If you have been paying attention to the news, you have heard that Patty Duke passed away recently. For those who might not be familiar with her, Patty was a successful actress who did something many people did not do in 1982. She spoke out about mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. She is considered a pioneer because she was one of the first ladies who put her career and reputation on the line. Bipolar disorder was something that no one dared to talk about. If you had bipolar, you were thought to be crazy, according to society. It was a time when you did not hear about success stories of those who took their medicine and lived a fruitful life.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that I live with. It is a mood disorder, and a chemical imbalance in the brain. When untreated, it causes extreme highs and extreme lows. About 8 years ago, I had a calling from above to write my story. Yes, I assure you I was taking my medicine at the time. I am a success story when it comes to my illness. Still, I felt a sense of shame. I hid my mental illness from so many. I felt that if people did know about my illness, I would be judged. I work with elementary school kids. If I did speak out about my illness, perhaps people would question if I was capable of doing my job. I felt like having bipolar disorder was a dirty secret. But Patty was an example of someone who was not shunned for speaking out. If she could do it, I could follow in her footsteps. So, I did.
I wrote my story about the past 20 years of my experiences. At first, it was a healing process. It was an emotional 3 year roller coaster when it came to my writing process. I used my memories, journals, and medical records to put the pieces of my past together. There were times when it got too emotional, and I had to stop writing. It was doctor’s orders. But I felt that I had to press on. I never imagined anyone would read it, but I was encouraged to submit it to publishers. I did, and thanks to Indigo Sea Press, my book was published and released this past November.
My message of hope is starting to impact many. People are becoming more aware of bipolar disorder. It is a beautiful thing. I am also doing some public speaking. If Patty Duke was still alive today, and I had a chance to meet her, I would give her a big hug and thank her for inspiring me.
Susan Johnson is the author of “Some Dreams Are Worth Keeping” A Memoir of My Bipolar Journey published by Indigo Sea Press