Divabetic Remembers Phyllis Hyman

Wellness with a Wow

Divabetic Remembers Phyllis Hyman

We’re going ‘beyond the music’ to explore the chronic health hardships experienced by beloved musicians giving hope to others struggling with the same issues.

Singer and actress, Phyllis Hyman was best known for her soulful music during the late–1970s through the early–1990s including the songs; “You Know How to Love Me” (1979), “Living All Alone” (1986) and “Old Friend” (1991). Phyllis Hyman also performed on Broadway in the 1981 musical based on the music of Duke Ellington, Sophisticated Ladies, which ran from 1981 until 1983.

Let’s be clear, Phyllis Hyman was not living with diabetes but she was battling depression and other mental health issues throughout her life.

People with diabetes tend to suffer higher rates of depression according to research.  As many as one in five people with diabetes think about suicide, some on a daily basis. People considering suicide don’t always advertise their plans, but those with diabetes might be doing so by neglecting their diabetes management.And suicide or suicide attempts using insulin or other diabetes medications that lower blood sugar levels may not always be an easy-to-spot attempt at self-harm, they added.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1950, Phyllis Hyman was the eldest of seven children. She grew up in Philadelphia listening to a wide range of music from James Brown to Nina Simone via Karen Carpenter and Minnie Ripperton.

Her big break came when she gained the attention of the jazz drummer Norman Connors, who had something of a reputation for discovering female vocalists (including Jean Carne). In 1976, Phyllis Hyman’s sultry rendition of The Stylistics’ “Betcha By Golly Wow” proved a favorite on the R & B radio stations in the United States.

She then signed to the New-York-based Buddha record label and cut several fine tracks which became staple fare on an emerging radio format, the “quiet storm” – soul ballads played late into the night.

When she should have been soaring like the gifted songbird she was, Phyllis Hyman’s mental health issues took control of her life. She committed suicide a few days before her 45th birthday, a few hours before she was due to appear at the Apollo Theatre, in Harlem.

This is the story as reported by Ms. Hyman’s friend and manager Gelinda Garcia on Depressionmymuse.wordpress com:

“Phyllis had a philosophy about life, death and her body. Simply, she felt that because it was her life, it was also her death. Because it was her body, she had the right to do with it as she chose, including leaving it behind when she was ready to.

Although she was not a member of the Hemlock Society, she was very clear that suicide was indeed an option for those whose lives could not be managed successfully because there was just too much pain : emotionally, physically and spiritually.

About ten years earlier, Phyllis was diagnosed as being “bi-polar”, a medical term for someone who suffers from the dis-ease of manic-depression. As she got older, her disease became more and more difficult for her to manage. She elected not to use pharmaceutical medication. She elected to self medicate. Her self medication distorted her disease more and more, until she felt helpless about ever being able to recover from it.

It is important to note that she had attempted suicide twice before she actually committed suicide. Because she and I talked about suicide as an option to living a painful life, I was not surprised by her death. I was and am still very sorrowful that she actually made the decision to ascend June 30, 1995.“

“As an artist, she sang her desperation. “She has a song that is a soundtrack of her entire life, ‘You Just Don’t Know What I’ve Been Going Through,’ ” said Frank Sheffield, Hyman’s long-time friend who managed the jazz station at Hampton (Va.) University, where Hyman often appeared.

The connection point between diabetes and suicide is depression. About 16 percent of the general population experience depression, but the percentage is nearly doubled among those with diabetes. 

In Everyday Health Ed Cook, who was diagnosed with diabetes 38 years ago gradually lost his vision and then his driver’s license, his business, and most recently, one toe to amputation, depression infiltrated his life. A religious person, he struggled against thoughts of suicide and sought help.

“The complications led me to severe depression,” Cook admitted. He entered treatment, which included anti-depressants for a time, and he now regularly attends both therapy and support groups. “It helps to know I am not alone,” he said. “Diabetes is not the end of the world.”

But Cook also acknowledges that his battle is not over. Periodically, he still feels some despair as he continues to face the screenings and health assessments, such as vascular checkups, that are intended to catch complications before they do too much damage. Still, through prayer and therapy, he said, he’s come to see that even now he has a role and a purpose. “I try to be an encouragement to people,” he said.

Are You Feeling Suicidal? 

No matter how much pain you’re experiencing right now, you’re not alone. Some of the finest, most admired, needed, and talented people have been where you are now. Feeling suicidal is not a character defect, and it doesn’t mean that you are crazy, or weak, or flawed. It only means that you have more pain than you can cope with right now.

The pain of depression can be treated and hope can be renewed. No matter what your situation, there are people who need you, places where you can make a difference, and experiences that can remind you that life is worth living. It takes real courage to face death and step back from the brink. You can use that courage to face life, to learn coping skills for overcoming depression, and for finding the strength to keep going. Remember:

  1. Your emotions are not fixed – they are constantly changing. How you feel today may not be the same as how you felt yesterday or how you’ll feel tomorrow or next week.
  2. Your absense would create grief and anguish in the lives of friends and loved ones.
  3. There are many things you can still accomplish in your life.
  4. There are sights, sounds, and experiences in life that have the ability to delight and lift you – and that you would miss.
  5. Your ability to experience pleasurable emotions is equal to your ability to experience distressing emotions.

Mental health conditions such as depression, and bipolar disorder are treatable with changes in lifestyle, therapy, and medication. Most people who seek help can improve their situation and recover.

Take these immediate steps: Promise not to do anything right now, avoid drugs and alchohol, make your home safe, and don’t keep these suicidal feelings to yourself.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 1-800273-8255

Off-Off Broadway Soul Divas Night Out Presents Strength of a Woman: A Phyllis Hyman Tribute Experience Starring Queen Diva is an intimate 75 minute concert that is a celebration of Phyllis Hyman’s musical legacy. Featuring Sonja Elise Freeman, ASCAP Singer/Songwriter, Author, Teacher, Mental Health Awareness & Suicide Prevention Advocate will sing her favorite songs to celebrate the life and musical legacy of the Legendary Songstress Phyllis Linda Hyman. BUY TICKETS

Join us for the inaugural Fandross Festival presented by the Vandross Family Estate and Divabetic celebrating the musical legacy of Luther Vandross and raising awareness for the prevention of diabetes health-related complications such as stroke on Saturday, May 12, 2018, 6:30 -9:30 PM at SVA Theater. BUY TICKETS 


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