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About Our Guest
Charita Cole Brown earned a BA in English from Wesleyan University and an MAT in Early Childhood Education from Towson University in Maryland. Now retired, she lives in Baltimore with her two daughters.
Find her online at www.charitacolebrown.com.
DEFYING BIPOLAR SHOW TRANSCRIPT (Computer-Generated)
Narrator 1: [00:00:02] Welcome to the Psych Central show, where each episode presents an in-depth look at issues from the field of psychology and mental health – with host Gabe Howard and co-host Vincent M. Wales.
Gabe Howard: [00:00:14] Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s episode of the Psych Central Show podcast. My name is Gabe Howard and with me as always is Vincent M. Wales. Today Vince and I will be talking to Charita Cole Brown, author of Defying the Verdict – My Bipolar Life. And personally, I love it when another person with bipolar disorder comes and hangs out on the show. We outnumber Vince! Charita, welcome to the show.
Charita Cole Brown: [00:00:37] Hi. How are you Gabe and Vince?
Vincent M. Wales: [00:00:39] We’re good.
Gabe Howard: [00:00:40] Oh, we are doing quite well. We are happy to have you. So the first question that we want to ask right out of the gate is: what made you want to write this book? I mean of all the things that you can do with your time, why write a book?
Charita Cole Brown: [00:00:53] The reason I wanted to write the book… First off, there are a lot of people who live well with a mental illness, but people don’t know that, because what comes out in, you know, in society is the people who live poorly. So, in general, people expect you, if you have bipolar disorder, to be swinging from a chandelier. It doesn’t mean I’ve never swung from a chandelier. But you can live a good life with this illness. So the reason I decided to write the book was to start being what Dr. Kay Jamison called the “silently successful,” because there are a lot of people who are living well with bipolar disorder, but nobody knows it because of the expectation in the media, etc.
Vincent M. Wales: [00:01:55] That is very true, although I think that that’s beginning to change, don’t you think? I mean we are seeing more and more people who are being open about their mental illnesses and I guess more and more people being surprised by that.
Gabe Howard: [00:02:07] I mean hey we exist. You know the Psych Central show – that was kind of our thing when we started, so we couldn’t agree with you more Charita. Thank you for being vocal. To Vin’s question, do you think that it’s changing? Are we getting braver?
Charita Cole Brown: [00:02:23] I think that it is changing, but I think because of the stigma… I’ve been in bipolar recovery for more than 25 years and for a long time, people that didn’t know that I was bipolar, that I had bipolar, that the illness that I have bipolar – you didn’t know. And I didn’t share because of the stigma associated with the illness. So one of the things that I am attempting to do with my book as a vehicle is to help change stigma and diffuse stigma. And as I like to call it, as NAMI calls it, to choose stigma – you don’t think of it like an illness. And you know although we don’t have a cure for bipolar disorder, stigma is 100 percent curable.
Vincent M. Wales: [00:03:20] Very good point, very good point.
Gabe Howard: [00:03:21] Couldn’t agree with you more.
Vincent M. Wales: [00:03:23] So tell us a bit about your personal experience with bipolar disorder – when were you diagnosed and how did that come to pass and all those fun things?
Charita Cole Brown: [00:03:33] OK. I was diagnosed initially in 1980. I was a student at Wesleyan University. I had just turned 21 and it was interesting because 21 used to be the median age of diagnosis. So I was right in – if we could call it a sweet spot – it’s not a sweet spot – but I was right there. So I was 21 years old as a student at Wesleyan University when I was originally diagnosed. For me, I saw that as an anomaly and I took a semester off from school to get myself together. I had a little bit of therapy. I came back to school and then in 1982, two months before graduation, I had a psychotic break. And in 1980, I was committed to a hospital because two doctors said I was a danger to myself and others. And then in 1982, I had a wonderful psychologist at Wesleyan and she sent me home because she did not want the same thing to happen to me. So my parents took me to a therapist and said, you know given the severity and frequency of my episodes, I had my first depression and 16, given the severity and frequency, as you guys probably know, every time you have an up and down, it affects your brain. So the therapist told my parents that what they were probably looking at was this brilliant young woman who will probably eventually end up in custodial care.
Gabe Howard: [00:05:21] And that’s a very hopeless thing to hear. How did you and your family take this?
Charita Cole Brown: [00:05:27] The thing was my mom was kind of numb to it because my mother was raised by an actively bipolar mother. So you know I have a genetic illness. My grandmother had bipolar type one disorder. I have a great uncle with Bipolar Type one disorder. So for my mother, she… it was too much. And I will interject that I have a girlfriend who is a psychologist and you have to understand that that was 1982; we’re in 2018. She said that no therapist worth their salt nowadays would speak that to a family or to a client because it is the death knell. And that was the way I received it – as the death knell.
Gabe Howard: [00:06:20] You are very right; we’ve come a long way in the way that we talk about these illnesses and more importantly the amount of hope that patients are given. I was diagnosed in 2003 with bipolar disorder and as soon as I heard the diagnosis, I myself believed that I was going to end up in custodial care, join a group home, and and my life was over. But over the next couple of days that I was in the psychiatric hospital, they they quickly explained to me that no no no no no, with management, I can be well. So just between the amount of time from your diagnosis to my diagnosis, we’ve seen some major differences in how they talk to patients and families, so I think that’s right. Your advocacy is working!
Charita Cole Brown: [00:07:04] And people have to understand, when you were so bravely, Gabe, talking about your illness, it’s a 20-year span.
Gabe Howard: [00:07:14] Right. It’s very true.
Charita Cole Brown: [00:07:16] So in a 20-year span people have grown in what they see and what they say. So for me – and I have I have adult daughters – and one of the things I always say with my daughters was that you have to be careful how you speak over your children – what they hear, what you speak into their spirit. So that was what was spoken over me. And it just wasn’t good. And it was like and it just put me in a fight. I was immediately in a fight.
Gabe Howard: [00:07:52] Thank you so much for that answer Charita. We’ll be back in a moment after we hear from our sponsor.
Narrator 2: [00:07:57] This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp.com, secure, convenient and affordable online counselling. All counselors are licensed, accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions, plus chat and text with your therapist whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face-to-face session. Go to BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counselling is right for you. BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral.
Vincent M. Wales: [00:08:28] Welcome back everyone. We’re here with Charita Cole Brown talking about her bipolar life.
Gabe Howard: [00:08:33] One of the things that you talked about in your press packet was that some of the differences between being bipolar in the African-American community, Now I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a white guy; I’m a white middle class man, straight… This is the only version of bipolar disorder that I know but I’m not foolish enough to believe that just because we have the same illness that it has played out the same way in our lives. Can you speak to that a little bit?
Charita Cole Brown: [00:08:57] What a great question and what the question speaks to is culture, and culture is not just color. Culture is how we do things around here. So, for me, being an African-American woman… African-American women, if you think back to many years ago (but not so many) to what Mammy was considered to be. Mammy could take care of your children and her children, all kinds of things, take care of the health. Do everything with the smile. She was strong. She never got tired and unfortunately some of that has seeped into African-American women and our expectation of ourselves. We oftentimes unfortunately expect ourselves to be all things to all people. That’s not, I’ve learned, a good way for me to be. And also, since writing the book and while writing the book, I looked at other communities of color – in Farsi, which is Persian. There’s no word for mental illness. Asian women, no… are not expected. They’re expected to be like the Tiger Wife and super smart and never have mental illness. Hispanic women. No no no. It’s not seen as something that would affect us. And one of the good things about writing Defying the Verdict – My Bipolar Life is that I am an African-American woman and I have a generational illness and I did the things that I needed to do so that I could get well. Now fortunately for me, in the book I talk about my aunt, my Aunt Nellie, who was my grandmother’s sister who had seen all of this in the family and she was the person that helped me make it through and appreciate the fact that there were there was now a medication and that there were things that I could do to be well. And because she didn’t attach guilt or shame to the illness… I still had shame to it, but because she didn’t, it helped me to make it through it.
Vincent M. Wales: [00:11:41] Thank you for bringing up the different cultural differences regarding how mental illness is viewed. It’s been a concern of mine for quite some time. What do you think can be done, if anything at this point, to break down that wall and allow people of these cultures to more readily accept what mental illness really is?
Charita Cole Brown: [00:12:05] I believe one of the things that has to happen is that people have to see that there are people of color who do experience mental illness and go on to live successfully. There are books by people of color. There’s a book by a woman Nana-Ama Danquah and her book is Willow Weep for Me. She’s an African woman that grew up in the United States. She actually was one of the people who blurbed my book, and she was the first African-American woman to write about depression. And there is Melody Moezzi, who is a Persian woman. And when I read her book, that’s how I found out that when she got sick, they didn’t even have a word for it. So by people coming forth and sharing their story… sometimes it just takes one person to come forth to empower other people to go, oh OK, this seems similar to my story. If they can come forward, I can come forward, too. And that is another reason why I thought that I needed to write a book. It was scary because a book is in print and people can read it, Because I had talked to people about my illness, but never written it down. But the important thing is that somebody can read this and they can look and say, oh my goodness, this woman… I start my book with hospital records. This woman was completely out of control. And by the end, look at that, she is whatever quote normal is. No, I mean she thought, OK she’s able to hold things together better than she was. And that’s what people need to see. Sometimes people really need to see examples and I don’t know if you have seen the same thing in your life by people seeing you do well. It’s encouraged other people to do well.
Gabe Howard: [00:14:14] It absolutely has. You are you are completely right about that. Many people in the years that I have been doing this have come up to me and said, You know I didn’t believe that I could… fill in the blank… from as simple as work part time or go back to school all the way up to work full time, start a company, buy a house, get married, be a parent, and then they said, you know I saw you do it. And one of the messages that I always say (and Vin laughs every time I say it) is I’m nobody special. I’m not extra smart. I’m not extra rich. I’m not extra famous. I’m not… I’m just a regular guy that grew up in Ohio and I was able to do this because I had the right help, so if I can do it, anybody who can access treatment can do it. That’s why I fight for treatment and it’s why I try to be so positive. The question that I want to pose for you now is… there’s always this big conversation in America, which is how are the cultures different? How are the cultures different? And you’ve done a lot of research, but the question that I want to ask is how are people with mental illness all the same? I mean, how are we the same as, you know, male and female in different cultures, what do we have in common? And it sounds like you’ve done a lot of research on this and talked to a lot of people.
Charita Cole Brown: [00:15:27] The commonality I think for most of us that I’ve talked to is the feeling of shame.
Gabe Howard: [00:15:38] I can certainly understand that. Is there more? I mean, it’s just it’s so sad. I mean I know that this is not a positive thing to discuss and you can kind of probably hear in my voice that I just… I want to reach for there has to be some way that we’re just all the same and it is sad that we’re all ashamed of our illness and we’re all afraid of what people will think. But you’re right, that is a binding agent and in that way we need each other.
Charita Cole Brown: [00:16:07] And we’ll when it comes to shame, I feel like when the shame and the fear is what we need, those of us who are doing better, is to help distill hope. And I think that’s important. I think for all of us, what we have in common no matter what race, age, gender, whatever – and this might sound a little schmaltzy, but I believe it – all of us are part of humanity. And I think that is the common, the least common denominator of everybody. You know we are all people; we are all human on the planet. I’m a Christian person. I believe that everybody deserves compassion. So I think that’s a common denominator, that no matter who we are, we are all human beings here together. All of us are like a blind man trying to cross the street. And when you think about it like that, it makes us more willing to help each other. If you think I’m a blind man trying to cross the street… that guy over there, that woman over there, no matter what color, age, you know, gender, if you think about it like that, that we’re all just trying to make it through, we’re all just trying to cross the street. We don’t have a plan, here, but if we help each other, it makes it easier.
Vincent M. Wales: [00:17:52] Very well put. I totally agree that compassion is something that we need to have more of in this world.
Gabe Howard: [00:18:02] And compassion is free. We should spread that everywhere.
Vincent M. Wales: [00:18:04] Yeah.
Gabe Howard: [00:18:05] It doesn’t cost a dime. Now’s the time to be considerate to people. I can’t agree more. I’m sorry, Vin, I cut you off. Please ask your question. I got excited.
Vincent M. Wales: [00:18:14] It’s quite all right. I’ll be considerate. [laughter] So tell us more about how you are are spreading hope for others out there.
Charita Cole Brown: [00:18:27] Yes before I wrote the book I talked to people about my process. I’m also very active in the National Alliance on Mental Illness. My local NAMI is NAMI Maryland. I’m active in NAMI Baltimore City. I’m in metropolitan Baltimore, which covers Baltimore City and Baltimore County, and I am an In Our Own Voice presenter, which means that I go different places and talk to people about mental illness. I’ve taken a peer to peer course. I recently was trained to become a trainer for primary care physicians. We have a new program because a lot of times when people have mental health challenges, the first person they go to is their primary care physician. So I’m part of a pilot program teaching doctors affiliated with two hospitals here in Baltimore – St. Agnes and Harbor Hospital – how what to look for and how to engage with people so they find it okay to reach out and get the help that they need.
Gabe Howard: [00:19:43] That is wonderful. I have been a long-term member and fan of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI, for a long time. I was a peer to peer teacher. I was a connection facilitator. I ran three of their walks here in Columbus, Ohio as their walk manager. I love speaking to NAMI chapters. I get to travel all over the country and do it. I love it when they call and hire me. I tell the story of my bipolar life. It’s called This Bipolar Life and you’re right, you can reach a lot of people quickly when you’re part of a bigger organization and I really like your answer there because we get a lot of e-mail, you know, how can we become advocates, how can we reach more people, and one of the things that we always recommend is that they join their local mental health agency. You know we don’t give any particular one it can be NAMI of course, it can be Mental Health America, it can be Depression Bipolar Support Alliance or you know, there’s all kinds of independents all over there, but so many people try to start their own agency and put it all on their back when they can join supported infrastructure and learn and reach many many people, so I’m glad that you’re so heavily involved. Those are good programs that you named.
Charita Cole Brown: [00:20:53] The other thing is, when you talked about DBSA, I have some connection to Johns Hopkins – when I did my book launch, one of the doctors at Johns Hopkins came into a Q and A with me. Her name is Dr. Karen Schwartz and she created the Adolescent Depression Awareness Program through Johns Hopkins mood disorder center. So one of the things that was very gratifying for me was that not only did they post pictures of my launch on the Ask Hopkins Psychiatry Facebook page and Instagram page – people can see those – but they also asked me, can we extract quotes and put them on? Of course you can. So they also extracted quotes from my launch about how I maintain my wellness and posted those at Ask Hopkins Psychiatry. And I was really honored to have that as a part of what went on with me.
Gabe Howard: [00:21:57] That is wonderful. I love hearing that the patient voice is in front of the medical community because it’s so important for all of us to work together and remember that the goal here is for people with mental illness to be well, it’s what we all want.
Vincent M. Wales: [00:22:10] Definitely yes.
Charita Cole Brown: [00:22:11] Yes. And the example that I often use, I’ll say, well OK, if I put on my helmet and get on my skateboard and become a skater girl, and they go, ha ha, you? And let’s say I fall off my skateboard and I break my arm in three places, my shoulder, my elbow, my wrist… you know is anybody gonna tell me, Charita, just be tough. Charita, just pray about it. Charita, leave it alone. It’ll be okay. We don’t want to talk about that. No! Somebody is gonna get me to a hospital, somewhere where somebody can deal with the broken bones and we might say, you know it was very foolish of you at your age to be on a skateboard. But they’re going to take care of the injury and one of the things that I often say is that it is important for people to understand that mental illness is physical illness. My brain is part of my body, so the same way you would be concerned about my broken arm, we need to be concerned about brain health and mental wellness.
Vincent M. Wales: [00:23:37] Absolutely. These are things that we’ve been saying all along. In fact… you sounded like Gabe there for a minute.
Charita Cole Brown: [00:23:46] Did I? Yay!
Gabe Howard: [00:23:47] Great minds always think alike. Great minds think alike.
Charita Cole Brown: [00:23:52] That’s right Gabe. They do. They do.
Vincent M. Wales: [00:23:55] Well unfortunately Charita, we are approaching the end of our show so let’s take a minute here to talk a little bit more about your book, where people can find it, where they can find you online and all of that fun stuff.
Charita Cole Brown: [00:24:08] My book is Defying the Verdict – My Bipolar Life. You can find it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble. My website is www.charitacolebrown.com and you can see where I have spoken, podcasts that have covered me, different things that relate to the book, and how things have gone for me. I would like to say that my book was blurbed by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, the author of An Unquiet Mind, and she said that she highly recommends this book and she called my writing powerful and eloquent, so I would hope I am not tooting my own horn.
Gabe Howard: [00:25:00] You’ve done a great thing and you deserve it. And we know that you’ve been on a great podcast, because you were on this one.
Charita Cole Brown: [00:25:07] Absolutely absolutely. And thank you so much for including me.
Gabe Howard: [00:25:13] Oh, you’re very very welcome.
Charita Cole Brown: [00:25:14] It’s really wonderful to be a part of your community.
Gabe Howard: [00:25:19] Wonderful thank you so much for being here and thank you everyone else for tuning in. Remember, you can get one week of free convenient affordable private online counselling anytime anywhere. All you have to do is go to BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. Give it a try. Thank you so much and we will see you next week.
Narrator 1: [00:25:42] Thank you for listening to the Psych Central Show. Please rate, review, and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you found this podcast. We encourage you to share our show on social media and with friends and family. Previous episodes can be found at PsychCentral.com/show. PsychCentral.com is the internet’s oldest and largest independent mental health website. Psych Central is overseen by Dr. John Grohol, a mental health expert and one of the pioneering leaders in online mental health. Our host, Gabe Howard, is an award-winning writer and speaker who travels nationally. You can find more information on Gabe at GabeHoward.com. Our co-host, Vincent M. Wales, is a trained suicide prevention crisis counselor and author of several award-winning speculative fiction novels. You can learn more about Vincent at VincentMWales.com. If you have feedback about the show, please email [email protected].
About The Psych Central Show Podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. He is also one of the co-hosts of the popular show, A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. As a speaker, he travels nationally and is available to make your event stand out. To work with Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Vincent M. Wales is a former suicide prevention counselor who lives with persistent depressive disorder. He is also the author of several award-winning novels and creator of the costumed hero, Dynamistress. Visit his websites at www.vincentmwales.com and www.dynamistress.com.