I remember years ago when I first saw Bassey Ikpi perform on Def Poetry Jam. I was speechless. Little did I know she struggled with Bipolar. Ikpi has since, over the past years, revealed her struggle with the illness.
AML artists, please pay attention to this post because there have been several studies showing a link with the creative arts (particularly music community) and mental illness.
Bassey recently granted an interview to Pamela Stitch of Pamelastitch.com and she is very candid about her struggle with the illness and her project called SIWE, meant to create awareness and help others suffering with it.
Bassey Ikpi is a Nigerian born poet/writer who was a featured cast member of the National Touring Company of the Tony Award winning Broadway show, Russell Simmon’s Def Poetry Jam. Not a stranger to the stage, her poetry has also opened shows by Grammy Award winning artists, has earned her an appearance on the NAACP Image Awards as part of a tribute to Venus and Serena Williams, and has positioned her as a featured performer for Johannesburg, South Africa’s annual arts festival, Joburg Arts Alive. Most recently, Bassey headlined the Three Rivers Arts Festival; and as it relates to media, she has graced the pages of such notable publications as Nylon, Marie Claire, Glamour and Bust.
With social commentary being a focus of her work, Bassey recorded an original poem for the Kaiser Foundation’s, HIV/AIDS campaign, Knowing Is Beautiful. She works as a freelance writer for several social media outlets on the topic of mental health, and is currently an Artist-In-Residence at several Philadelphia area schools. In addition to her writing, this past summer Bassey embarked on a 3 city tour, appropriately called “Basseyworld Live”, which infused poetry and interactive panel discussions on everything from politics to pop culture – with a huge emphasis on mental health issues. Not only did she headline each show, but she also moderated the panel discussions, which included special invited guests from various industries such as art, film and journalism.
As a mental health advocate, Bassey is currently working on a memoir documenting her life living with Bipolar II Disorder.
Watch Bassey Perform ‘Homeward’ on Def Jam
Check out an excerpt of her latest interview with Pamela Stitch of Pamelastitch.com:
I know you mentioned that you were diagnosed as having bipolar disorder – did you know that something was wrong before the diagnosis? What prompted the need to go meet a professional considering that many of African descent generally prefer not to do that?
Bassey: Yes. I’ve known there was something “wrong” since I was about 8 years old. I just didn’t have the language for it. It wasn’t until I was in college and had severe issues dealing with classwork and even getting out of bed that I went to see a counselor. She was unqualified to help so I sort of just went through the motions of depression and hypomania doing the work when it suited me and sleeping or resting when I needed to. I ultimately dropped out of college and moved to New York where I was much “happier” but in reality just learned to manage my moods a bit better or hide them rather.
It wasn’t until I was on tour with Def Poetry Jam that things really started crashing down. I was slowly falling apart not eating, crying all day, not sleeping, I was able to pull it together in time for the show but afterwards, I would be back on the hotel floor crying my eyes out. I had a major breakdown at a show in Chicago. I had a major anxiety attack over a missing eye shadow and I couldn’t stop crying and trembling and ended up crawling underneath the sink in my dressing room, in the fetal position just sobbing. Our stage Manager, Alice, who had noticed for months that something was wrong and had attempted to speak to me about it, crawled in after me and held me and just rocked me. She said, and I’ll never forget this, “If you don’t get help, you’re going to die” .They sent me home the next day and she had a list of doctors for me to call. About 4 of them. I made appointments because I wanted to get “cured” and get back to work. I lied to the first three. I wanted them to tell me I was normal. One told me I needed to sleep more and prescribed sleeping pills. The other told me I had a fear of success. One told me that I was anorexic. The last one, I was just exhausted and having an episode, crying on the train to get to her and I told her, “I want to lie to you so you can tell me I’m okay but I’m not. Something’ wrong and I’m scared.” She spoke to me for about 30 minutes then called the psychiatrist (or pdoc) that she worked with and told me I needed to go see him that second. I went and after 15 minutes I had a bipolar II diagnosis. Which I was certain he had made up.
Pamelastitch.com has the full story.