DMX and Mental Health in the Black Community

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By Jennifer “Love” Carter

My heart was heavy when I first learned DMX aka Earl Simmons was fighting for his life after a reported overdose. I’m heartbroken now that he has passed away. I was a young adult when he crashed onto the music scene. He mesmerized me with his deep voice and the cadence in which he spoke. No one sounded like him. DMX had me singing and thinking I was a Ruff Ryder even though riding  motorcycles terrified me. On occasion I still bark, though weakly, after quoting his infamous lyrics from ”What’s My Name,” “You think it’s a game?! You think it’s is a f—–g game!” I would sing along the names to his hit “What these B—–s Want,” featuring Sisqo of Dru Hill. I felt slighted because he mentioned in the song three Kims, but not once did he mention my name, Jennifer. I digress. While many focused on his drug use throughout the years I thought about what may have exasperated his drug use, his battles with mental illness.

Earl’s life was the epitome of struggle. He grew up in a single parent home. His mom often took out her anger on him. His uncle would notice that when he came over he would bear the bruises and marks from the abuse. With little attention from his mom and no father figure, Earl misbehaved at school. He was removed from a traditional school and sent to a school that was part educational & part penal. It was there music had become his saving grace. He went through different institutions but always wanted to go home. Unfortunately, there was no home for him. He would lay his head wherever he could. With no consistent place to call home and no structure, Earl looked up to adults who didn’t always have his best interest at heart. It was at the age of 14 he was introduced to drugs by one of his role models. He supplied him with a blunt with marijuana and laced with crack.

Earl battled mental illness. He was candid about suffering from bipolar disorder, which causes mood swings between mania and depression. Also, in an episode of BET’s “Ruff Ryders Chronicles” he spoke about his multiple personalities. “They’re different things. There’s a few things, a few people in me — they get me through life,” said DMX.

When asked by the interviewer what he wanted people to know about them he replied, “I wouldn’t want anyone to know anything about those people. I don’t talk about them. You already got me talking about them. Nope. … They’re there to get me through life. I don’t know if I made them or if God gave them to me, or maybe circumstances and situations did,” he stated, while beginning to get emotional.

I believe his mental illness played a part in his drug use. I think he used drugs as a way to cope with his emotional burdens and symptoms. Earl admitted to using drugs as a way out. I think he carried so much weight on his shoulders. He went from rags to riches. He went from the little boy his mother didn’t really want to an international icon who was loved — while living with mental illness. It’s the kind of thing people dream of, but it is overwhelming to handle.

Earl, DMX, being vocal about being bipolar is important because in the black community these are things that have not always been openly addressed. Growing up I heard things like a person being “touched in the head” and being “looney” not realizing these were code words for someone living with mental illness.

According to www.hepguide.org “roughly 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse. 37 percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers have at least one serious mental illness.” I grew up in a church where taking medication for a mental illness was frowned upon. It was the belief that if you had those issues it was because you weren’t praying enough, you didn’t have faith and many other non-sensical ideology.

These things have only perpetuated false narratives around mental illness. It makes it difficult for people to seek help. It also alienates people who are struggling from talking about it as well. We must also take into account that racism affects our mental health. We see damaging images from police brutality. We experience some form of racism on a regular basis. Whether it is systematic, structural, or an actual event. There is a reason why racism has been declared a public health crisis in Cleveland.

As Black people these things can all have a negative effect on our mental health and physical health as well. We must be the ones to bring the conversation about mental illness to our friends, families and communities. We must normalize that people struggle with sickness of the body and the mind. We must learn to advocate the need for education and conversations around mental illness.

I’d like to remind people that Earl, DMX, was a man of God. He was not shy about his beliefs. It was common for him to end his shows in a prayer, often in tears. Even as he fought his own demons, he still used his life to be a light for others. In his passing, I hope his light continues to shine and illuminate the lives of people with drug addiction, mental illness, and other struggles. I pray his life is a testimony to keep fighting, keep trying and keep the faith. Don’t give up! Get the help you need.

I leave you with these words from DMX. “You don’t come to terms with something before you do it. It’s only after you’ve done it that you realize, you know, maybe that wasn’t the best thing to do. Sometimes you gotta fall down to know the feeling of getting up.”