Like cancer runs in some bloodlines, mental health challenges run in mine. My great-great-grandmother suffered from mental illness. It has been rumored that she was put away and never seen or heard from again. Down through the years, it’s been mentioned here and there, but the details were very vague. I assume if she was indeed put into an insane asylum and died there unbeknownst to the family there wasn’t much to discuss. But if I had to guess, I’d say it wasn’t talked about due to the shame and stigma that has always been attached to mental health issues in African American families. Chances are I’ll never know what really happened or to what extent she suffered. Her story is lost, but mine is not and I find purpose in sharing my pain and struggle.
Coming from a family that is quite private, I was warned of the potential consequences of sharing my story– being ostracized and the inability to obtain gainful employment. Just to name a few. Sharing is not for everyone and the reality of my sharing is that I risk particular elements of my life when I choose to write about my condition. To me, it is a privilege denied to my ancestors such as my great-great-grandmother. We may have been dealt similar cards, but our realities are very different. She had no options. I have many and I’d choose this hand over and over. She is me at a different time. I am her with voice and choices. My choice to speak my truth is history. I am black history.