Today we’d like to introduce you to Charita Brown.
Hi Charita, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I am a working-class Baltimore native who was blessed to be privately educated. In 1981, as a 21-year-old, I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. At 22-years-old, I had a psychotic episode frighteningly reminiscent of my grandmother’s own breakdown and subsequent hospitalization, just two months before my graduation from Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
Unfortunately, I confused having a mental health challenge with having an intellectual deficit and thought I was no longer smart.
I based this on medical opinions that I could eventually need a caregiver due to the frequency and severity of my manic and depressive moods. The therapist my parents and I consulted in 1982 advised us that I would probably not finish college. Marriage and parenting were a pipe dream.
In 1986, I was hospitalized for a fourth time after three years of stability.
From early 1987 until May 1989, I met with a pastoral counselor weekly. Together, we devised a plan that would enable me to live well. We didn’t know at the time that I would experience more than twenty-five years of recovery.
In 2015, having released myself from the self-imposed guilt and shame of my illness, I wrote a memoir, Defying the Verdict: My Bipolar Life. It was published by Curbside Splendor Publishing in 2018 and was awarded The 2019 Eric Hoffer Awards for Best Book by a Micropress and Best Book by a first-time author as well as other awards.
Since 2015, I have been actively involved in the National Alliance on Mental Illness, serving on the Maryland Board of Directors since 2016.
I am also active in my local affiliate, NAMI Metro Baltimore, as an In Our Own Voice presenter, a Peer-to-Peer Class facilitator, and an I Will Listen presenter. I am also a lead facilitator for NAMI’s Ending the Silence Program which is compromised of separate presentations for middle and high school students, their parents and faculty/staff. The program is designed to identify and normalize mental health challenges in a society in which we are seeing an escalation in suicidal ideation and suicide completion among youth.
I am a widowed mother of two stable, kind, thirty-something daughters. Rather than need a caregiver, I have served as care manager for my parents.
My life is an example of the enriched life one can live by devising a plan and sticking to it.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Absolutely not! Before I could live well despite a severe mental illness diagnosis, I had to accept the reality of the illness.
Even though I was reading the medical manual and seeing that my symptoms were aligned with a bipolar diagnosis, I didn’t want to acknowledge the illness because I was seeing it as “crazy.” I cycled between “I am the greatest” i.e., mania, and “I am depressed” i.e., depression with “normal” periods between the up and down episodes.
During a bout of mania, while visiting someone I knew casually, I staged a fashion show, using items from her closet. She was scared and relieved when I left.
Because I lack insight during periods of mania, this behavior seemed normal to me while it was happening. Later, when depression set in, I was ashamed.
Being a very cerebral person who once had a “ticker tape parade” of thoughts running through my head daily from the time I woke up until I went to sleep at night, I ruminated on my shameful behaviors.
This continued for years, through three commitments and one hospitalization.
When I was committed –always during mania for me– doctors decided that I was dangerous to myself and others. I could not be released until medical personnel deemed me ready.
As a woman in her twenties, this inability to chart my own course was disempowering and frightening.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am a mental wellness lived experience expert. Living in bipolar I disorder recovery for more than twenty-five years, I decided to share my triumphant journey to wholeness. My memoir, Defying the Verdict: My Bipolar Life was published in 2018 by Curbside Splendor Publishing.
To write the book, I had to stop feeling guilty and ashamed for manifesting a generational illness. My maternal grandmother and maternal great uncle were diagnosed with bipolar disorder (manic depression) before I was born.
After my memoir’s publication, I began speaking publicly about my illness. I’ve done keynote speeches, podcast and television guest appearances, and been featured in Newspapers including The Baltimore Beacon and the Times of India.
I actively volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). I serve on the NAMI Maryland Board of Directors and am active in my local affiliate, NAMI Metro Baltimore.
What sets me apart from others who have received the same dismal diagnosis as mine? I do NOT live life waiting for “the other shoe to drop.” Because I live my life according to a well-constructed plan that includes faith in GOD, I expect to thrive.
Having accepted my diagnosis, I have taken agency over my illness.
Because I believe that mental health is physical health, I prioritize my mental and emotional health.
I received NAMI Metro Baltimore’s Marcia G. Pines Lifetime Advocacy and Service Award for 2021. I was also awarded a NAMI Program Leader Award (2021) for my facilition of NAMI Metro Baltimore’s Peer-to-Peer and Ending the Silence Programs.
My story was featured at NAMI’s National Convention, NAMICON 2021:
“Shattering Racial Stereotypes to Defy the Verdict ” https://youtu.be/LyarbNfJ72s.
I am most proud of the fact that I lead an enjoyable life and have been blessed to manage care for my parents in their latter years. My dad passed away in 2019. My wonderful 89-year-old mother is still living.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank or give credit to?
Although people with mental illnesses are sometimes abandoned by their frustrated or frightened family members, I have been blessed with a tribe of supportive family members and friends. My maternal great Aunt, Nellie –my Granny Ruth’s youngest sister– refused to let me wallow in self-pity because of my mental health condition. She reminded me how blessed I am that my body responds to medication which was not available when her two older siblings were ill.
Because my parents taught my six siblings and me the importance of caring for one another, they stuck with me through the highs and lows of mania and depression.
My eldest sister, Valerie Cole-James (1956-2020), was my chief accountability partner, watching and listening for changes in my mood to help prevent episodes.
My college roommate, Gloria Mullings, has supported me through many life experiences. I am especially grateful for her because, never having known someone who had bipolar disorder, she remained a steadfast friend.
My phenomenal pastoral counselor, James Hickey helped me develop my wellness plan from 1987 to 1989.
My pastor, James Thornton, my friend Jo Ann and my husband, Oscar (1951-1991) exemplified faith in action.
Steve Eisner encouraged me to write my memoir and enter it in the Pitch Week Competition at When Words Count Retreat in Vermont.
Many people prayed with me, read drafts of the book, and encourage me continually.
I am also grateful for loving support from my daughters, Liana & Anita as well as my additional accountability supports, Desiree Barnes & Veda Pendleton.
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: www.charitacolebrown.com
- Instagram: charita.brown Instagram
- Facebook: Charita Brown Facebook
Personal Photo by Omari Photo