Happy Birthday to Me — ‘Draptomania’ and Healing

Benaias Esayeas
5 min readSep 6, 2022

I just completed another trip around the sun and I can’t help but feel blessed to celebrate another year of life!

Happy Birthday Benaias Esayeas

27 was a wild year. If you’ve been following my medium articles, you can tell that it’s been a mentally taxing year for me. A lot of people were concerned about me. One mentor even asked me if I was manic or hypomanic. Contending with moral injury from a corrupt environment and feeling out of alignment with my purpose, I took a leave of absence from medical school.

In that time:

I did a lot of soul-searching.

Personal development. Shoutout to me for doing the work lol

Business development. Shoutout to Samson Wodajo with Axum Global Consulting & Joseph Bazelais with Ether Collective LLC

Leadership development. Shoutout to the Black Nashville Assembly & Southern Movement Committee for their Leadership Training Institute & Dr. Ijeoma for the AIMART — Antiracism in Medicine Action Round Table

Here are some lessons I learned/ reaffirmed:

Sometimes, you have to build your own table instead of begging for a seat at theirs.

It’s easier to build from scratch instead of wasting time trying to reform what isn’t broken but intentionally RIGGED.

It’s easy to criticize and destroy but harder to build. Your time is better spent doing the latter.

Healing happens in the community

No One Is Free Until We Are All Free

Things I’m still learning:

How to leverage institutional accountability to improve material conditions for all stakeholders

Prioritizing Rest

I’m not gonna lie, I was hella depressed at first and I’m still figuring out my next steps, but I couldn’t be happier with where I am now.

My dreams are much bigger than the greed of western medicine.

I’m working to create an institution that prioritizes the healing of disenfranchised and intentionally marginalized communities @BMHVillage Black Mental Health Village — Check out the work that we’re doing and support us! In one of our programs, Abolition in Mental Health, I talk about Draptomania.

In 1851, Samuel Cartwright, a physician who faked his apprenticeship with the “Father of Psyhatriarty”, presented a paper to the Medical Society of Louisiana in which he offered his diagnosis of a “disease of the mind” that “induces the negro to run away.” He called this purported mental disease drapetomania. Black people were considered mentally ill for refusing to live in bondage. But don’t worry, there's a cure. And what was the treatment for this illness? The cure for ‘drapetomania’ was severe whippings and amputation of the toes.

A white man who wasn’t even a doctor used the field of medicine to back white supremacist claims that provided white southerners a legal claim to control and disfigure the bodies of Black people. He embedded racism into the fabric of our mental healthcare system and the state used mental illness as an excuse to control Black political dissenters. This shows how labels are only helpful when it helps you get the care that you need. Otherwise, labels (in the wrong hands) are often used to harm and make certain people vulnerable to control. It’s also important to understand that stigma around mental health exists because of the historical and current impacts of racism.[Check out the next Abolition in Mental Health Training for more information].

Other than having ADHD (don’t get me started on ADHD), I do not consider myself to be neurodivergent. I am not hypomanic or manic [stigma disclaimer: there is nothing wrong with being hypomanic or manic]. But looking back, I don’t consider what I experienced to be just moral injury. That was textbook draptomania. I had a violent need to be free.

I wanted, expected, and demanded more from an institution than they were prepared to provide. At best, they could teach me how to join a violent system that disproportionately kills Black and indigenous patients(if I learned to keep my mouth shut long enough). But I longed to be free. To act radically to address the underlying issues. So I left to reassess my values. To act intentionally (guided by principle) rather than compulsively (guided by fear and conditioned patterns of behavior).

Better to be a Black man with draptomania than a House Nigga (Black Agent of Capitalism)!

I am because I be.

I be because I see a need that must be met without greed.

I’m 28 now.

“We wasn’t suppose to make it past 25

Joke’s on you we still alive

Throw your hands up in the sky and say

‘We don’t care what people say’” — Kanye West

I’ve always been worried about making an impact ASAP because I constantly have the nagging feeling that my time on Earth is limited. (I’m sure it has nothing to do with viral media depictions of Black bodies getting murdered by the state.) However, in this chapter of my life, I care more about the sustainability of my impact.

I made it to 28 because I choose myself. I choose to heal. I choose to take care of myself instead of trying to live by someone else’s timeline or expectations.

Fuck your resilience. I know my value and worth. I’m courageous. I’m a force to be reckoned with.

If there are any medical students feeling uncertain about their future, just know it's going to be okay. If you put 1/2 the energy and time that you put into medicine into another passion, you’ll be just fine.

If there is anyone struggling with their mental health, let me reassure you, IT IS MORE THAN OKAY to take time off to save yourself. You matter that much!

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this thought.

Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

So why do we stay and cope in the same toxic environments [schools, jobs, family dynamics, ‘friend’ groups, social media, etc] that are producing our symptoms of mental illness (there's a difference between having a mental illness and displaying symptoms of a mental illness)?

What do we call a system of healthcare that medicates people (often to subdue them) for their natural reaction to living in a violent & traumatic society, without seeking to change the societal conditions that produce the symptoms of mental illness that later become conditioned responses (what we call a mental illness), when left unchecked?

How can we heal our society if we can’t collectively identify the root issues?

In this violent society, Draptomania is the first step to healing. Draptomania is resistance.



Benaias Esayeas

Neuroscience BA from Amherst College — Passionate about Health Equity — Advocate for Medicare for All and Universal Basic Income — BLM