According to Me

I'm Not a Bitch, I Just Look Like One by Diamond Coleman

Ever since I was a toddler, I’ve had people tell me either directly or say behind my back that I "look mean" or “like a bitch.” And my best friend, whom I first met in my late teens in a dance program, felt no different. “Not even gonna lie, dude. I thought you were a complete bitch when I first saw you,” she told me, probably while we were both stuffing our faces because, honestly, we love to eat.

“Yeah,” I said, “I get that a lot.” And that is true; I really do get that a lot. It’s almost to the point where I expect people to think I’m mean before they even talk to or get to know me. (I should probably preface everything I'm going to say in this post with this: I don't always look mean in public when I'm by myself, just the majority of the time.)

But expecting this perception of who I am upon first glance doesn’t mean that I’m OK with it. I really hate giving off the vibe that I’m unapproachable, because nine times out of ten I want people to approach or talk to me. Not only does that alleviate some of the anxiety I get when meeting new people, but it also is a clear indication that people think I look nice enough to just start a conversation with.

Sure, there are times, although rarely, when I look super uninterested and irritated because, well, I just am. As people, we all get annoyed and rubbed the wrong way in certain situations and sometimes it’s just impossible to conceal it.

As years have passed, though, I’ve realized that my cold countenance–which in today’s modern world has been coined “Resting Bitch Face” (RBF)–is a part of who I am. Does it suck that most people who first lay eyes on me think I’m cold-hearted and stuck-up? Of course. And as much as I’ve tried to alter my facial expressions in everyday life (i.e., walking down the street, going shopping, getting on and off public transportation) on a continual basis, it’s not that simple for me.

Maybe it’s a defense mechanism. OK, it most definitely is a defense mechanism, at least in certain situations, anyways. When my anxiety is acting up and I feel as if I'm not in control of it, my RBF is in full effect. (For some background, you can read more about my anxiety here.) But because I've been mean-mugging since I was rocking knockers in my pigtails (read: since I was a toddler), it's a little difficult to just stop.

And then that begs the question: Should I change? And if I do, would I be doing it solely because I don't like what people think when they first see me, or would I be doing it for myself? Well, I know that one obvious benefit of changing would be that I would interact with strangers more often, especially in places that I frequent, like train stations and coffee shops. (I mean, what single woman doesn't want to meet a cute guy in Starbucks and strike up a conversation about the CDs on display near the register while you both wait in line?)

On one hand, I think I should learn to accept my RBF simply because it's been a part of me for so long. Also, because it is a part of my personality, depending on the circumstances. But on the other, I think I'd be doing my well-being a disservice if I just became complacent with perpetually looking mean or sad. After all, when you radiate happiness and smile often, you attract positivity and good vibes from others.

And that's what I desire most–to exude true joy even in the most adverse of times and then transfer it to those around me, even to people I don't know. And I really have been smiling a little more lately, partly because I want to seem approachable, but mainly because I witness a positive shift in mindset when I do.

Now, I'm not saying that I should just go around talking to random people all day just for the hell of it. But I do believe that when you have positive interactions with strangers, especially in the morning, it can improve your day. Besides, sometimes talking to strangers is just fun.

So, to all you passerby that I’ve come across–whether it be in the street, on the train, or in a bar–I’m not a bitch, I just look like one.

Header image: via T.R.G./Flickr Creative Commons

Empire's Take On Bipolar Disorder is Real by Diamond Coleman

It's no surprise that mental illness is a topic that is not discussed nearly enough in most non-white communities. As a black person who suffers from anxiety and knows others who have a mental disorder, however, I’ve witnessed firsthand the ways in which we generally treat one of our own having one. It’s true that we all know someone—whether it be a brother, sister, best friend, or parent—who is plagued with a mental illness, but I find that the issue is oftentimes swept under the rug. By refusing to educate ourselves and talk about it in a public forum, we inevitably set our community up for failure.

How is one supposed to seek help without the fear of being judged if the issue is rarely talked about in the first place? How does one find solace in knowing that they’re not alone in this kind of suffering if others who have a mental disorder are silenced?

This is why when the TV show Empire unveiled one of its pivotal characters, Andre Lyon, as having bipolar disorder, I was thankful to creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong for bringing to light a reality that many black individuals face. I cannot remember the last time I saw a black person on TV or in a movie—a dramatization or not—who struggled with a mental disorder. Usually, it’s a white woman à la Toni Collette in United States of Tara, or a severely troubled white teen like Jake Gyllenhaal in the dark-drama film Donnie Darko.

Yes, these stories are real for many individuals regardless of race, but the mere fact that black people are often left out of the narrative makes it seem as if it’s not real for us.

While the show’s portrayal of bipolar disorder has been criticized by many for its inaccuracy and disregard for depicting the nuances of the illness, I believe that there exists someone who battles with it in the same manner that Andre does. That is not to say that his experience is representative of bipolar disorder as a whole, but that it is relatable in one way or another.

Andre’s illness has worsened as of late, mainly due to the fact that he made the irrational decision to stop taking his meds. This choice resulted in his having extreme emotional highs and lows all within the span of a single day, a turning point of the series that criticizers perceive as unrealistic. As someone who doesn’t have bipolar disorder and has never suffered from a mental illness, I cannot deem Andre’s drastic and quick change in moods unreal. It would be unfair of me to draw such a conclusion.

What some criticizers don’t take into account, though, is that Andre’s disorder is unfolding on a half-season TV show, which means that there is an obligation, to a certain extent, to accelerate and exaggerate the progression of his disorder. Empire is a show that is inherently melodramatic, so it’s only natural that some of its characters are hyperbolized. Also, the show only has so much time allotted to engage viewers, so it makes sense that Andre’s character has developed so quickly.

Andre Lyon is not the quintessential depiction of someone who has bipolar disorder; no one who has it is. But he represents some of those financially successful, young black men who, despite the many 0s in their bank account and the obstacles they've overcome in America, also have to deal with a mental disorder. And, quite frankly, I think it’s about damn time that we start a discourse on the role that mental health plays in many black persons' lives.

Instead of picking apart Empire for all the ways in which it fails to convey a more “real” example of bipolar disorder, let’s appreciate it for, at the very least, encouraging our society to examine such a highly ignored and misunderstood issue in the black community.

Images: Ojo de vidrio/Flickr; Dean812/Flickr