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Interview with author David Rabadi

As the first Jordanian to come out publicly in Yonkers, NY, writer and mental health and LGBTQ advocate, David Rabadi learned early on in his life he couldn’t conform to the norms surrounding him, but it took some time before he spoke out about his personal truth. In his book, “How I Lost My Mind and Found Myself,” Rabadi chronicles his self-discovery with his sexual identity and mental illness.

Between an exciting writing career and certain difficult psychotic episodes, Rabadi writes about the highs and lows he traversed along his path and what he’s learned. Written with compelling honesty, his book can serve as a guiding light for others to find their path and walk into a meaningful life. Although Rabadi has received both positive and critical responses to his candor, he attests that living anything less than one’s truth robs them of a fulfilling existence.

When did your foray into writing begin?

When I first started writing, I was first doing poetry, and I remember being a senior in high school, and I just started writing how I felt. I didn’t think of myself before that as a writer. I didn’t think about wanting to write. I was just curious to write my thoughts, and I would turn them into poems. Then, ten years later, I was given this opportunity with Splash Worldwide to come on board as a journalist. I’d go to fashion week and different events that would happen around the city and just write about it. I didn’t like writing about events; I liked the part where I could interview someone. My first interview was with Nigel Barker from America’s Next Top Model. I went to fashion week, but I didn’t want to write about fashion shows. I would rather do Q&As. I thought that would be an issue for them, but it wasn’t. They were like, okay, that’s great. If you can get in contact with whoever it is that you want to, and do a Q&A, then we’re all for it. So, that’s when I started writing Q&As at 27 years old for Splash Worldwide. And it was weird because I had this opportunity that most people die for, but I kind of just fell upon this opportunity. I never thought of having a writing career before or wanting to write books. It wasn’t something that growing up I thought I wanted to do. On the journey, I started to feel like I have a story myself that I need to get out there. Writing this book has been very therapeutic and healing. I’m excited that I was able to put it out in the world. I look forward to continuing on my writing career and seeing what other opportunities may come.

I’m sure many, myself included, would call you courageous for daring to live in a way that isn’t congruent with how you grew up. What bolstered that courage and candor?

I knew that something had to change, and I knew that if I don’t make the change, then I’m hoping someone else would make the change. And I couldn’t just wait on someone else, because who knows when that would happen? Change needed to happen. I needed to come to terms with where I was at in my life, who I am in my life, and that I matter. That’s important. My memoir is about being Middle Eastern and gay and having Bipolar Disorder. So there are two stigmas I’m fighting. One is being gay. Especially in the Middle Eastern culture, it’s very taboo. And the other is having a mental illness, and they’re both used in negative lights to this day. That’s sad. I knew I didn’t want to create more mayhem in my life, so I had to take a stand and decide that I’m going to share my story and be an example of someone who was courageous enough to live their truth and inspire others to do the same. To me, it’s very sad, heart-wrenching, that still in the Middle East people get jailed or even killed for being gay. I know that it’s a lot harder for people in the Middle East. I’m lucky enough that I live in the United States, but I still lived with my family and they instilled that culture into us, me, and my siblings. I knew that if I didn’t make a change, it was just going to be a dreadful rest of my life, feeling inadequate or not good enough. In essence, I think the simplest thing to do is just accept who you are and love who you are. Everything else will fall into place.

It’s crazy that it can come at such a cost for some people. When did you realize you were different from your culture and surroundings?

I just always felt very different, but it wasn’t a good feeling. When I was about four years old, I danced in front of my cousins and family members for my aunt and uncle’s twenty-fifth-anniversary party. And a cousin came to dance beside me, but they told him to sit down because they were in awe of how I was dancing. I was belly dancing and I mimicked what my babysitter would do. They thought it was cute, and they wanted me to continue. When I finished, they clapped for me. I went into the next room and saw my cousin who wanted to dance with me, but they told him to sit down, who is a couple of years older than me. He goes, “You dance like a girl. You are a faggot.” I didn’t understand what a faggot was or what it meant, and I didn’t understand why he was saying that to me. But it kind of added to me feeling different and a sense of not belonging or fitting in. At that age, I thought it was just dancing, I didn’t think of it as a boy or girl’s way of dancing. It wasn’t explained to me in that way. I guess from about age four or five is when I felt different.

Yeah, sometimes we inherently know something about ourselves and before we have the words to explain what that feeling is. Like you described, you’re in this situation and a family member calls you out in such a derogatory way.

I remember when he did that, the feeling of wanting to dance in front of people went away. I would only want to dance by myself in my house growing up. I remember as I got older, people would ask me to dance, and I didn’t want to. You would have to pressure me to do it, because I just felt like it was wrong. It’s so weird how one thing could happen, one person could say one thing, and it could make all the difference in how you perceive yourself and how you feel about yourself for years to come.

It sounds to me, at that moment you were shamed about something, and I think, myself, also, coming from an immigrant home and being from a different culture, I think shame is very pervasive for some reason — shame about various things that may deviate from the norm of what that culture teaches. I’d love to know how you overcame that.

It wasn’t something that was easy for me to do, but I started to realize that I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m not hurting anyone. I’m not doing anything wrong with who and how I view myself and how I want my life to be. I started to come to terms with it, and the more I came to terms with it, the more I felt secure. Who I was and who I wanted to be was no longer a duality. I was just going to be who I am ... It’s not something that happened overnight, and I wish it happened a lot sooner than later. I was thirty when I came out, so it took a lifetime. I feel, if I can go back in time, the one thing I would tell my younger self is not to be afraid to be who you are and I would have come out much earlier in life, at maybe eighteen. The interesting thing is that I came out when I was thirty and then three days later, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. That was another slap in the face. I was in complete shock. I remember I experienced changes in moods, but I thought everyone experienced changes in moods. So it was another element to add to me having to find the courage to be who I am and deal with the shame of overcoming that. I think the biggest shame is people not allowing people to be who they are. They are the ones who should be ashamed. I shouldn’t have to be ashamed for being who I am.

Why do you think a stigma about mental illness still exists in some places?

Sometimes the media has a way of portraying people with mental illness as being scary and violent people. The reality is that a person with mental illness is ten times more likely to be a victim. One out of every five Americans has some form of mental illness. When close friends found out I had a mental disorder, the first thing they would say to me is, “Oh, you don’t need to let anyone know that. It’s none of anybody’s business.” It upset me. Why would I have to hide something about me? I don’t feel that’s the right advice to tell someone who has a mental illness. It’s a mood disorder that affects my mood, and I need to find treatment. I need to find a medication. I need to find the right dosage of the medication. There’s a lot of things that go into dealing with mental illness. Some people can do it without medication, some people can’t. Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder; it makes me happy or sad. It makes things overly enjoyable or puts me in a depression. It’s important I feel that people can let anyone around them know.

What do you hope your book will speak to your readers?

I just hope that it gives the message that you can feel displaced in life, and we all have at one point felt displaced in some way or somehow. I’ve faced adversities and gotten over them, so it gives hope. If I can give someone hope and the strength to be true to themselves, then all the best to them. That’s the biggest hope I wish for this book: to allow people to judge less and be braver, to accept those around them for who they are, as they want those around them to accept them for who they are.

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