In her new memoir, Strengthening Your Identity While the Shadow Is in Front of You, Mwati Mwila shares her life story of experiencing diversity, finding her identity, and learning how to be strong in the face of turmoil, including being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Mwati is a true citizen of the world, and readers will be fascinated by and possibly envious of her many global adventures. Born in Zambia, Mwati moved, while still a young child, with her parents, two older sisters, and younger brother to Australia and New Zealand where she attended school. Even at a young age, she was aware that she was different from her classmates because of her skin color, and at times, she experienced racism and prejudice as a result. These experiences led her to question what it meant to be African when she was not in her native country.
Not all of her experiences were negative, however. Mwati shares many stories of her travels and also of the many good times she had as a child with her siblings and classmates. In later years, she would learn the power that those memories had to help her stay strong, and she would also appreciate how the years of traveling kept her family members tightly knit so that they became close and supported each other each time they were faced with adapting to a new culture and environment.
During her teen years, Mwati moved with her family to the Seattle area, and it was then that she really was able to embrace an identity she felt comfortable with. In Australia and New Zealand, she’d had limited exposure to black culture, but in the United States, she could watch BET and listen to R&B and hip hop and various black artists on the radio. She adopted black fashion and culture, and she felt she was finally able to express her true self.
But this happy period of her life was short-lived. By the time Mwati entered college, she began to experience some unsettling health issues, including blacking out. Soon, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her illness would at times regress and allow her to live a normal life, but then it would flare up and cause her to become depressed and even suicidal. In these pages, Mwati openly shares how she battled her illness and eventually came to terms with it, learning what might have set it off and how to avoid actions such as eating sugar that would make it worse.
Mwati also continued her world travels as a direct result of her illness. Her mother was unwilling simply to accept her illness and see her daughter suffer. Together, they set about finding a cure or at least a way to make living with bipolar disorder easier for Mwati. This illness was the “shadow” that was always there in front of Mwati, but it taught her how to be strong and to value herself and the gifts she had. Her mother’s determination to find answers for her led Mwati on spiritual journeys to countries like Brazil, where they met with the living saint John of God, as well as to Nigeria, and also back home to Zambia to receive counsel from her grandmother.
Today, Mwati Mwila is a strong young woman who is not letting her bipolar disorder stop her from doing all she can to make the world a better place. She is sharing her story through these pages, hoping it will help others also learn to be strong, no matter what forms of adversity they face.
Throughout the book, Mwati offers motivational quotes she has written, including, “There are some things in life that you can only learn by being broken down,” to give people inspiration and hope. Finally, each chapter ends with one or more Reflection Questions so people can think about what they have just read, ask themselves how it applies to their own lives, and determine what changes they may need to make to improve their lives.
I greatly admire Mwati Mwila for her honesty and her willingness not to hide in the shadows but to come forward and share her story so it will help others. I’m sure her book will give hope to many.