In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’m going to revisit an interview I did with a St. Louis playwright DDare Bionic in 2019. His play, called “My Infinite Sadness” addresses the stigma associated with mental illness, specifically within the Black community. The revisiting of this interview was inspired by a brave piece of poetry “Black Families, Black Pain” by Lewis Alton.
First, the poem:
Too many of us living like we're okay,
if you ready I got a couple things to say,
when I say I'm depress,
black folks take it like it's a joke,
like it's not that serious,
telling them I got touch they think I'm
Hide the secrets deep,
trying to find ways to cope,
because whenever I try to vent,
they take it as a joke.
Telling everyone else like it's suppose
to be okay,
try looking for help but all I ever hear is "pray."
Can't wear certain clothes
when family is around
because I got raped by the man
who held it down.
I open up,
they tell me I'm crazy.
This is the black pain.
When I leave, they're going to say,
"She was a good kid.
Don't know why she went insane."
As we carry the family secret
saying God's name in vain.
The playwright DDare Bionic is also a model and an artist, and I’m featuring him, as well as Lewis Alton, on my blog to address some of the challenges associated with being a person of color and dealing with the ramifications of mental illness, specifically depression.
Many of the Black community, especially older generations, deal with depression and other mental illnesses in a way that Alton touched upon in his poem “Black Families, Black Pain” – by bottling it up and not discussing it. This is due to mistrust of doctors, spirituality, religion, and misconceptions surrounding mental illness.
DDare, tell us about “My Infinite Sadness”. What inspired it? (Cliché, I know, but I have to know!) It’s so brave of you to tackle depression, especially with the shame associated with mental illness, even more so because of the stigma associated with depression in African-Americans.
I love answering this question! I was asked by a local playwright named Shannon Geier whom I simply adore to write a short piece about mental health and a 10 minute play called “Do You Miss Me?” was born. It was a conversation between two people “Me” and “You” and was told entirely from the subconscious.
I was feeling crazy-inspired having wanted to write a play about mental health for a long time, and a year and so later “My Infinite Sadness” was born from the premise of “Do You Miss Me?”. I wanted to talk about how I personify my Depression and how that helps me to differentiate its voice from my own. I also (with this production specifically) wanted to speak directly to the African-American community because of the stigma. We need to talk about mental health and know that we aren’t exempt simply because we have melanin. And that it’s okay to seek help and education about mental health.
What do your characters do when they’re not embodied in the world of “My Infinite Sadness”?
I’ve thought a lot about this question and I’m still really unsure how to respond. “Me” the person living with Depression, has lines in the show about writing poetry and music and singing and being an artist. That’s because that character is modeled after me. “You” the physical embodiment of Depression is a little trickier. I could take the easy route and say something about Depression ruining lives, because it does, but I find myself feeling almost sympathetic for it. The main reason it’s so taboo is because it’s entirely misunderstood.
How did watching your play being acted out change how you felt about writing it? I would imagine it’s an exhilarating experience seeing your words coming to life. How did that make you feel?
To quote myself at an early tech rehearsal “I did that in my brain!”. It’s a whole new type of satisfaction. It’s insane to see images you saw in your head while writing the piece come to life. It makes you want to never stop writing.
This interview was originally done in January 2019. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get in touch with this playwright since then; otherwise, I would tackle more questions regarding mental health, but I still thought this was an interview worth sharing during Mental Health Awareness Month.