By Derrick Lane – blackdoctor.org
The powerful voice. The attitude. The smile. All things that we recognize about Jenifer Lewis, even if we may not recognize her name. The well-known actress has been in many memorable roles and continues to thrill audiences. But after 17 years of therapy and 10 years of being medicated for bipolar disorder, actress Jenifer Lewis decided to stop hiding her mental illness from others.
Jenifer was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1990, but she says she knew for years that something was wrong. Jenifer says she deals with her mental health issues every day, but she’s happy with her life thanks to really loving herself.
“You have to look in the mirror … and say—before you can go or grow into anything—you have to say you love yourself,” she says.
One of the key triggers for her disease came 20 years ago when her father died.
“I was overwhelmed with my grief, unable to handle my feelings,” she says. “I cried and cried, and I started to scream. I wanted to be let out of the darkness.”
But at her lowest, three years later when a girlfriend, who witnessed her screaming on the floor, said, “I don’t think this has anything to do with your father dying,” Lewis says. That’s when she finally decided to seek help and discovered she was bipolar.
People who are bipolar switch from feeling an energetic, “high” and/or irritable to feeling sad and hopeless, and then back again. They often have normal moods in between. These “up” and “down” feelings are called mania and depression. If left untreated, bipolar disorder can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide.
One of the problems with being bipolar is that, “it’s hard to accept that you have a problem,” Lewis shares. You might yell at your children or partner over something insignificant and think those reactions are normal, experts say. You might be angry with your boss and go off on him or her over something minor, or, as Lewis put it, “always find yourself at the center of some drama.”
“That’s another piece of the disease – the denial,” she says. “You think everyone cries themselves to sleep. You should ask yourself why am I so depressed, why am I so angry with my children, angry with my partner…why am I depressed, or over the top?”
Denying the problem can only cause more problems, Lewis says, adding that self-medication, such as when she started drinking heavily while attending college, is a byproduct of the uncontrollable emotions bipolar people suffer.
If you think you might be bipolar, Lewis says there’s nothing wrong with seeking help.