In an exclusive interview with MadameNoire for Mental Health Awareness Month, Jenifer Lewis opened up about her diagnosis with bipolar disorder and her struggle to accept treatment.
“Sometimes I suspected that something was not quite right,” Lewis said. “Especially during the time when the AIDS epidemic was at its height and my grief was pretty much out of control. No one was talking about bi-polar disorder and mental illness back then. I had lost so many friends and loved ones. My spiral into depression was overwhelming; I could not function. That’s when I couldn’t ignore the fact that something was wrong anymore.”
Lewis was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1990. However, she neglected the required medicinal treatment for the disease for four years.
“I didn’t want to take the medication at all. Nobody ever really does.”
“I was seeing a psychotherapist and that was very helpful, but I was hell-bent on not taking medication because I did not want it to interfere with that extra edge, that extra high that we get.
Lewis noted it was at the advice of a friend that she then sought help:
“A friend of mine noticed that I wasn’t right and loved me enough to tell me. That’s what I really want to get out there, that we all need to pay attention. Pay attention to your friends, pay attention to that cousin that jumps up on the picnic table at the family reunion and goes a little too ‘nutty,’ you know what I mean? Pay attention to that aunt that’s down in the basement that never comes upstairs. We have to pay attention to our friends, pay attention to your family and offer a hand.”
“It doesn’t have to be a big deal.”
“There was no great reaction, everybody knew I was ‘crazy’ before and after the diagnosis. I was still me. It is true that [bi-polar disorder] is a big deal, but if you learn how to manage it, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. You can learn the skills to take care of yourself – just like I did.”