Identical Cousins

Before I was diagnosed with bipolar, I remember being terribly afraid of bipolar disorder. I was ok with being depressed, but for some reason I was terrified of bipolar disorder. I guess it meant that I would be “one of those crazy people” who had breakdowns and needed lithium and couldn’t behave properly in public. I still struggle with the diagnosis, mostly due to the stigma associated with it. But I’ve come a long way in understanding the condition and being more informed.  My own thoughts on bipolar prior to the diagnosis were hilariously, ridiculously inaccurate.

When I was young there was a TV movie called “Call Me Anna”, which was based on actress Patty Duke’s autobiography. In “Call Me Anna”, she is extremely open and honest regarding her struggle with bipolar disorder and the damage it caused her career and personal life. I don’t remember too much of it and I really should see if I can watch it online somewhere, but when I was young it made quite the impression on me. The overall gist I took away from it was that Patty Duke was crazy and I didn’t want to be like Patty Duke. Her name became synonymous to me with unbearable, uncontrolled “wacko” women. As I grew older and it was becoming more obvious I was suffering from some sort of mood disorder, there was a relief in that I was “just depressed” and overall that I wasn’t “Patty Duke Crazy”. That was an actual adjective I had in my head for bipolar. I guess in my confused adolescent head there were varying degrees of crazy roughly drawn out by TV movies.

Remarkably, as the psychiatrist gave me the diagnosis of bipolar I didn’t start crying or wailing and throwing myself on the floor of the office. Because that, my friends, would have been Patty Duke Crazy. I was determined to keep it together and I was really quite OK until I talked to my mom. I allowed myself to have a mini breakdown at that time, I think because I felt like I disappointed her. We talked and I mostly got over that feeling and I started working on understanding bipolar and how I could live with it. It’s a continuing process and I’m really trying to reach out to all corners of the world as well as it’s wide web for help.

One interesting thing I did learn in my research is that Patty Duke is one hell of an advocate for people affected by bipolar disorder. Her admission of the disorder was unheard of at the time. She has been outspoken about her treatment and has even testified before Congress about mental health parity. Her website lists the ways she’s been active in both mental health advocacy as well as keeping her acting and singing career alive. She’s a wonderful example of taking control of the disorder but not losing creativity or passion. Plus she’s Samwise Gamgee’s mom in real life.

I will always have a slightly different way of thinking that has nothing to do with the bipolar. It’s my odd sense of humor that makes people laugh or just say “Huh?”. So my odd sense of humor thinks that perhaps Patty Duke is my mental health spirit animal. Perhaps I remembered that deliciously 1990’s  TV movie so that I could one day find out that being “Patty Duke Crazy” isn’t all that bad, in fact I think it’s kind of cool. Who doesn’t want to be like an Oscar winning actress who has championed a cause like bipolar disorder?


Are there people you look up to as you fight your own battle? Is it a celebrity or a regular Joe? Please share who that would be in the comments!


6 thoughts on “Identical Cousins

  1. I was lucky in that I attracted a lot of bipolar friends long before getting my diagnosis. So I knew them to be, often like me, brutally smart folks dealing with a bad hand, but doing their damned best to lead an exemplary life in spite of it. For me, the harder battle was accepting that medication was a good thing! I did manage to come around enough to be reasonable by the time I did get a diagnosis, but it still took me some time to be quite at peace with it.

    • I’m still struggling to find my right mix of meds, so I understand that you had trouble accepting them as good. I know once we get the meds right, I’ll be feeling better. Just hard to have patience!

  2. I love Patty Duke. She came out with her admission at a time when it was important for me.
    I get the stigma issues. I too, felt really weird being labeled…primarily for insurance purposes, you know.
    I can’t even take lithium, so I had to go on meds usually retained for different diagnoses…thought disorders like schizophrenia…so the stigma felt worse to me. Add to that, the jokes like, “Wow! Your girlfriend is bi?”…Yeah, bipolar.” But coming to understand the diagnosis, and meeting other people, like other nurses and doctors, lawyers and dentists, who had the diagnosis gave me affirmation that I was okay and could live with it. I have not had a meltdown since 2003, and prior to that 1996. Earlier I would have one about every three years. Having some experimental meds come way made a huge difference for me. I gained a few pounds, but my capacity to function long term with no serious side effects and a stable mood was enormous.

    I am writing a book about my mother and my aunt, two sisters who both suffered from bipolar in an era when there was even more stigma, and less effective treatment…one committed suicide and the other survives. I hope to be able to represent the familial genetic component, without contributing to the stigma of the disorder.

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