May the Force Be With You (with a little “Magic” thrown in)

Princess Leia is bipolar.

I read recently that, in addition to Carrie Fisher’s drug and alcohol addictions, she has also admitted to being bipolar. For those of us who carry this disease as a burden, we all know that addiction is a common “side effect” of manic depression, a way of self-medicating. So I’m not surprised at the Princess’ most recent admission.

But it got me thinking: how many of Hollywood’s other famous celebrities suffer from bipolar and are willing to admit it? I started doing a little research and found a surprisingly long list of names: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kurt Cobain, Mariel Hemingway (her grandfather, Ernest, famously so), Britney Spears, Patty Duke, Marilyn Monroe, and Axl Rose, to name a few. I also found a few similarities surrounding this group of people.

Let’s start with Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Cobain and Marilyn Monroe. All incredible talents. All who lost their lives presumably to drug overdoses, presumably because the pain of their illness was too much to bear, all before more traditional methods of therapy and assistance were available. Add Vincent Van Gogh to that list, who of course lost his battle to a disease that probably didn’t even have a name during his lifetime.

The next group falls into the “fading celebrity status” list. Catherine Zeta-Jones was popular for a while back in the ’80s and ’90s but it seems as her star status began to dwindle, suddenly she was willing to “come forward” and admit her illness. Do some of these stars use their bipolar as an excuse for not having worked in years? Do they made the public admission to gain a small amount of attention, hoping to use it to work their way back into the spotlight? Actors like Fisher and Duke haven’t seen a spotlight in decades, and Axl Rose faded twenty years ago. Suddenly, it’s ok to admit they have bipolar. But why are they stepping forward now to inform the world of their illness?

Of course, singers like Britney Spears seem to use their illness to excuse their horrific public behavior and whacky antics. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lindsay Lohan was next on the list of celebrities who claim bipolar as an affliction that prevents them from showing up on time to press dates and keeps them from being able to pay their taxes.

As someone with bipolar disorder, I recognize the shame involved and the stigma attached to the disease. It is crippling. And I am guilty of not telling anyone for a long time for those exact reasons. But why are celebrities suddenly stepping forward and “pleading insanity”? Is it for the attention? Is it in an effort to try to regain a little stardom by way of sympathy? Is it a way to say, “Look at me! Here I am! The only reason I haven’t worked in years is because I’m bipolar! But I’m broke and need the money so I’m stepping forward hoping for a resurgence in popularity”.

When you Google “list of celebrities who are bipolar”, the list is very long but it does not contain many names you might have heard of. Lots of authors and poets, lots of artists and public figures from decades ago. But since roughly 1 in 4 adults suffers from some sort of mental illness, many of those bipolar, why isn’t the list longer? Or more updated? Why aren’t there names of more popular celebrities? Are movie stars exempt from having bipolar? Or is that list longer than we think and they just aren’t owning up to their illness?

I think it’s the latter. And I wish that wasn’t the case. Celebrities are in the unique position of having a large public following of people who have such adoration for them that they’d be willing to do just about anything for their favorite star. Celebrities with bipolar could step forward to promote awareness, reduce stigma and help to eliminate the shame that comes with this lifelong affliction. You know they’re out there. Are they afraid to admit they have a mental illness?

I saw on TV recently that Magic Johnson was publicly offering love and support to his openly gay son. He commented that there are no publicly homosexual athletes in professional sports. We know that can’t possibly be true. They have to exist. But those people, too, are afraid to admit their lifestyle for fear of how their teammates or fans would react. I remember when Johnson stepped forward to admit having contracted HIV/AIDS nearly twenty years ago. Since that time, he has lost his basketball career, but he has used his illness to promote awareness and reduce the stigma associated with his disease. He has used his “disadvantage” to the public’s advantage. He has done amazing work raising money and supporting organizations involved with the work being done with HIV/AIDS and in my opinion, he is more of a hero now than he was playing basketball.

I think mentally ill celebrities are also afraid of “coming out” and admitting their illness. I hope those who are making the admission are not stepping forward for the mere purpose of re-igniting a dying career. I hope they are doing it to make an effort to reduce the shame and stigma attached with bipolar disorder. I hope they are doing it to help make a difference. They have a public voice, and they could use it to help make such fantastic and much-needed progress in the world of misunderstood mental illnesses if they would just ‘fess up. Kind of like Magic Johnson. His illness affected his career, but perhaps it changed his life for the better. I’d like to think that he is happier now knowing that he is doing good work for good people.

Princess Leia’s Carrie Fisher has done just that. Sure, her acting career may have faded. But she is responsible for such fabulously “truthful” accounts (disguised as fiction) like “Wishful Drinking”, “Postcards from the Edge” and “The Best Awful”. Ms. Fisher is candid and frank about her disorders and she has stepped forward and is helping to raise awareness.

So listen up, Hollywood. Don’t be afraid. Come forward and make yourselves heard. You may find that the work you do for mental illness is priceless and worth more than that shiny little statue you probably won’t ever win, anyway. Use your public image to promote awareness. You may learn that it’s more rewarding than the red carpet. Who says you can’t be both an actor and an advocate?

May the Force Be With You.

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“Pure Happiness”

I take a lot of pictures, mostly of my children.  I do it partly because I am afraid that my ECT will erase precious memories of my three babies that I won’t ever get back.  And I do it partly because I think my kids are so darned cute…..

And because I take so many photographs, I spend a lot of time looking at them on my computer.  Again, I find that they help me see parts of my past that I wouldn’t otherwise recall.  Typically, there are few pictures of me amongst the thousands of my children and the rest of my family.  But while on vacation, I asked the waiter at the restaurant where my children and I were celebrating with Easter dinner if he would please snap a quick picture of the four of us.  It would be the first photographic “documentation” of my new family dynamic since separating from my husband nearly a year ago.  When I downloaded the pictures today, I was pleased to see that the picture of my foursome came out really well.  So well, in fact, I made it my Facebook profile picture.  And within a short amount of time, the feedback on that picture was so positive.  I received compliments I hadn’t heard in months – maybe even years.  The one compliment that really hit me was, “Pure happiness on all your faces!”  And as I looked again at the photograph, I realized my friend was right – all four of us had huge, happy smiles.  “Pure Happiness”.

After hearing such surprising input regarding one small Easter family photo, I started scrolling through the rest of my digital pictures on the computer.  I realized that I could plot my (un)happiness during the last five years just from whether or not I was smiling in a picture.  And, sadly, there are not a lot of smiles on my face.  In fact, there is not one smiling “me” in any pictures taken on any holiday for the last three years.  Sure, there are forced pleasantries and more smirks than I could count, but I’m talking about REAL smiles.  You know, the ones your parents begged to document after your $2000 orthodontist work was completed in your teens?  The REAL smiles involve teeth.  Big, happy, toothy smiles.  And I realized that those smiles and my face didn’t coexist in more than about a dozen pictures taken in recent history.

Pathetic.

Too quickly I recognized that my manic episodes (which are never the euphoric, ecstatic kind but instead the violent, angry kind) and my deep depressions were all too obvious in my iPhoto compilations.  I could actually tell when in my life I had been “normal”, and sadly that wasn’t very often in recent history.  The few times I was photographed with a smile of “pure happiness” typically coincided with the births of my children, romantic getaways with my husband, time spent with my dad or with lifelong friends, and visits to my childhood home with my children.  There are the pictures taken during last spring break when my husband and I brought our children to Santa Barbara to see where we met, attended college, worked together and got married.  “Pure Happiness” smiles on my face in every shot.

I place tremendous value on those pictures – they document a time in my history when I was truly happy, when I had not a care in the world.  It is my hope that I will be able to share more and more of those “pure happiness” pictures with my family and friends in the near future.  I want to believe that is the “real me”, the smiling woman in the photograph who recognizes that despite her heartbreak, her mental illness, and the other difficulties life has thrown her way, life is good.  Life will be good.  I just have to be patient and work hard and take each day one at a time.  I have decided today that I am going to achieve “pure happiness”.

It just might take a little while, so bear with me.

Slam

What is it about slamming doors in the middle of a manic episode that feels so good? Everything about it – the sound and the resulting shake, the reverberation of wood against wood, the physical exertion required to break it from its frame. It’s incredibly satisfying. I don’t hit people, I don’t punch walls or break dishes. I slam doors.

I think I’ve mentioned in past posts that my mania doesn’t manifest itself in the more common ecstatic episodes or euphoric highs, but as violent outbursts over which I have little or no control. And during those violent outbursts, few things feel better to me than the good hard slam of a door.

I’ve broken three door frames that I can remember. Four, if you count the door that was already broken when I slammed it again, knocking the frame even further apart from the wall. I’ve probably slammed doors a hundred times, but have only broken four that I can recall. I do not say that with pride.

The first doorframe I broke was our bedroom door in the first home I shared with my husband 18 years ago. I slammed it in the face of my brother-in-law following an argument during which I was the only one arguing. I think it was the first time my husband and best friend, who lived with us, had ever experienced the peak of one of my manic episodes. And they were blown away by the “Jekyll and Hyde” change in my personality in such a short period of time.

The next door was five years ago, connecting our kitchen to the garage. I was, again, “peaking” and was furious with my poor husband for some minor incident which, in my mind, was inflated to catastrophic proportions. I was making a dramatic exit from our argument, planning to tear out of the garage in my car, tires squealing. And that dramatic exit involved slamming that sturdy door so hard that the entire room shook from the force. It took us four years to get around to fixing that frame, and since I could see it each morning from where I sat at the kitchen table eating breakfast with my children, it served as a daily reminder of the place I didn’t want ever to be again.

It is with shame that I admit that the third (and fourth) door I slammed hard enough to ruin was that of my youngest daughter’s bedroom. My sweet love, who also suffers with manic episodes. Even more shamefully do I admit that she was in the middle of her own manic hell and in her bedroom both times I slammed her door. I couldn’t take her screaming and crying another moment, her hysteria and violence. And most shameful of all? I felt better after doing it. It’s as if I could displace so much aggression with the simple act of “closing a door a little too hard”. And that poor little girl stopped her hysterics in the middle of her meltdown both times, most likely scared to death to see the grown up image of herself screaming back at her and breaking door frames. She was probably recognizing with fear that this is what she might become.

I had that door repaired soon after the incident. I didn’t tell her dad, from whom I am separated, who had been present the second time it happened. I couldn’t look at it when I tucked my little girl into bed every night. The shame of having broken that door in her presence was too much to be reminded of. Too much for her to be reminded of. Maybe my husband will notice on his own that it didn’t take me four years this time to get help. To make repairs. Maybe he will someday notice that it’s back to normal and that I did it without being asked, without being begged to try to fix what was broken. Maybe he will notice that it’s better. That I’m better.

Then again, maybe not.

A side note: to my sweet little girl, should this post be available to you when you are old enough to read it, I’m sorry for scaring you. I am so desperately sorry.

“Unquiet”

I was recently prompted to re-read a wonderful memoir after being reminded of it by a fellow blogger (thank you, http://writingforfoodinindy.wordpress.com).  I had actually read this book a few years ago, but my memory of it was lost among so many other pieces of my short-term past as a result of ECT.  You might see me referring to it frequently in the future, because it’s an honestly written account of Kay Redfield Jamison’s life with bipolar disorder:  “An Unquiet Mind:  A Memoir or Moods and Madness”.  There are few better ways to describe how my mind often feels than “unquiet”.

When I looked up a definition of “unquiet”, this is what I found:

Adjective:  1. Not inclined to be quiet or inactive; restless.   2.  Uneasy; anxious

Synonyms:  restless – anxious – uneasy – troubled – restive

Huh.  When I think of words people used to describe me when I was a young adult, I recall “anxious” and “troubled”.  I remember hearing “restless”.  (I’ve not actually ever heard of the word “restive”, but I’m sure it would have applied…..).  And “not inclined to be quiet”?  Ha!  Most definitely, then and now.

If you’ve not read this book, I’d like to encourage you to do so.  Sometimes memoirs are such downers, but Ms. Jamison allowed me to occasionally giggle at being able to relate to her honest accounts of life with this crippling mood disorder.  And while being manic-depressive is certainly no laughing matter, it’s important for me to laugh at myself once in a while.  I’m glad to be reminded that I’m not the only one out there who feels this way.  Unquiet.

Again, thank you to “IndyTony” at WordPress for bringing Ms. Jamison back into my life.

“That Wasn’t Me”/Brandi Carlile

I’ve long been an admirer of singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile. She’s a talented musician with a beautiful voice. This past summer, I was driving with the radio on and a new song of hers was being featured. I actually pulled over to the side of the road halfway through the song because the lyrics were such a reflection of everything I was going through at the time that I was overcome with emotion. When the song ended on the radio, I immediately Googled the lyrics on my phone to see if I’d heard her correctly. And then, because that wasn’t enough, I downloaded the song and sat there crying by the side of the road as I played and replayed and again replayed that song.

I went home and copied those lyrics into a card and left it for my husband to read. She sang every word I’d been trying to tell him for months. I was admitting my faults; I was desperately sorry for disappointing my family; I had changed, that people are capable of great change. And, most importantly, “that wasn’t me”.

It didn’t matter. He still left me. How unrealistic of me to think a song would change his mind, would make him finally understand what I’d been trying to verbalize to him for months.

Brandi Carlile, if you’re out there, I would love to know your inspiration for that song. Because I still get teary-eyed when I hear it. Are you bipolar? How could you come up with such heartfelt lyrics if you were not suffering, or writing about someone who is? Because that song mimics my life.

For those of you unfamiliar with the song, here are the lyrics to
“That Wasn’t Me”:

Hang on, just hang on for a minute
I’ve got something to say
I’m not asking you to move on or forget it
But these are better days
To be wrong all along and admit it, is not amazing grace
But to be loved like a song you remember
Even when you’ve changed

Tell me, did I go on a tangent?
Did I lie through my teeth?
Did I cause you to stumble on your feet?
Did I bring shame on my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
Whatever you see, that wasn’t me
That wasn’t me, oh that wasn’t me

When you’re lost you will toss every lucky coin you’ll ever trust
And you’ll hide from your God like he ever turns his back on us
And you will fall all the way to the bottom and land on your own knife
And you’ll learn who you are even if it doesn’t take your life

Tell me, did I go on a tangent?
Did I lie through my teeth?
Did I cause you to stumble on your feet?
Did I bring shame on my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
Whatever you see, that wasn’t me
That wasn’t me, oh that wasn’t me

But I want you to know that you’ll never be alone
I wanna believe, do I make myself a blessing to everyone I meet
When you fall I will get you on your feet
Do I spend time with my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
When that’s what you see, that will be me
That will be me, that will be me
That will be me

“Manic”

I read a book recently that I quite enjoyed. Maybe “enjoyed” is not the right term, because it’s about a woman truly struggling with her bipolar disorder, so perhaps “appreciated” is more appropriate.

“Manic”, by Terri Cheney, is written in interesting format: not chronological, each chapter is a different manic episode. Some of her mania leads her into some pretty unbelievable situations. Those non-bipolar readers will likely have a hard time believing that this book falls under the “autobiographical” category. But I read it thinking, “Yikes. I could totally see myself doing half of those things”.

I don’t want to give anything else away, so please read the book yourselves. But I would like to share with you one quote made by the author that has really stuck with me:

“The Disease thrives on shame, and shame thrives on silence….”

That’s really the whole point of my blog – to not be silent any more.

Thanks for following.