Monica A. Coleman’s great-grandfather asked his two young sons to lift him up and pull out the chair when he hanged himself, and that noose stayed in the family shed for years. The rope was the violent instrument, but it was mental anguish that killed him. Now, in gripping fashion, Coleman examines the ways that the legacies of slavery, war, sharecropping, poverty, and alcoholism mask a family history of mental illness. Those same forces accompanied her into the black religious traditions and Christian ministry. All the while, she wrestled with her own bipolar disorder.
Bipolar Faith is both a spiritual autobiography and a memoir of mental illness. In this powerful book, Monica Coleman shares her life-long dance with trauma, depression, and the threat of death. Citing serendipitous encounters with black intellectuals like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Angela Davis, and Renita Weems, Coleman offers a rare account of how the modulated highs of bipolar II can lead to professional success, while hiding a depression that even her doctors rarely believed. Only as she was able to face her illness was she able to live faithfully with bipolar. And in the process, she discovered a new and liberating vision of God.
Excerpt from Chapter 1:
“The South Carolina cousins placed buckets of fried chicken on the piano bench, and my faith decreased and my depression increased with each wing that was eaten. We treated Grandma’s funeral like a family reunion. ‘Have you got yourself some chicken, baby?’ ‘Who’s your Mama?’ ‘Are LePearl and them here yet?’ ‘She always adored you grandchildren.’ The brown wrinkled fingers picked up a napkin and wiped a bit of grease from the side of a mouth. As the relatives stood up, the plastic covering on the pale blue sofa made a creaking sound.
“I was thirteen, and too young, my parents said, to wear a black dress. So I’m donned a navy dress with a Peter Pan collar with soft yellow and blue lace trim on the sleeves that my great-aunt sewed just for the day. I slid into the back of the limousine with my two first cousins. It was the first time I saw a dead body. I stood in front of the casket and looked for a long time. I stared so long that I swore I saw Grandma’s chest move up and down. Not much, just a little. I wanted to yell and grab Mama and tell her to call the doctors and morticians and say that a mistake has been made and Grandma is not really dead. Just very sick. I blinked again, and everything was still.”
About Monica Coleman
Monica A. Coleman is Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions at Claremont School of Theology in southern California. There she also serves as a Co-Director the Center for Process Studies and Director of Process and Faith. Coleman has earned degrees from Harvard University, Vanderbilt University and Claremont Graduate University. She has received funding from leading foundations in the United States, including the Ford Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation, among others.
Answering her call to ministry at 19 years of age, Coleman is an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“I’m very excited about Rev. Dr. Monica Coleman’s new book, Bipolar Faith. The church – and broader society – must do a much better job engaging issues of mental health, and Dr. Coleman’s powerful story sets us on the right path. This will be a helpful resources for pastors and congregants across the country.” – Joshua DuBois,
Author of The President’s Devotional: The Daily Readings That Inspired President Obama
“In America, in Black America, we do not like to talk about pain, about trauma, about grief, about sadness, about depression. We work hard, we live, we survive, we pass the scars of emotional wars from one generation to another like a birthright, like a family heirloom. Monica Coleman’s story is our story, her family is your family, and mine too. Bipolar Faith is one Black woman’s journey through depression and faith, yes. But it is also the saga of an individual, a family, and a community that needs to confront itself, once and for all, so there is actual healing and redemption in a way that truly liberates. Brilliant and fearless with her writing and with her voice, Monica Coleman’s freedom train is one we all need to board.” – Kevin Powell, Author of The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood