Braver/Wiser : A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion
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The Journey to Self-Love

By Ndidi Achebe

“i found god in myself
and i loved her
i loved her fiercely”
―Ntozake Shange

I grew up in a working-class neighborhood where everyone looked like me. At the same time, I struggled with isolation, fear, and deep sadness. All too often adults told me to “cheer up,” that things would get better, or that I was too young to not be happy. None of those words made me feel any better; my feelings just came back the next day.

a dark-skinned woman’s portrait blends into dissolving colourful paint

During my childhood and teenage years, my Mom was frequently hospitalized because, according to my father, “Mommy is sick and needs to rest.” Once when I was about six years old, I told him that I wanted to go and visit her, so we did. Her hospital room was large, padded, and grey. When I was sent in alone, I found Mom sitting in a corner with ashen legs and arms, unkempt hair, and speaking in unintelligible words and phrases. Looking back, I have no idea why it was okay for a kid that young to be allowed to see any patient on a psychiatric floor, let alone by themselves. It was traumatic; something that I will never forget.

Only when I was a teenager did I learn that my Mom had the diagnosis of Bipolar. When I was diagnosed with Bipolar II, in my 20s, I was petrified: afraid that I would end up on the psych ward in a hospital just like my mom or—even worse—locked up in a mental institution for the rest of my life. I believed that I was not a normal human being.

Now that I've been diagnosed with Bipolar (II) for over 35 years, and even though I’ve been hospitalized twice, the fear of being locked up in a mental institution for the rest of my life is no longer present in my life.

I cannot tell you exactly when the fear went away, but learning to accept my diagnosis helped. I can remember my Mom getting up early, getting dressed, and heading to the Community Center to swim, which taught me that even when you have a mental health diagnosis, you can still participate in just about anything that you want to do.

I also learned about courage by witnessing famous people talk about their mental health diagnoses openly and without shame.

And learning to love myself spiritually, physically, and emotionally, with the help of my Black kinfolk, gave me permission to be my Unapologetically Black self without reservation.

Learning to love all of me—including the parts I used to be scared of—made the fear go away.

Prayer

As we continue on our life journeys, may we learn to love ourselves deeply, accept ourselves as Holy, and celebrate ourselves completely without fear or inhibitions.

About the Author

Ndidi Achebe

Ndidi Achebe (she/her/hers) has a long history of social justice activism and work for racial justice, even before becoming a Unitarian Universalist. She has a background in service as a Social Worker and facilitator and has been a member of BLUU (Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism) since its...

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