Last week I went to a luncheon and listened to actor Richard Dreyfus talk about his bipolar disorder. Actually, he didn’t so much talk about his mania as gush about it. He went on and on about how how “grand and glorious” his life had been.. He knew he as a “manic depressive” because he was “thrilled with life too much.”
“It was a malady of the mind that I turned to my advantage,” Dreyfus said, adding that he was “in love with my romantic inner life.”
The more he talked, the more freaked out I became. At the end of an hour I turned to the psychiatrist sitting next to me, raised my eyebrows and said, “Wow. I don’t know about him.” She leaned into me and quietly said, “Sounds like he’s still working on it.”
I have bipolar II, also known as hypomania. Some people call it bipolar lite. We have bouts of mania and depression but they are not as extreme as those with bipolar I. We are right on the edge of basically scaring the crap out of people. When I was manic, I could walk into a room and without saying a word, people would lean back, like they had just been hit by a sudden gust of wind. That’s how strong my energy was.
Like Dreyfus, I loved and still love my mania. It feels so good. So incredibly good. It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be so strong – to have so much energy and creativity and laser-focus that nothing else matters. And therein lies the problem: Nothing else matters. Family, spouses, children – their importance in our lives fades as our brilliance grows brighter and we become more accomplished, win more awards, make more money, run more miles and push far beyond our fellows.
We are off the charts. Freakin’ brilliant. Like wild-eyed racehorses, pawing at the ground and chomping on our bits as we wait for the starting gate to open. Come on. Open that gate, motherf*#$+*r, I dare you.
That is mania. It is bad. Yes, it probably gave me the stamina and creative juice I needed to excel in life, but mania is bad. Mania is bad. Mania is bad. Mania is bad.
I’m not going to glorify my mania, just like I’m not going to glorify my drinking career. I am also a recovered alcoholic and I know that focusing on the afternoon I spent strolling through Roederer’s vineyards in Reims, France is going to bring me a step closer to another drink – not further. Same for my mania. Glorifying all the absurdly fun, wild mania-driven antics and esteemed awards I won while possessed by that frenetic energy is not healthy for me or those I hurt.
And we do hurt people. We disrespect them and ignore their needs. We belittle their ideas. We abandon them. Dreyfus mentioned how he divorced when one of his children was just one-year old. Later in life, he tried to rekindle his relationship but the child told him he hadn’t missed him because he hadn’t been around enough to miss.
From the age of 9 Dreyfus knew he was different and that he would be a “great” actor: “I would become a star and no other thought or dream or risk interfered with that.”
“I have not felt second-rate,” Dreyfus said. “If you call that mental illness, go ahead. I call that the grace of God.”
Eventually, Dreyfus became suspicious of how great his life had been.
“Nothing bad had ever happened to me,” Dreyfus said, prompting me to wonder how his kids would react to hearing him say that. “I knew I was being set up. I was being set up for a whopper of a fall.”
Fall he did.
His wife asked for a divorce. He then married
“It did not occur to me that I would shrink to the size of a tiny spider and stay there for 14 years,” he said. “If my car was hit by some drunk that was okay. I was ready.”
He won an Oscar for The Goodbye Girl and a Golden Globe. His resume includes blockbusters, such as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Mr. Holland’s Opus. He was a star. He began seeing therapists and got his life together. He never mentioned whether he used medications to control his bipolar disorder.
I thought it strange that he did not say he had bipolar disorder. He referred to his mental illness as “manic depression.” It almost seemed like he wanted to distance himself from using the phrase bipolar disorder, which today is commonly used instead of “manic depression.”
I have no doubt that Dreyfus has “manic depression.” I do not doubt that he has suffered. I believe he was sincere when he choked up several times and described how he “sometimes got so caught up that I forgot to say thank you.” However, I doubt his ability to inspire and encourage those with mental illnesses.
I walked out and said to myself, “THAT was scary.” On the drive home I realized that I needed to hear Dreyfus. It’s been 8 years since my last major depression and I am coming up on 15 years clean and sober. I get complacent and it would be easy for me to pull out those good memories – or what I consider good memories. For others, they I’m sure they weren’t such good times.
I am grateful for that luncheon and the scare it gave me. Mania is bad.
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Last reviewed: 27 Feb 2013