Zeta Jones Bipolar IIOn April 14th, 2011, Catherine Zeta Jones came out to the world, explaining that she suffered from Bipolar II Disorder. Merely a year later, on June 15, 2012, Jones made an appearance on ABC’s “The View” and Joy Behar inquired about her experience with Bipolar Disorder. Zeta briefly responded to the query then moved onto promoting her upcoming film.

Now here we have a problem. We live in a society that often times manifests fears and ignorance about mental illness and here is a prime example of an opportunity to clarify Bipolar I versus Bipolar II — which unfortunately didn’t happen.

With a celebrity-driven culture, we have a window to engage in an open dialogue about mental illness and recognize the fundamental differences between Bipolar I and Bipolar II, but we don’t capitalize on them. Mr. “Tiger Blood” Charlie Sheen has displayed blatant manic episodes live on national television and YouTube, yet everyone just calls him “crazy.”

Such examples leave us at a loss to educate and communicate to the public about this relatively unknown disease.

I can only speak to my own experience of living with Bipolar II, so here we go:

At the eye of my hypo-manic state was a quiet depression. Bipolar I disorder is fueled by ups and downs, whereas chronic hypo-manic is a constant level of mania which, in my experiences, has an underlying depression. When I would fly through the streets of New York, going here and then doing that, I was out of control; similar to a state of depression where you feel trapped.

On the surface I seemed to be happier than most people, but in a heightened state of mania there is a sadness which I call a manic in depression versus a manic depressive.

Post-graduation I lived in New York and went from job to job, man to man, scene to scene. I was more or less a Tasmanian Devil. I talked fast, walked fast, thought fast and whirled around town with no knowledge of the harmful nature of my disease. Harmful only when you don’t know why you behave the way you do or what you need to do to help yourself.

When the words Bipolar II came out of my psychiatrist mouth I was like, “what the heck is THAT?!”  Now I know. I could have saved myself years of turmoil had I known to educate myself on mental illness. But hindsight is always 20/20, right?

Recently an old friend of mine from my days of mania moved to LA. We sat down and she was mesmerized by the changes in my behavior. She admitted that back in the day I was often times too much to handle. Too over the top. She recalled nights we would go out till the break of dawn and she would crash and I would get up after an hour of sleep and go running.

She told me stories of how I would march straight up to a bouncer of a club like I owned the place and get us in to all the VIP sections without ever waiting in a line. I don’t know who I thought I was but my grandiosity seemed to get me places. That same grandiosity also got me into harmful places.

Now I am medicated. I don’t miss the manic high and thankfully have friends that recall my sick days. Maybe I don’t multitask like I used to but I can sleep through a night. And when I get tired of opening my pill box and popping my pill twice a day I recall those wild times in New York. I recall all the stories that are yet to be told which I will continue to share in an effort to stop the madness of choosing to be ignorant or afraid of a disease most know nothing about.

Bipolar II is not so complicated when we have clarification. And with clarification we have a starting point to a more thorough education and awareness that hopefully will find a seat on a show like “The View” when the next celeb gets outted on TMZ and has to face the world.

Catherine Zeta Jones photo by David Shankman, available under a Creative Commons attribution license