there for their children. That a lot of us are either dying, killing, being killed, imprisoned. But, we know the truth: we’re not a monolith and a lot of us are here for our children, our families, our communities, our world.
Some of us are graduating from college. Some of us are owning businesses. Some of us are the best gamers, chefs, delivery men this world has ever seen. And some of us are struggling to get out of bed because of ancestral pain and trauma.
We come in so many shapes, sizes, belief systems, and lived experiences, but there are some things that connect us:
Many of us will have the talk with our child, especially our sons. We’ll let them know how different they are and what to do when they’re pulled over and how they’ll feel the need to be two steps ahead of their peers.
Many of us have experienced some type of othering in our lifetime. Personally, I was called too white and not black enough as a child. That’s part of what led to the self-hate I’ve been working to unlearn in my 30s.
Many of us had fathers or father figures who were really really tough on us. Who hit us, or swore at us, or made us feel like we were worthless in order to help us survive a cold world. They inherited much of that from their fathers and so on. If this is your story, you may often find ourselves at the crossroads of restoration and resentment.
And many of us are trying to figure out what type of dads we’ll be, and we’re doing everything we can to break generational patters and curses, and do better.
I know I am.
I feel the pressure to do well with this baby that will come any hour now. With this black baby that will live in a world that often weaponizes, sexualizes, brutalizes their body (see Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates).
A world that doesn’t understand what it means to “always be thinking about race” or to “often be wondering if we’re code switching or actually saying the right thing for the moment”.
I will make an assumption now.
I assume that some of you are reading this and going, “Oh, no. This author clearly isn’t in touch with his true self and his roots. He needs to read up on his history and learn.” And you’d be correct. I have a lot to learn and ways to go, and also, I’m right where I should be — that’s a big takeaway I hope most new dads have from this letter.
We are exactly where we need to be.
We are ready as we are to be stewards of this new life form that is before us.
Who can say what a whole, sound, and perfect black man looks like? I’m sure someone can, but what matters most to me is being a father — a parent — who shows up every single day to his child.
As someone was raised by resilient and loving grandparents with middle school educations, one of the best things they did for me was be present.
Present to invite me to sleep on their bedroom floor when thunderstorms rolled through. Present for the tears I cried after bullies had their way. Present for the times my hands couldn’t stop shaking after my own father stopped by to berate and abuse.
That’s what’s required, dear brothers. And if you can, some grace, love, and patience.
Grace is the space we hold for someone to be imperfect and unfinished. Love is the acceptance and validation we fill that space with. And patience is what we give ourselves to do better at the former at the latter.
My heart both panics and smiles as I think of holding my newborn child.
What will become of them, what will they dream of, will I be enough for them, will we succeed in keeping them safe?
What will they accomplish?
How will I ruin them?
How will I help them thrive?
And so, I find myself overwhelmed with favorable and unfavorable outcomes, and it’s imperative for me to give myself the same grace, love, and patience my child will require. The same you require. The same we all are so desperately needing as we parent, teach, lead, and guide.
For we are enough and we’re exactly where we need to be: in the life of someone who we mean the world to, before we even utter a word.
They’re not going after you. They never call you first, email you back, text to see how you are.
At this point, they’re probably ghosting you, but you’re thirsty and hungry for their attention and validation. They know this. Maybe they don’t.
Either way, you’re not a priority for them, but you keep going after them. It’s not healthy. You need to let them go.
If you keep holding on, you’ll miss out on all the people right there in your life who actually want you and want to give you love. You’ll miss out on yourself and all the things you’d be sacrificing if you and this person actually did life together, business together, creativity together, making a family together.
You’re willing to compromise your values just to be with them. You know you shouldn’t, but you ignore your truest voice.
You’d rather partner with fear instead.
Dear reader, I gotta tell you, it’s time to stop chasing people who don’t want you. People who’d bring all that’s toxic into your life. People who won’t give to you how you’d give to them. People who are clearly disinterested in who you are and what you bring.
I know this because I’ve been that chaser so many times in my life. I’ve gone after the people who only want to cause me harm. I’ve gone after people who were only meant to be in my life for a brief season.
Everyone isn’t meant to stick around forever. Some people come into our lives for the job, the date, the money, the laughs, or the trip, and then they leave.
I’ve feared that letting go means losing something I’ll never ever get back: someone who loves me, someone who sees me, someone who wants to create with me. I have attachment and detachment issues. I fear being alone. I’m uncomfortable with too much silence.
Mostly though, I fear that letting go of people means that something is wrong with me. But that’s not true.
Letting go of someone could be the breakthrough you’ve been needing to give to yourself.
It could mean you seizing an opportunity you wouldn’t have otherwise. It could be making space for the people, the healthy habits, the practices, and the love that would actually light up your life.
But, you won’t get any of that if you’re fixated on everything and everyone that doesn’t want you.
Make the shift.
It’s taken years, but I’ve made the shift through deep work with therapists, close friends, my wife, God, and myself. Today, I’m fortunate and thankful to have the relationships I didn’t have growing up. I’m no longer sticking with people who brought violence and pain and humiliation into my life.
Sometimes, I see myself starting to chase others, but then I think: Do I have the love I need?
How to begin shifting your own narrative.
Check those stories you’re telling yourself.
What am I afraid of losing if I let them go?
Why do I keep going after people who never go after me?
What would happen if I focused on what I love, instead of on who could love me?
How am I grounded in the relationships I already have?
What’s the loving choice in all this? What’s the fear filled decision?
Sit with the real answers that arise. Write them down. Talk them out with someone you trust. Talk them out with me, you know I’m here.
But, don’t retreat when painful realizations show themselves. We often avoid the truth because it’s hard to digest. Then, we spend years of our lives suffering, because we chose to act from a deficit, rather than make decisions that align with our values.
Who do you need to stop chasing? What’s your next move with this? Whatever it is, I encourage you to carry grace with you during this process. Go slow with it. Go easy on yourself. It doesn’t need to happen today.
I hope you get to a point where you can say: I’ve let go of at least one relationship that was draining me. I was doing all the work, and they weren’t willing to. I’m glad I chose me.
So, no one is showing up. The retweets aren’t coming. Your inbox is empty. The callback never came. No one seems to notice what you’re sharing with the world. You feel like you’re wasting your time.
Only a few people have seen your work and said: “Well done.” Others were confused or uninterested.
You seek more validation, but you’re seemingly insatiable. You await the moment when all that you do is considered credible.
What do your friends say? What do your co-workers say? What do your toughest critics say?
Somehow, what you believe about yourself doesn’t matter as much. It doesn’t hold much weight.
This process leaves you feeling isolated. Some of this is a result of you pushing away those who actually matter. Some of this is the sadness that comes with you concluding that you don’t measure up.
When you’re fed up
Let’s be clear about this. You’ve been working your absolute hardest for a long time. You’ve cried from the exhaustion.
There are stacks of dusty rough drafts no one is allowed to see. Some ideas are tucked away because they’re too outrageous, outlandish, impractical.
“This won’t work. And it if does, no one will like it.” Bitterness and hopelessness taken up residence. They appear to be permanent tenants.
You’re giving up.
You think back to that time someone told you that your work sucked. Maybe they laughed at you. Maybe they minimized everything you brought forth. Maybe they promised they’d show up, but they didn’t. It was just an audience of one: Disappointment.
Disappointment has been hovering over every single one of your creations. It muddies things. It renders you incapable of seeing all those other good and needed parts of you.
Because you are needed. Your work is needed. What you have to give is what you have to give. No one can take that away from you.
Alas, the most formidable threat to your work, the most challenging adversary to all that you will ever do or create, is you. Every time you pull back and keep your gifts, skills, talents, products, projects, music, cuisine, teaching, love, dancing, writing, anything from the the world, someone loses.
This is not to say that everything you do is ground-breaking or awe-inspiring. It is to say that the thing which you’ve put a lot into matters.
You have no idea of who is better off because you’re here. And, you don’t get to say all of what your positive impact has been on others.
You’d surely miss something.
You don’t truly get to say what your work can and can’t do, because you will never be able to read the heart and mind of everyone whose path you’ve crossed.
While you’re permitted to give up, quit, run away, hide, or shrink someone misses out on their blessing.
Every time you hide your light, someone loses.
Things that don’t belong
All of your fears, feelings, and reluctance is valid because hurt is real and harm is sometimes everlasting. Guilt nor shame have any place here.
This is simply a reminder: what you have to give matters so much.
I say all this with grace and love and openness, knowing that everyone doesn’t have the access and privilege and space to do all they wish to do. This is about all that you can give right where you are right now. Whether it be glamorous, or unassuming. Require funding or none at all.
I say this from the deepest parts of me because I too have wanted to give up so many times (and have) because I didn’t get the feedback I wanted.I didn’t get the response I thought I needed. I created and created and no one came. There have been times when I’ve set things up and no one showed up.
I can easily call back those feelings. At times, I still feel afraid of launching something new, sharing something I care about, or showing others my work. I’ve faced rejection countless times.
What’s often hurt most is feeling misunderstood and convincing myself that what I do isn’t actually useful to anyone. But, today, I’m sure that my values have been misplaced when it comes to this. My assumptions have been inaccurate.
I’m not here to share my light in order to receive validation. I’m not here to be the biggest change this world has ever seen. I wasn’t purposed to create just so others can show up and say: “Wow, that was just what I needed.”
To be honest, I don’t fully know why I’m here. But, what I do know is that there’s power in continuing to create, show up, and put out the best work that I can. Consistency got me to today.
Consistency had me up at night writing this message to you. Consistency is what has made me a better husband, friend, writer, performer, supervisor, colleague, practitioner, speaker, Christian, human.
Not perfection. I’m wholly imperfect. Not fame. It’s fleeting.
It’s worth it because at least one person will come across what I’ve made, what I’ve let flow through me, and will benefit from it. All that you’ve been given, all that you’ve worked for, and all that you have, isn’t just for you.
If you’ve been hiding the parts of you that could potentially be a gift to someone else, I encourage to set aside a few minutes and consider the following prompts:
What if my work – though rough, unfinished, incomplete – could help someone else?
What if all the bad that was said about what I create was only part of the story? What if there’s some good they missed?
What if I’m keeping a blessing/gift/invitation from someone else who needs it by holding back what I have to give?
Am I waiting too long for this thing to be perfect?
What permission do I need to just push this out and see where it lands, fail, and try again?
If you want to process this with someone, you know I’m here. Let’s hop on a life coaching discovery call. It’s free, and it’s all about you for 30 minutes. I’m here to listen and see how I can work with you on your liberation.
I also encourage you to reach out to someone who does the work you do or makes the thing you make or is on the path you’re on. See what they have to say. Challenge yourself to open your heart a little and share something real. Then, actually listen.
This is what was on my heart today. I’m glad I didn’t hide it.