Psychiatric wards are not typically places where dreams are born. But five years ago, as artist Nikki Lynette sat in a mental health facility on the outskirts of Chicago, she realized that the feelings of hopelessness and alienation that had led to her suicide attempt was something she shared with an entire ward of women.
In September of 2016, AllHipHop.com published Nikki’s article Black People Don’t Do Suicide: How The Stigma Around Mental Health Almost Killed Me. Shortly after came her popular video series for Afropunk. She went on to become one of the loudest voices in the mental health conversation.
Nikki Lynette is a performer, a multimedia visual artist, a playwright and a filmmaker. Her TEDx Talk about her suicide recovery has amassed over 27,000 views since its release four months ago.
In April she was awarded Ambassador of the Year by NAMI, the largest grassroots mental health organization in the country. She hosts About A Girl, an iHeartRadio podcast produced by the creators of several popular pods such as Here Comes the Break, a collaboration between Double Elvis and Def Jam, voiced by Asante Blackk from the show This Is Us.
Nikki’s music is featured in popular tv shows, including the upcoming season of Work In Progress on Showtime. She is the first black woman to have a play produced by American Music Theatre Project. The sold-out debut of Get Out Alive in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s LookOut series garnered offers for extended runs at playhouses in Chicago and Nashville, but when the pandemic shuttered theaters, her director Roger Ellis encouraged her to adapt the play to film. A month after completion, the movie was invited into its first film fest, and Nikki will be visiting Montreal in August to perform at the kickoff event for the Au Contraire Film Festival.
August will also see Get Out Alive make its North American première at the BronzeLens Film Festival, a charter member of Ava Duvernay’s ARRAY network. Nikki has recently been asked to deliver a pilot for Happy Songs About Unhappy Things, the docuseries she has produced since 2018. And on July 1st, Haven Chicago announced Get Out Alive will return to the stage in 2022 with a full production in The Den Theatre, located in the heart of Chi-town’s trendy Wicker Park neighborhood. Nikki Lynette should be basking in the positive attention coming her way. Instead, since completing her film in March, she’s been withdrawn.
“If I’m not stable, I’m not gonna be on social media.” While many struggle to admit feeling mentally unstable, Nikki mentions it as casually as acknowledging a headache or stuffy nose. “When I’m triggered, I isolate. I’m working on it,” she discloses. Nikki is very public about her diagnosis of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) and it is common for sufferers to disengage in times of overwhelm. When it comes to balancing her career and mental wellness, Nikki confesses she’s still learning.
“I know someone who’s bipolar and studying to be a therapist. I know someone with an anxiety disorder raising four kids, with no help except her husband. People with invisible disabilities feel pressure to excel. But the problem with being strong is when you aren’t ok, everyone just assumes you will be. I found myself falling and nobody knew I needed someone to catch me.
People say they support mental health, but when your mental illness starts doing what mental illnesses do, they abandon you. It’s ableism. I don’t take it personal.” In early June, Nikki quietly checked herself into an intensive outpatient care program where she participates in group therapy and receives individual clinical support for a few hours, five days a week.
Nikki credits her confidence to her team (which includes the tech company behind AI DJ Friend of the Future,) and her disregard for anyone who doesn’t believe in her. “I don’t bad-mouth anyone. I’m not the one to talk about people. I’m the one people talk about.”
With her play Get Out Alive slated for an 18 show run in summer of 2022, her film buzzing on the festival circuit and a hosting slot for an iHeartRadio podcast, Nikki Lynette is definitely someone to talk about.