- Tell us a little about yourself
My name is Bassey Ikpi. I’m a Nigerian born and US bred poet, writer and mental health advocate. I also do content developing and presenting.
- What does it mean to suffer from Bipolar II disorder?
Because I have been successfully managing and treating my illness, I don’t like to use the word “suffer”. I don’t suffer from anything, I live with a condition.
But to answer your question, what it means is that I have a chemical imbalance in my brain that makes it difficult to regulate moods. Bipolar II is different than bipolar I. It’s not as extreme and there is no mania. There’s something called hypomania. Which is racing thoughts, insomnia, anxiety, reckless behavior, etc. The depression end of things are basically the same. I think the easiest way to look at it is that Bipolar II manifests more internally so one is a greater danger to themselves than others.
- In what year were you diagnosed?
- How do you deal with the illness - any medication, exercise and/or a specific diet?
I take a combination of medications. An antidepressant, mood stabilizer, anti-anxiety medication and sleeping medication. Exercise and diet definitely help. I know what works for me but it may not work for other people. I’m pretty much a strict vegetarian when I’m home. It’s only in Nigeria that I don’t have the resources to eat the way I would like.
- It is often said that there is a stigma that comes with being open about a mental illness. Can you relate to this?
There’s an absolute stigma. People don’t really know what mental illnesses are. They get most of the information from the media who needs to exaggerate things for dramatic effect. So people treat every illness like it is violent or that you see or hear things that aren’t there. So once you’ve even explained to someone what you are really going through, it is still difficult to understand. People have thrown it back in my face when I am legitimately angry or upset about something that anyone with or without an illness should be upset about. They attribute it to the illness. So it takes away a person’s right to have emotions because you don’t want to be misunderstood. That happens a lot. The stigma basically comes from people not understanding the illness or symptoms and from people who believe that if you “try” you can be cured.
Stigma has cost me jobs and relationships. It’s been difficult but anyone who would treat me differently because I have an illness is not someone that I want to be with or work for. It is difficult and I often get sad about it. I wonder if I should stop talking about it or if I shouldn’t have ever started. But I have no choice. Talking about it saved my life.
- What are some of your greatest accomplishments as a mental health advocate?
No Shame Day. It’s an initiative that I started to give people one day of space to talk about what they go through. It has been overwhelming every year. We just had our fourth No Shame Day and it was amazing to see it pick up steam. People who aren’t connected to me in any way participated.
Also, just the messages I get from people who tell me that my voice has helped them find theirs. Many people have told me that they are taking more care with their mental health or they now understand a bit better what a loved one has been going through. That’s basically all I want. I want people to be healthy and for them to be empathetic towards others.
- How can people connect with you (social media, website etc)?
I’m Basseyworld on just about every platform.
Thank you, Bassey!
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About the author:
Chiamaka Mogo is the Manager of Engage Africa Foundation's Hitting Home Series. She is also a media consultant, social justice advocate, blogger - http://blurredcreations.com and Public Administration scholar based in Canada's capital - Ottawa.