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The first bridal shower that I ever attended was my own. I remember being very confused when a boom box toting, scantily clad body builder “wandered” into the rooftop garden bridal shower hosted by my closest friends. Having never attended a bridal shower, I hadn’t the faintest clue of what was about to happen next, so I was shocked when when the body builder started dancing, and felt very embarrassed that this display was being witnessed by some of my more mature, prim and proper guests. In the end, a good laugh was had by all, and as my friends and I became more experienced with pre-wedding rituals, we learned that the “boom box set-up” experience is typically reserved for the private bachelorette party, not the bridal shower. Similarly, the first wedding that I attended as an active participant and not a guest, was mine. By the time I became a mom, none of my friends had started their families yet, so the first diaper that I ever changed was that of my first child. As a teenager, I’d babysat for children plenty of times to earn money, but I’d never cared for an infant or toddler in diapers. I have a niece and a nephew older than my daughter, but they live in a different state, so I never changed their fannies.

There’s an insurance company commercial that features a teen daughter preparing to take her dad’s car for the first time. The scene shows a six year old girl in the driver’s seat, and her dad’s voice is heard in the background, giving her instructions. It’s not until the end of the commercial that you realize that the daughter is a teenager, but seen through the eyes of her dad, she remains a six year old “little girl.” As our oldest learns to drive, I can relate to that commercial and find myself humbled and in awe that my first child is now old enough to drive. A wise friend once said that when raising a family, the days go by slowly but the years go by quickly. Truer words have never been spoken. Ask any parent who has sent a child into the world for college or the military. “Where did the time go?” “It just seems like yesterday that I was taking him to kindergarten and now he’s eighteen.” “Enjoy each phase of raising your children. It goes by quickly.” These are the gems uttered by those in my network circle who have transitioned their children into adulthood.

This week, I paused my life long enough to watch the original movie “Sparkle” for the first time. Yes, you read that correctly. Until a few days ago, I had never seen the original “Sparkle,” so my oldest heirs and I rented it on pay per view. I’d seen brief snippets of the movie here and there, but had never seen the movie in its entirety, so I didn’t know many of the plot details. A few years ago, a friend was watching the movie with her husband and seemed shocked that I’d never seen the black cinema classic, until she realized that I hadn’t been old enough to see it when it came out in the theaters. Once I became old enough to see it, I had no desire to see it. I am an Alfred Hitchcock, chick flick movie buff, and “Sparkle” didn’t fit into my favorite genre category. But with the hype surrounding the remake, I wanted to see the original version before seeing the remade version because whenever possible, I always try to read a novel before seeing the movie version of the novel.

In the original “Sparkle,” actress Lonette McKee plays the beautiful character “Sister.” Sister is hiding several secrets, but like her beauty, her secrets sparkle under a spotlight because everyone in her inner circle knows what she’s up to, especially the nosey neighbor, yet no one dares confront the beautiful Sister until it’s too late. Like a Shakespearean tragedy, the plot was fairly predictable: bad boy meets a beautiful and talented (yet troubled) girl with low self esteem issues. Talented girl suffers more under the bad boy’s influence. Family of talented girl tries to intervene and save her to no avail. It was an interesting movie, and I’m glad that I paused to watch it. I wonder how my impression of the movie would have been different had I seen it as a teenager and not as a mother. Viewing it as a mother, the character that I most felt sorry for was Effie, Sister’s mother. To watch someone that you conceived, birthed and nurtured languish in an abusive relationship and poison her body with drugs is almost unimaginable. “You can’t help someone who doesn’t want help” is another truism spoken by parents, counselors and the wise among us. Sometimes people want help, but they are embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help, especially if the help involves something that is not socially acceptable or carries a social stigma, like drug abuse, domestic violence or mental illness.

Several years ago, I met a woman who would become a very dear friend. The woman was white. Within ten minutes of our introduction, as she told me about her children, she casually shared with me that one of her children had a bipolar disorder. Days later, I met another white woman who openly discussed the bipolar medication that she took and how it was different from that being taken by her two young children. I was penning my first novel at the time, and was shocked at how effortlessly these women discussed mental health conditions and treatments in the same casual way that many African Americans discuss health issues like cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.

In Boys, Beauty & Betrayal, book one in my Black Diamond series, one of the main characters learns that her mother has a mental illness that she has kept secret from her children. The teen character’s initial reaction is shame and fear that her friends will stop being her friends if they learn of this secret. It isn’t until the fourth book in the series that the character develops the courage and confidence to discuss her mother’s health issues with her closest friends. I wrote this into the plot line to give the characters texture and to highlight the very different ways that African Americans deal with mental illness in their family. Since then, I’ve had several readers contact me to share that they have family members with mental health issues and could readily identify with the character’s reaction of shame and secrecy.

Congressman Jesse Jackson has been on medical leave since June, and it was initially shared that he was being treated for exhaustion. Only recently was it learned that he is undergoing treatment for bipolar disorder and depression, two very treatable mental health conditions. Being treated for a health condition of any sort should be a private, personal or family matter best managed outside of the media and public’s glare; however, when you are a public figure and your last name is Jackson, son of famed Civil Rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson, privacy is hard to come by.

He is not the first public figure to acknowledge a mental health issue. Google former NBC Today show host Jane Pauley, and her bipolar condition is the third hit that comes up. Similarly, the congressman won’t be the first to take prescribed medications should he need that remedy. Pharmaceutical companies are profit driven, and all of the big companies manufacture and sell different drugs to treat various mental health conditions. Mental health issues aren’t new and rare, they are just managed in secret the way infertility, cancer and alcoholism were once managed years ago.

I pray that Congressman Jackson is not ashamed of the fact that he is in treatment for a mental health condition. Because of his prominence and stature (through his experience) others will find the courage to face their own mental health issues or those in their family. Solutions are often found in secrets. Remedies and funding are tossed at issues that would go unnoticed if kept in secret. A generation ago, HIV was considered a gay man’s disease, but when basketball star Irving “Magic” Johnson announced that he was HIV positive, it removed “some” of the stigma and treatments were discovered.

If something is broken, you try and fix it. If something is hurting, you try to heal it. Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Jackson, Jr. were guests at our wedding, so I hope that Congressman Jackson gets the help that he needs and the privacy that his family deserves. I also pray that his secret mental health issue will serve as a spotlight to help others (especially those in the African American community) loose the stigma associated with mental health issues. Secrets don’t always have to carry shame, if managed properly, they can also sparkle in the darkness.

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The first bridal shower that I ever attended was my own. I remember being very confused when a boom box toting, scantily clad body builder “wandered” into the rooftop garden bridal shower hosted by my closest friends. Having never attended a bridal shower, I hadn’t the faintest clue of what was about to happen next, so I was shocked when when the body builder started dancing, and felt very embarrassed that this display was being witnessed by some of my more mature, prim and proper guests. In the end, a good laugh was had by all, and as my friends and I became more experienced with pre-wedding rituals, we learned that the “boom box set-up” experience is typically reserved for the private bachelorette party, not the bridal shower. Similarly, the first wedding that I attended as an active participant and not a guest, was mine. By the time I became a mom, none of my friends had started their families yet, so the first diaper that I ever changed was that of my first child. As a teenager, I’d babysat for children plenty of times to earn money, but I’d never cared for an infant or toddler in diapers. I have a niece and a nephew older than my daughter, but they live in a different state, so I never changed their fannies.

There’s an insurance company commercial that features a teen daughter preparing to take her dad’s car for the first time. The scene shows a six year old girl in the driver’s seat, and her dad’s voice is heard in the background, giving her instructions. It’s not until the end of the commercial that you realize that the daughter is a teenager, but seen through the eyes of her dad, she remains a six year old “little girl.” As our oldest learns to drive, I can relate to that commercial and find myself humbled and in awe that my first child is now old enough to drive. A wise friend once said that when raising a family, the days go by slowly but the years go by quickly. Truer words have never been spoken. Ask any parent who has sent a child into the world for college or the military. “Where did the time go?” “It just seems like yesterday that I was taking him to kindergarten and now he’s eighteen.” “Enjoy each phase of raising your children. It goes by quickly.” These are the gems uttered by those in my network circle who have transitioned their children into adulthood.

This week, I paused my life long enough to watch the original movie “Sparkle” for the first time. Yes, you read that correctly. Until a few days ago, I had never seen the original “Sparkle,” so my oldest heirs and I rented it on pay per view. I’d seen brief snippets of the movie here and there, but had never seen the movie in its entirety, so I didn’t know many of the plot details. A few years ago, a friend was watching the movie with her husband and seemed shocked that I’d never seen the black cinema classic, until she realized that I hadn’t been old enough to see it when it came out in the theaters. Once I became old enough to see it, I had no desire to see it. I am an Alfred Hitchcock, chick flick movie buff, and “Sparkle” didn’t fit into my favorite genre category. But with the hype surrounding the remake, I wanted to see the original version before seeing the remade version because whenever possible, I always try to read a novel before seeing the movie version of the novel.

In the original “Sparkle,” actress Lonette McKee plays the beautiful character “Sister.” Sister is hiding several secrets, but like her beauty, her secrets sparkle under a spotlight because everyone in her inner circle knows what she’s up to, especially the nosey neighbor, yet no one dares confront the beautiful Sister until it’s too late. Like a Shakespearean tragedy, the plot was fairly predictable: bad boy meets a beautiful and talented (yet troubled) girl with low self esteem issues. Talented girl suffers more under the bad boy’s influence. Family of talented girl tries to intervene and save her to no avail. It was an interesting movie, and I’m glad that I paused to watch it. I wonder how my impression of the movie would have been different had I seen it as a teenager and not as a mother. Viewing it as a mother, the character that I most felt sorry for was Effie, Sister’s mother. To watch someone that you conceived, birthed and nurtured languish in an abusive relationship and poison her body with drugs is almost unimaginable. “You can’t help someone who doesn’t want help” is another truism spoken by parents, counselors and the wise among us. Sometimes people want help, but they are embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help, especially if the help involves something that is not socially acceptable or carries a social stigma, like drug abuse, domestic violence or mental illness.

Several years ago, I met a woman who would become a very dear friend. The woman was white. Within ten minutes of our introduction, as she told me about her children, she casually shared with me that one of her children had a bipolar disorder. Days later, I met another white woman who openly discussed the bipolar medication that she took and how it was different from that being taken by her two young children. I was penning my first novel at the time, and was shocked at how effortlessly these women discussed mental health conditions and treatments in the same casual way that many African Americans discuss health issues like cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.

In Boys, Beauty & Betrayal, book one in my Black Diamond series, one of the main characters learns that her mother has a mental illness that she has kept secret from her children. The teen character’s initial reaction is shame and fear that her friends will stop being her friends if they learn of this secret. It isn’t until the fourth book in the series that the character develops the courage and confidence to discuss her mother’s health issues with her closest friends. I wrote this into the plot line to give the characters texture and to highlight the very different ways that African Americans deal with mental illness in their family. Since then, I’ve had several readers contact me to share that they have family members with mental health issues and could readily identify with the character’s reaction of shame and secrecy.

Congressman Jesse Jackson has been on medical leave since June, and it was initially shared that he was being treated for exhaustion. Only recently was it learned that he is undergoing treatment for bipolar disorder and depression, two very treatable mental health conditions. Being treated for a health condition of any sort should be a private, personal or family matter best managed outside of the media and public’s glare; however, when you are a public figure and your last name is Jackson, son of famed Civil Rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson, privacy is hard to come by.

He is not the first public figure to acknowledge a mental health issue. Google former NBC Today show host Jane Pauley, and her bipolar condition is the third hit that comes up. Similarly, the congressman won’t be the first to take prescribed medications should he need that remedy. Pharmaceutical companies are profit driven, and all of the big companies manufacture and sell different drugs to treat various mental health conditions. Mental health issues aren’t new and rare, they are just managed in secret the way infertility, cancer and alcoholism were once managed years ago.

I pray that Congressman Jackson is not ashamed of the fact that he is in treatment for a mental health condition. Because of his prominence and stature (through his experience) others will find the courage to face their own mental health issues or those in their family. Solutions are often found in secrets. Remedies and funding are tossed at issues that would go unnoticed if kept in secret. A generation ago, HIV was considered a gay man’s disease, but when basketball star Irving “Magic” Johnson announced that he was HIV positive, it removed “some” of the stigma and treatments were discovered.

If something is broken, you try and fix it. If something is hurting, you try to heal it. Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Jackson, Jr. were guests at our wedding, so I hope that Congressman Jackson gets the help that he needs and the privacy that his family deserves. I also pray that his secret mental health issue will serve as a spotlight to help others (especially those in the African American community) loose the stigma associated with mental health issues. Secrets don’t always have to carry shame, if managed properly, they can also sparkle in the darkness.