Content Notice: This story contains references to substance abuse.
I was forty-five when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Looking back on the way I had always described myself, I now realize I was describing someone living this disorder. It is painfully obvious today; however, hindsight is 20/20. I had always described myself as incredibly happy or incredibly sad. People commented on how I talked so fast for a Southerner from Atlanta whose mother’s name was Dixie. Life was then, and is now, a run-on sentence for me.
I have since learned that people diagnosed with bipolar can be described as having characteristics such as being fast talkers, having delusions of grandeur, and spending too much money. Substance use is also common. Looking back on my history with crack cocaine and my tendency to shop, it all makes sense to me now.
I believed that I was creative—a theatrical eccentric à la Tallulah Bankhead! I also believed that I possessed the writing talent and exuberant love of life like Zelda Fitzgerald and had the sexual energy of the voluptuous Marilyn Monroe. Carrie Fisher and I were kindred birthday spirits (we were both born on October twenty-first), but I also believed we were kindred spirits living with bipolar disorder. Looking back on these wonderful ladies that I identified with, I wasn’t surprised when I was diagnosed. After all, we were all members of the same club—whether we wanted to be or not.
My family history of mental illness was another indicator. Thinking about my mother, Dixie, and her mother, Margaret, it was painfully obvious that they both lived with bipolar. The doctors knew that there was something off about my grandmother. However, it was the 1970s, so they diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s.