The 3 Gifts I’m Thankful For As a Black Father With Bipolar Disorder

Originally shared on The Mighty

She and I are dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” album in our living room. She’ll be 2 soon, but my wife and I are in no rush to see our daughter grow up. We want to freeze-frame every moment like this: her feeling blissful, unburdened and largely unaffected by living in a world — a country — which has found creative ways to attempt to invalidate, dismiss, silence and snuff out the dignity and worth of countless Black woman before her. For now, she’s just our little girl. She’s someone who makes living something to look forward to each day. She’s my everything.

There was a different scenario to all this, one in which my daughter is reaching out for me to twirl her, but I’m 6-feet under, incapable of making her feel safe. At its height, my manic disorder rendered me reckless and impulsive. At its depth, my bipolar depression told me: “Your life is no longer worth living.”

So, for me, any moment I have to parent, to guide and to steward is a blessing. While I’ve been saved and sustained by a grace-filled combination of divine intervention, restorative practices, therapy, medications and support from loved ones, I cannot deny the ever-present impact fatherhood has had on my life. Specifically, I’m a witness to the gifts of being a Black father living with bipolar disorder. It’s healthy for me to have this perspective and to intentionally remain planted in a space of gratitude, lest I forget how far I’ve come and forget what (and most importantly whom) I’m truly living for.

In a time of countless headlines about the harm done to the Black community, especially those of us who live with mental illness, it’s important and necessary for us to hold fast to joy, real joy, because there’s so much worth living for. It brings me happiness to take a moment to share the three gifts I’ve been given, by virtue of my daughter existing and furthermore showing up at a turning point in my own mental health journey.

1. A renewed purpose.

Our little one was born in the winter after I’d burned down our finances and almost rendered us both homeless. Circumstances, no matter how dire, are of no significance to new life. I prayed hard during those cold, dark days, as my wife and her medical team did all that was needed for a safe delivery. Our daughter was nothing short of a miracle. Her birth was a reminder of God’s grace and mercy over my life. I take none of this lightly. She gave me the gift of feeling grounded during a time where it felt like the floorboards were incessantly shifting.

Photo Credit: Larry Crayton.

I was jobless, hopeless and in many ways friendless. At the same time, I had the responsibility of being a stay-at-home father while my wife worked during the day. This meant having a reason to get out of bed, get dressed and keep someone alive. But, I didn’t just want my daughter to survive; I wanted her to feel loved. My wife told me the first few years of a child’s life are highly important especially for instilling a foundation of belonging and mattering. My daughter needed to matter, and she needed to see me as someone she could trust. I viewed every diaper changed, every bottle warmed and every tear wiped, as a step toward a future where my daughter knew she was needed, important and validated. In this, my purpose was renewed.

2. A reason to model healthy habits and behavior management.

Carbs and sugar are my weakness. Growing up, the food pyramid was a mere suggestion. Diabetes and hypertension were just things we carried, things I saw my aunts and grandmas deal with. Present-day is me needing to have a balanced diet, guilty pleasures and all, so I can manage my disorder. Food directly impacts my mood, so in addition to maintaining my own mental stability, it’s equally imperative I model healthy eating habits.

Consequently, my wife and I have been diligent about sweeping the supermarket for every healthy, organic and kid-friendly thing that exists. We’re serious about our child’s health. And, I know if I want to continue being a healthy presence in my daughter’s life, I need to watch what I put on my plate because there’s always an impressionable toddler watching every move of my fork. This truth, this gift, has been more effective than any personal trainer I’ve ever had.

3. An opportunity to reverse generational and racial trauma.

As I work to unlearn my own shame and unpack the burdens of racial trauma that directly impact my mental health, I can empower my daughter and teach her that her Blackness is beautiful, valid and welcomed. By taking my medication and showing up for therapy appointments, I’m a living example of how it’s OK to have brokenness, scars and wounds. Growing up, secrecy was paramount, so it was taboo to tell someone outside my family about my problems. But, this ends with me. I’ve experienced the benefits of sharing my hurts, and I get to be a father who challenges himself to be vulnerable. My daughter will inevitably have her own healing journey, like all of us, and I’m thankful to be able to show her what resilience can look like.

It’s evening now. My wife is getting ready to cue up our daughter’s bedtime playlist. Routines are important for children, and in so many ways, important for me. Even in something as simple as winding down for the day, I have the gift of structure because relaxing and centering before bed is ideal for someone who needs a good amount of sleep to manage his disorder. Our daughter’s yawning now. We’ve read one last Dr. Seuss story and it’s time for prayer. I hold her hand and she gently grips mine. My head is bowed, my eyes shut and breathing even. I tell God how grateful I am for sustaining our family, I ask for guidance, wisdom and favor, and I request He never let me take this privilege of being a father lightly. At that moment my daughter leans her head against my arm. I peek and notice a smile on her face, and then I shed a tear no one sees.

What I Can’t Stop Thinking About

I’m thinking about the parent who hasn’t heard from their child in a while. They aren’t on the same page, and haven’t been for quite some time. 

I’m thinking about the person who’s sick with worry about being layed off. They feel like it’s only a matter of time, and they don’t have any savings to count on. 

I’m thinking about the nurse who’s over tired, has tested positive several times this year, and might not be able to visit their family for Thanksgiving. 

I’m thinking about the person who’s been crying themselves to sleep lately. They hide it well, but inside, they’re struggling. 

I’m thinking about the student who’s hard work is finally paying off. 

I’m thinking about the little Black girl who is feeling inspired to lead. 

I’m thinking about the person reading this right now, who is actually special in so many ways, but just needed the reminder. 

Yes, my dear, I’m thinking about you. Because you’re important enough to be thought of. You’re important enough to be seen. And you’re important enough to be heard. 

You are and have always been someone worth thinking about. 

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[FREE] What’s Next? A Workshop on Managing Anxiety in Times of Change

A lot is happening right now.

Really, it has been all year, but especially right now. 

So, I’m sliding in your inbox this weekend to let you know I’m hosting an online workshop where we’ll discuss practical coping strategies for managing anxiety in times of change. 

If you’re on the financial struggle bus, grab a free ticket with promo code: GIFTED

Grab your ticket here.

It’ll be dope to have face to face time with folks like you who read this newsletter. 

Open This for Instant Stress Relief

Are you feeling stressed or overwhelmed right now? 

That’s okay. It really is. 

Let’s take a moment to meditate together. 

This meditation will work best if you’re sitting down or laying down. 

This won’t take long. 

You can keep your eyes open.

Okay, let’s start with a very slow deep breath in.

Hold it for 3 – 2 – 1

And let it out. 

Again, deep breath in. 

Hold for 3 – 2 – 1

And let it out slowly. 

Place one hand on your belly. 

Notice how it expands as it fills with air. 

Deep breath in. 

Hold. 

Out. 

You are here right now. 

This moment is for you. And it’s so good that you’re taking time for yourself. 

I’m glad you’re here.

Let’s take another slow deep breath in. Hold. 

And, let it out slowly. 

Again, in.

Hold. 

Let it out super s-l-o-w-l-y. 

Now, notice the surface beneath you. Feel the weight of your body being supported. 

Say, “I am safe. I am supported. I am present.” 

Okay, actually say it. Whisper it if it feels strange to do this. 

Say, “I am safe. I am supported. I am present.” 

Allow your body to sink deeper into the surface beneath you. 

Feel your heaviness. 

Relax your shoulders. 

Unclench your jaw. 

Wiggle your toes a bit. 

Sink deeper. 

Sink a little more. 

Ease into the space you’re in. This is your space. 

You are safe right now. You are supported. 

You are present. 

Another deep breath in. 

Hold. 

Then, out. 

Notice how you feel. 

You did it. 

Let’s close out. 

Thank yourself for taking a moment for self-care.

When you show up better to yourself, you can show up better to those who need you. 

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The Most Difficult Question I’ve Had to Answer

“How will you know when you’ve arrived?” 

I had told her about the hustle, about how hard I’d been working to have the life my ancestors died for me to have, and that was her response. 

How will I know. 

There’s no map for us – especially not today. We know to keep hands locked on steering wheels and eyes straight ahead, but we’re not always sure what we’re looking towards. We know survival. I know survival. I know getting to the next day and just making it by grace. I know paying bills and saving up – only the crack open the bank and watch it all fall out.

So, what’s it mean to build and sustain generational wealth? What’s it mean to maintain a home without fear of being evicted? What will our definition of excellence be when our baseline is whiteness and all the ways we don’t fit in? 

Someone once told me that a poor homeless white man still holds more privilege than the richest most successful Black man you’ve ever met. It’s almost as if my definition of greatness can’t be rooted in money and possessions. It can’t be based on degrees on the wall. It has to have more legs than that, more meaning. It has to be God and only God. That’s my benchmark: how much do I trust Him in any given moment and what am I doing to serve others? 

It feels good to write that, it feels harder to live it. And still, I don’t have an answer to her question. I won’t know when I’ve arrived. My family will be safe and our bodies clothed, but I’ll still have so far to go. 

Don’t Tell Me To Take It Easy, I’m a Perfectionist

On letting go – some. 

  1. “It isn’t done yet, so I can’t go to bed.” 
  2. “I know it doesn’t matter to anyone else, but I’m not happy with it yet. (So, I’ll hold my breath until it’s right).” 
  3. Oh, and is this one you: “I can’t let them think I’m incompetent.” 

I don’t like letting go.

In fact, I’m holding onto middle school grudges and hurt from lies that stung more than sticks and stones ever could.

I’m hold onto anger and fear and to the idea that something can be perfect. I’ve held my breath through tasks, miniscule tasks that no one else in the world even knows/cares about, because I want it all to be perfect. 

If it’s perfect: my world won’t crumble.

If it’s perfect: they won’t leave.

If it’s perfect: I will matter until it is broken again. 

When they tell me to take it easy, I become perplexed. These are words with which I am unfamiliar. Today, however, I desire to know them like black knows night.

I need to know them because my life depends on ease. It depends on my comfort with unfinished things. It depends on me leaving the men’s group I found to be so helpful, until several made it plain that my black life didn’t matter. I must “pass on this one, because I don’t have the energy for it.”

I must tread lightly or my blood pressure will spike and I’ll drop. 

Most of all, my wife and daughter need me here, so I must let go some. I am breathing now – and now is always of importance. 

What are you needing to let slip and fall? Loosen your grip.

🙋🏽‍♀️Thoughts on this message? Let me know at hello@thesapronextdoor.com.

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