When Rwenshaun Miller stepped in front of an audience to deliver a message about different labels that are attached to him, the first two labels were apparent.
“As y'all can see, my first label that I want to introduce to you is that I'm black, but then also I'm a man,” Miller said.
Miller was invited to speak at a TEDx event. A TEDx event is a local gathering where live TED-like talks and performances are shared with the community.
Society seems to label people all the time. From being labeled as an athlete, smart, talented, a label can be an impression of a person, but Miller says no one label defines the whole person.
Growing up in the Bertie County, North Carolina with a population of just over 20,000, Miller is a talented athlete and scholar. He grew up a three sport-athlete, graduated near the top of his class, got an academic scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and walked onto its football team and track team.
“Long story short, I was the man,” Miller said.
But in 2006, he gained a new label: Bipolar. Bipolar I disorder, also known as manic-depressive disorder, is a form of mental illness.
“I sat in the psychiatric ward of a hospital during my sophomore year of college,” he said.
His family escorted him to the hospital after they recognized his first psychotic break. During this period, he lost about 25 pounds over a matter of six weeks and went through a time where he wouldn't leave his dorm room.
He thought that “the man” couldn't have a mental health label attached to him.
“Because once people found out about this label, then comes the label of being crazy. Nobody wants to be called crazy, so I had to keep that label close to my chest,” Miller said
Now, outside of all the symptoms that he was experiencing, he said, came the label of fear and shame.
Through his initial stages, Miller started to see a therapist and taking medication. He got better, so he decided that he was cured.
“My ego told me that I could thrive without being in treatment, so I stopped,” Miller said, “I wanted to get back to being the man.”
However, his symptoms returned.
He started self-medicating with alcohol and was going through a fifth of tequila every other day which went on for years. During this period of trying to ignore his bipolar label, he picked up another label. The label was being a survivor of attempting to die by suicide three times.
Miller said that it was the lowest point of his life.
Through tears and a lot of self-reflection, he went back in treatment, started medication and therapy again and got better.
“I started to notice that friends and family were suffering the same way I was,” Miller said.
Miller said the emotional and social retreat linked to depression may force its sufferers to be less likely to ask friends and family for help.
Since his journey began, he has picked up a few more labels -- writer, speaker, therapist, mentor, artist and gym rat -- but said these labels helped him manage the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder.
These labels helped him learn his protective factors, stressors and triggers.
“I can't change anything unless I know about them,” Miller said. “I want to challenge anyone who has the label of any mental health challenge and embrace your other labels. You are more than this that one particular label.”
For anybody that doesn't have a mental health diagnosis, Miller wants them to understand what their labels mean to individuals that they love and care about and to find ways to support that individual not to ostracize them.
“I learned to embrace every other label that was given to me or I gave to myself,” Miller said. “I'm not a person that suffers from bipolar disorder. I live with it. With healthy support, I thrive with bipolar disorder.”
Miller is now an award-winning psychotherapist, whose personal mission is to make a social change in how individual acknowledge, address, and treat mental health challenges. He is the founder and executive director of Eustress Inc., a nonprofit based in North Carolina.
If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte public affairs manager, at Kevin.Campbell@wsoctv.com.
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