A long shot.
That is what it's like for Sylvia Harris trying to live life on her terms.
It's a long shot because she has struggled with manic depression for most of her adult life. Her distempered days were filled with the hallmark symptoms of the sometimes crippling disease -- extreme highs and spiraling lows -- making it impossible for her to deal with life's daily challenges.
Frequently, she found herself trying to quiet the voices in her head with alcohol, Lithium and Buddhist chanting. But that was until Harris found relief through work as a horse groomer, then as one of few African American female jockeys. She became the second black female in the U.S. to win a major thoroughbred horse race.
She recounts her story in the newly released heart-wrenching memoir Long Shot: My Bipolar Life and the Horses Who Saved Me.
The mother of three who lives in Wilmington, Del., told BlackVoices.com that she decided to tell her story because she wants readers to know they do not have to be a slave to life's predicaments.
"I wanted people to see that, regardless of the obstacles, you can still succeed,'' she says. "I especially wanted people who suffer from mental illness to know that they don't have to give in to it. They may not be able to cure it, but you can live with it. Never give up, no matter who tells you no, you can't do it.''
In her no-holds-barred story that is highly recommended for people struggling with the disease itself and anyone who loves them, Harris recounts how one manic high led her to dress up as a cowgirl and, during another, to await an alien invasion.
"When you are bipolar, a thought or an idea becomes a necessity, and you have to plan and live it out,'' she shared, when asked about the episodes. "So, what seems abnormal to you seems normal to me. My thought in helping others is to find the right team of doctors and therapists who provide the right medication and methods that will help them to cope.''
In gripping detail, she discusses the struggles of trying to maintain a so-called normal life for herself and her three children, given her medical condition. The disease, in part, led her to create a family that she had difficulty caring for. Today, one son lives with her father. The other two live in Europe and she sees them whenever she can.
To help cope with such losses, Harris found horses, which helped change her life. She began the life-changing journey of recovery about 20 years ago, at the height of her illness, while at Cardinal Farm, an equine range outside of Orlando, Fla.
"My reaction when I first arrived was peace,'' she said of her discovery that horses help calm her. "It was quiet, loving and nonjudgmental. By that, I mean the horses and the family-owned the farm.
"The horse-racing industry has been good to me especially now that I am at a track that supports me as I work through my illness,'' she continued. "But it is still a struggle. Like any business in America, the horse-racing industry is going through a rough time during the economic downturn. Before, it was somewhat easy to get mounts as a journeyman jockey. But now, even the higher-paid jockeys will take lesser amounts to keep riding. But it is my passion. It is what helps and soothes me. I will race as long as I can.''
Today, Harris works at Delaware Park, exercising and racing horses. "I have to [keep riding horses],'' she said. "The horses keep me together, better than any medication or therapy. Fortunately, I have a great counselor and doctor. I go to group meetings, take a new medication that sometimes needs to be adjusted, and I try to stay in the saddle.''
What's next for Harris, whose fighting spirit emanates from the page?
"I want to continue to ride, and after I hang up my saddle, I'd like to try my hand at training,'' she said.
Not only that, she will continue to try to live life on her terms -- even if it is, as she says, a long shot.