In, Bipolar Faith, Dr. Monica A Coleman openly talk about some very personal and intimate details that happened in her life as an evangelical minister. Such as living with, depression, and also being raped by a fellow minister. She shares how that experience effected her faith and why she was angry with God.
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Monica A. Coleman is Professor of Africana Studies at the University of Delaware. She spent over ten years in graduate theological education at Claremont School of Theology and Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Answering her call to ministry at age 19, Dr. Coleman brings her experiences in evangelical Christianity, black church traditions, and indigenous spirituality to her discussions of religion.
Dr. Coleman is the author or editor of six books and several articles that focus on the role of faith in addressing critical social and philosophical issues. Her memoir Bipolar Faith shares her life-long dance with trauma and depression, and how she discovers a new and liberating vision of God. Her book Making a Way Out of No Way is required reading at leading theological schools around the country. Dr. Coleman co-hosts the web series, “Octavia Tried To Tell Us: Parable for Today’s Pandemic.”
Dr Coleman speaks widely on mental wellness, navigating change, religious diversity, mental wellness, and religious responses to intimate partner violence.
Myrna: How you were called into the ministry at an early age? How did your grandfather influenced you in that?
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My Bipolar Faith story
Dr Monica: In my book, Bipolar Faith, I tell the story of my great grandfather, my maternal grandmother’s father. Whom I’ve never met of course, and his experience as a black man in a small town in South Carolina. The story I tell how he decided to hang himself and had one of my great uncle help him to hang himself. My great grandfather asked my great uncle to pull the chair out from underneath him and allow him to hang.
I did not know this story until I was well into my 20s. So, it wasn’t the story that I was told as a child. Even though many people in the family knew what my grandmother meant when she talked about being orphaned or having her parents die at a very young age. Her mother died from complications with childbirth. And then she said, six months later, my father died. And so, I understand how she came to that conclusion, that there was this deep sadness that leads this kind of activity.
This was actually just part of my family’s story that was talked about in these metaphorical ways, rather than in more direct ways. So, I think it shaped me in the sense of, there was something in me that knew that you could get so sad you will die.
That deep grief kills.
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Grief and faith
And I think this is a kind of backdrop to a lot of the many other things that I ended up talking about in “Bipolar Faith” as it’s my story. I am also hoping that other people see themselves in the story in ways in which, poverty and class and war and sharecropping and the effects of slavery and all types of things, contribute to what we would now call, mental illness.
Being black in America, is very complicated. And a lot of times people aren’t stopping to ask “How do you feel?” And so, a big part of this book is really trying to shine a light on, mental illness. Having people ask,
- How are you doing?
- How are we feeling?
- How are you managing these various things that we know that we all manage?
And so, I would say that’s really where I was going to push through and I think it became a part of my calling whether I was not aware of it all.
It is important to talk about these things, whether that’s around issues of, sexual violence, or, domestic violence, or issues around, depression, and, mental health.
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We inherit mental illness from our ancestors
Myrna: This is so true, we inherit the blessing of our ancestors, and we inherit the, curses, of our ancestors.
Dr Monica: I don’t want to quite use that language of, blessings, and, curses. But yes, we inherit what our ancestors have. We can get the bad stuff and the good stuff, we get the things we would rather live without and we get a lot of their, survival techniques, and their joint, faith, as well. And you know, when I think we you know, so in the fact that we get genetically right isn’t new or knowledge, but the fact that it’s kind of part of who we are and it shapes us and part of our experiences and put up our family stories that we’ve known for a long time.
My great grandfather could have been depressed and that is why he decided to commit suicide, no one was giving a clinical diagnosis of, depression, in that time period. So, what I want to say it’s not about checking the boxes and saying that is what he had, because maybe it was the grief of losing his wife and being like oh, my gosh, I have to take care of these eight, nine kids, that’s overwhelmed for anybody plus sharecropping and, racism. I’m saying I think it’s all of those things. I don’t think you can say, oh, let’s take one out.
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Bipolar faith of Black Women in America
Myrna: I understand the horrible things that our ancestors had to go through. So, you have something like, mental illness, or, depression, or something like that. But this segues right into the next question I have here. You say that, Black women, we’ve been overlooked, black women, in the United States. What do you think, Black women, have been overlooked?
Dr Monica: I’ve seen things change a lot in the last five years, but for the last five to 10 years, there’s so much more conversation. I would say, since the COVID pandemic, everybody’s got some kind of, depression. I mean, we think about how we talk about political movements, and the political activism and the voting power of, black women, and the sense that we’re going to hold it all together, we’re going to raise a family, go to work, do all things.
And oh, by the way, while you’re doing that, there’s I think, still is very much expectation that if you’re able to do the things and handle business and make ends meet, that you’re okay or even better, that you’re better than okay that you’re strong.
There’s very much a sense that if you are a person of, faith, then you should be fine. And you should be okay. You shouldn’t have challenges and problems and we have specific expressions that actually imply that. We all need some help, and I am thrilled to see more of those conversations, but I think they’re still very much sensitive to that.
The Superwoman Syndrome and the Black Woman
Myrna: I got to circle back on that the first one was the, Superwoman, tendency of, black women. And you’re right, black women, they’re raising children and a lot of times there’s no man and so they’re holding down two or three jobs and, and they pride themselves on being, Superwoman. In fact, my mom was one of them. She raised four children by herself, had two or three jobs, I came around and did the same thing. I would say, I can look after my kids, my mom did it, that’s the, Superwoman, tendency that we can do it because we’re strong.
White women, they all have husbands and who may stay home to look after their kids by choice. The second part of a circle back is that you’re saying that the, superwoman, syndrome creates some kind of, mental illness, and, depression, they should go to a doctor and get a checkup. What are you leading to with that?
Dr Monica: My friend and colleague Dr. Chanequa Walker Barnes has written a wonderful book about chocolate the strong black woman is called “Too Heavy A Yoke,” I highly recommend. Whether it’s legacies of war and poverty, these are also the ways in which black families look on legacies of slavery. And in the United States even the enslavement has manifested in parts of the African diaspora in terms of how families are structured. Even the policies and practices around what family structures look like.
Therapy wasn’t always covered by insurance, but I think it’s getting better. There are more, black therapists, and more culturally competent therapists who will understand all that people are bringing in terms of their racialized and gendered experiences.
I was raped by a fellow minister
Myrna: In, Bipolar Faith, you kind of cut yourself open and talk about some, some personal issues and personal things and you’re sharing so you can help others. So, you share some very intimate details of your life, such as living with, depression, yourself and also being raped by a fellow minister. How did that experience effect your, faith? Was there a time where you know you’re angry with God?
Dr. Coleman: I think experiences of deep suffering cause all of us to have, at the very least a hiccup in our, faith, walk. You’re going to have some kind of pain, whether it is the kinds of, traumas, that I discussed. There’s going to be some level of suffering and no one likes it. No one’s ready for it. Nobody wants to suffer. It’s not a part of the human experience that we’re happy about or that we’re going to welcome and say, hey, let’s have some pain here.
There are levels of grief. That’s all part of our life and because our spirituality and our, faith, is part of our life, it’s part of our, faith, as well. And for some people, faith, is very helpful and instrumental and holding them up and they find great resonance in the, faith community, and a lot of support there. But at some point, people don’t ask why me? Why someone I know and love died? I need some answers here.
Crisis of Faith
We act like asking why is a problem like it’s a crisis of, bipolar faith, and you’re not supposed to do it? Why do I have to do this? Why is this happening? Why it’s happening to my people? It’s a very natural part of the spiritual life to ask why. I think what doesn’t happen very often is people don’t always say, you’re going to lose the, faith.
And that’s okay. For a lot of times, there’s a sense that losing your, faith, is the end of the world and it is like heresy or some terrible thing. We’ve all lost, faith, at least once, maybe 2-3-4 times. And it is our responsibility, I would say as a, faith community, to stay with you while you find it again, and to hold the space for you, to walk with you to hold you and bring you food.
Until you and God find your way back to each other or something like that. Because of course we don’t have the same, faith, we had as five-year-olds. We don’t have the same, faith, we had as 15-year-olds, because we’ve seen more and we’ve grown more, we’ve evolved and had different kinds of experiences.
Doesn’t mean I don’t have a relationship with God. I don’t have a, faith community, but that’s not what it looks like anymore. And so yes, it definitely caused me to have some questions and to be angry and to say, what I’ve been taught, is not matching up with what I’m experiencing, and I’m trying to figure this out. So, I kept changing, faith communities, until I found one that was able to hold that space of, faith, for me.
Does Depression follow grief
Myrna: So, my circle back to that is when did you become, depressed?
Dr Monica: I really can’t quite pinpoint when did I become depressed or say Oh, well I have this very deep grief, my grandmother died when I was 13 years old. I named it as, depression. You know, my family negative, depression. I didn’t come up in a context where people were like, Let’s label this as, depression. Let’s give you some therapy. That came much later. But that’s how a lot many black families were in the 70s and 80s. No one said, let’s go to therapy like white people do.
Oh, yes, I can look back and say this was, depression. I felt that there were definitely some challenges and hard places in life. That made me sad, but to me, I was like, well, sadness is the appropriate response to some of these things. And I would later have clinicians say, well, most people feel sad in this way and you seem to be sad in a deeper way. And I’m like, oh, because I don’t know most people only know me from the inside.
Making a Way out of No Way
In many ways, I would say “Making A Way Out Of No Way” is the theory behind, Bipolar Faith. So, Bipolar Faith, is my story. It’s the story of my family. And I like to think that there is there’s some gray threads that feel like an African American story, it presents like an American story. And I think Making A Way Out Of No Way is the belief system that’s behind, Bipolar Faith. This is what I believe about community, what I believe about salvation and that salvation in the what gets us to heaven.
Salvation is the root word set out to heal, to be evolved and to make us well. Salvation is what I believe helps us to be whole and helps us to do well. And then it is making a way out of no way. But it’s really not no way, it’s just a way we can’t see. And that’s where the God part comes in. It’s, you know, God and hopefully us as you know, as creative people’s humanity and the rest of creation, working together to in the best of worlds to make the world a better place. Transforming creative ways.
Myrna: So that’s great, it’s like, blind faith. Of us knowing that regardless of how bleak it looks right now, that God is going to make a way out of no way tomorrow. Joy comes in the morning kind of thing kind of thing. So, I like that. So, do you feel that your story and, Bipolar Faith, you said that was the foundational principle? Do you feel that that is how your life progressed, that you had the spiritual power, that propelled you along and God always made a way for you to prosper?
Dr Monica: I’m not even sure if I’m prospering, I think I’m doing meaningful and I would even say needful work. Trying to creatively transform what we got, whatever we’ve inherited, into something better. Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes it’s this is what we got to work with, to transform what we have into creative ways. To make the world a better place.
Conclusion Bipolar Faith
Myrna: How can people connect with you and pick up copies of, bipolar faith, and other books?
Dr Monica: You can always pick up a copy at www.bipolarfaith.com. If you go there, you’ll find more than you ever want to know about the book. Find ways to buy it. You can also always call your local bookseller and ask them to order it for you. You can use larger online booksellers, if you prefer. If you go to www.bipolarfaith.com. I do a lot of music in the books. So, you’ll see some playlists there. You’ll see a couple of videos there. You can grab a little bundle I call, behind, bipolar faith, where there’s a workbook available if you want to do this like a reading group, for example.
And you can also hear a couple interviews from a psychiatrist and other, faith leaders, with me about, bipolar faith. You can also go to www.monicaacoleman.com and find more information about me and you can also grab a free devotional. If you go to the homepage, you’ll see a free five-day devotional there. And that’s just my gift to others a little devotional that I use for the spirituality.