Want to know the secret to creating a massively positive transformation in your life with a bipolar disorder diagnosis? Ask Amy Tee.
Amy had a vibrant, rapidly-growing career as a nationally touring comic and was a featured comedian in the film, “Laughing Matters – The Next Generation.” With her playful, self-deprecating style and natural New England charm, she deftly won over audiences from coast to coast.
By her mid-30s, battles with alcoholism and undiagnosed mental illness threatened all of Amy’s success. The stand up comedian was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after finding herself $62,000 in dept, 60+ pounds overweight, and watching her car get repossessed.
The mental illness diagnosis was not a source of shame for Amy, however. In her performance on This is My Brave – The Show, she said, “Being diagnosed with mental illness saved my life. It gave a name to the shame about the person I had become. It’s also been the explanation, not the excuse, that has allowed me to be someone living with mental illness rather than someone who is suffering from it.”
Nine years after receiving her bipolar diagnosis and embarking on treatment, Amy has lost the 60+ pounds, quit drinking, is a regular performer at the Boston Comedy Festival, was identified as a rising star by The Boston Globe, and has been featured on Sirius XM Satellite Radio and LOGO television network. Post-diagnosis, she has emerged as the best possible version of herself, living a happier, healthier, more full life than ever with her wife and three pugs.
Amy is an official In Our Own Voice (IOOV) Presenter for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and uses her comedy to serve as a mental wellness advocate. Her stand up addresses the stigmas and stereotypes of mental illness, as well as the ways in which the media image of mentally ill individuals differs from reality.
Amy’s own struggles and experiences have sparked her passion for helping others with mental illness. Her work extends beyond the stage into a full service event production company that specializes in creating comedy-centric events and functions, called ExperiMENTAL Comedy Therapy (ECT).
The stated goal of ECT is to “entertain and unify groups of people through laughter while breaking down stigmas attached to a variety of mental health issues.” Their motto is, “Humor with Humanity.” The company donates a percentage of proceeds to mental health organizations and individuals in need who are severely impacted by mental health or addiction issues.
You can’t watch Amy’s performance on “This is My Brave – The Show” without feeling her deep and sincere gratitude for the health, happiness, and wellness that her diagnosis made possible. She can laugh at her past pains and struggles and remain strong knowing she’s the one in control now, not her illness.
Amy’s humor invites us all to be a little less hard on ourselves, to look for sources of hope rather than dwell in despair, and to have confidence in our own innate ability to overcome and thrive despite any diagnosis.
She points out in her act that one-in-four people are diagnosed with mental illness every year, and makes the highly astute comment that, “We all have a little something.”
There truly is no perfect person, no flawless-normal, no 100%-sane individual. The reality is, we all do have a little something … some of us just have a little more or less of it than others.
Both humor and resilience can be found in looking squarely at our mental illnesses, our flaws and our struggles, owning them, and finding healthy ways to address them that enrich and enhance our lives.
As Amy Tee knows well, humor is an exceptionally useful tool for finding your way to those healthier paths after a mental illness diagnosis. Her bipolar diagnosis is a brain disorder that causes dramatic shifts in energy, mood and activity levels. The moods range from being extremely “up,” energized, and elated (manic episodes) to intensely “down,” sad, and hopeless (depressive episodes).
People with bipolar disorder will experience deeply intense emotions at both extremes, which can lead to unusual or uncharacteristic behaviors. Shame, regret and self-recrimination following these behaviors can propel the individual back into a depressive episode, continuing the endless cycle.
With proper diagnosis and adequate treatment, people with bipolar disorder can lead healthy and highly productive lives. The condition can be successfully controlled using a combination of psychotherapy and medications.
Some pain cuts too deep to ever be laughed at. But comedians like Amy Tee teach us how to reach into the depths of shared struggles to find hope and light when the only alternative is darkness.
Finding humor in our suffering can be a difficult skill for the profoundly emotionally wounded to consider developing, but it is always attainable. Watching stand up performances of comedians like Amy Tee, who address their own struggles with mental health issues in their acts, is an excellent place to start.
We make a mistake when we dismiss humor as pure silliness or a sign of immaturity. It is an exceptional tool for psychologically overcoming and controlling circumstances and situations that could otherwise potentially destroy us.
In the new documentary, “It’s Not That Funny,” Sarah Silverman says, “100% of comedians become comedians because somewhere in their childhood, they needed to be funny in order to survive.”
We laugh at them and take them lightly, but comedians are, at their heart, survivors. Don’t underestimate the power of humor and laughter to help you fight and survive the battles you face when diagnosed with bipolar disorder, or any mental illness. Let your favorite comedian, and survivor, be your guide.