Monday, June 20, 2011

famous bipolar people

There are so many famous bipolar people? Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of U.S. suffered from severe and debilitating and on occasion suicidal depressions, as recorded by Carl Sandburg in his comprehensive six-volume biographical analysis of his life. “A tendency to melancholy” Lincoln once wrote in a letter to a friend, “let it be observed, is a misfortune, not a fault.” The most amazing part of his story was the sheer determination with which he willed himself to overcome his serious affliction and still achieve all he was able to achieve for our young and troubled nation at war with itself. With so many famous bipolar people in history, our reactive judgements towards the so-called mentally ill, are pathetic in this 21st century. Isn't it time we grew up a little more?

Here's to the Crazy Ones: Think Different?

Famous People and Mental Illness

Carrie Fisher, the child of two Hollywood stars (Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher) and actress, in her own right, played Princess Leia in "Star Wars" movies. Early in the 70’s she says she started using cocaine. Her experiences with drug addiction led to her first best selling book, Postcards From the Edge. The book was made into a film in 1990 starring Meryl Streep. Her illness comes from her mother’s side of the family.

Eugene O'Neill, famous playwright, author of "Long Day's Journey into Night," and "Ah, Wilderness!” came from a deeply troubled family background, suffering from clinical depression the greater portion of his life. His most famous plays were written between 1935 and 1943 despite persistent mental illness. He is the only American playwright to have won the Nobel Prize for literature.

Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, prof. of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, author of many books on mental illness. Dr. Jamison has bipolar illness herself and has attempted suicide. Her book "Touched With Fire," lists and describes many famous persons whose lives have been changed by bipolar illness.

Isaac Newton, most famous mathematician of the 17th Century was responsible for many scientific discoveries we take for granted today such as the "corrected" Gregorian calendar date. Newton’s greatest mathematical discovery was the gravitational relationship between the earth and the moon, and of centrifugal force. Newton was well educated, had access to the best knowledge of his day and was wealthy in later life. He suffered from several “nervous breakdowns” in his life and was known for great fits of rage towards anyone who disagreed with him which some have labeled Bipolar Disorder which was unknown at the time. In 1705 Newton was the first Scientist to be knighted by Queen Anne for his great scientific contributions.

Jane Pauley, NBC news broadcaster, since the age of 25, talks candidly about her depression and bipolar illnesses. In her new book, "Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue."she tells about her childhood and family problems, and how she discovered her need for medication to control mood swings.

John Nash, Nobel Prize Winner in mathematics, has faced a lifelong battle with schizophrenia. He was known as the “Phantom of Fine Hall” at Princeton where his reclusive, ghost like figure could be seen roaming around, leaving messages of his mathematical genus on the boards of empty classrooms. His struggle was well documented in the book "A Beautiful Mind," by Sylvia Nasar which was later made into a movie by the same name.

Judy Collins, singer and songwriter, has written a book titled "Sanity and Grace: A Journey of Suicide, Survival and Strength," (2003). The book chronicles her journey as a survivor of depression after the suicide of her 33-year-old son in 1992. She states that her own spiritual life and practice have been a strength for her as she battles with her illness.

Us and Them - Living with Bipolar Disorder and Depression

Linda Hamilton, actress, has gone public with her diagnosis of bi-polar disorder diagnosed at a young age. Hamilton, well known for her part with Arnold Schwarzenegger in "The Terminator" movies explains how helpful medication has been for her and that she understands she will have to be on medication for the rest of her life.

Lionel Aldridge, a football player for the Green Bay Packers during the 1960's, developed paranoid schizophrenia and was homeless for 2 1/2 years. “Once I accepted and cooperated with the treatment, I started to beat the illness.”he said. He now speaks to groups to help them better understand mental illness. He states that he is completely symptom free and that helping others understand mental illness is “therapy” for him.

Ludwig van Beethoven, composer, had bipolar disorder which some have said gave him such creative power that his compositions broke the mold for classical music forever. He was a child prodigy which his father tried to exploit. His “manic” episodes seemed to fuel his creativity. He wrote his most famous works during times of torment, loneliness, and suffering psychotic delusions.
It took him 12 years to finish his last and 8th Symphony in total deafness. He then medicated himself with the only drugs available in that day to bring some relief opium and alcohol and died several years later of liver disease.

Vincent Van Gogh, famous painter and artist was labeled peculiar with unstable moods most of his short life. He suffered from epileptic seizures some believe from excesses of absinthe, very strong liquor popular among talented people for inspiring greater creativity. Many have tried to give a definitive diagnosis of his illness through reading his personal letters. From them it seems clear that
his depressive states were also accompanied by manic episodes of enormous energy and great passion. Van Gogh committed suicide at age 37.

Virginia Woolf, the British novelist, born of privilege, experienced the mood swings of bipolar disorder her entire life. She wrote to make sense out of her mental chaos and gain control of madness; and was greatly admired for her creative insight into human nature. She was tolerated by friends and family, receiving great care and understanding during her entire life and because of this, never had to face institutionalization, the only medical “treatment” in those days. She died by her own hand by filling her pockets with stones and walking into a nearby river. The cause of death was determined as "Suicide, while the balance of her mind was disturbed."

Vivien Leigh, actress made famous by her leading role in "Gone With the Wind" and her creative genius for stage and screen, suffered from serious bouts of manic depression, tuberculosis, and poor health her entire life. It was, in fact, because of her illness, that she was frequently cast into roles that required a personal experience of the torment that comes from the experience of this disease.
Vivien was once able to make a full recovery after shock treatments, only to succumb some years later. A nervous breakdown associated with a miscarriage proved to be the unraveling of her marriage with actor Lawrence Olivier who continued to be a devoted friend. She was finally diagnosed with cyclical manic-depression with hallucinations and had to be confined to a nursing home only to recover and return to the screen for her last movie. Leigh finally succumbed to the tuberculosis at the young age of 53 of while filming “The Ship of Fools”. She became known and admired for her ability to fulfill her passionate dream for stardom despite her TB and debilitating manic-depression.

William Styron, author, writes about his own depression in his book, "Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness," and his decision to seek help. His earlier works which he wrote prior to his diagnosis and admission of his illness described with uncanny accuracy, the symptoms and the problems he would experience later in his life. He was one of the first to write about other famous persons who struggled with mental illness and for explaining the almost unexplainable experience of a brain disorder to those who had never experienced it in a way which gained their
sympathy and admiration.

Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain who, as one of the “Big Three” (Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin) to lead the world to the defeat of Hitler in WWII, told in his own writings of suffering from “black dog” Churchill’s term for severe and serious depression. Less often talked about are his writings of how he often self-medicated with alcohol to deal with these times. Like so many other famous people with a mental illness, he was able to make the great contribution he did through sheer personal determination. There was a nation, he said, and a world depending on his efforts to lead Britain and the world in the defeat of their common and formidable enemy of Nazism.

Other Famous People with Symptoms of Mental Illness
Leo Tolstoy, author
Charles Dickens, English author,
John Keats, poet,
Michelangelo, artist
Bette Midler, entertainer
Charles Schultz, cartoonist
Dick Clark, entertainer
Irving Berlin, composer
Rosemary Clooney, singer
Jimmy Piersall, baseball player. Boston Red Sox
Burgess Meredith, actor,
Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky, composer
Charlie Pride, singer
Sylvia Plath, poet and novelist.
Janet Jackson, singer
Patty Duke, actress,
Roseanne Barr, comedian
Marlon Brando, actor
Maurice Bernard, actor
Buzz Aldrin, astronaut
Margot Kidder, Actress
Jonathon Winters, comedian
Pat Conroy, author
Ernest Hemingway, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist,
Tennessee Williams, American playwright


  1. So many people get seriously pissed when I reference the link between highly creative, inspirational people and "mental illness." Like it's so blasphemous to think that our sensitivities can be a good thing? What are people so terrified of?? :)

  2. I think in evolutionary terms the link is the birth of the mind itself? Over millions of years mammals extended the freeze response to novelty & the possibility of threat, into analgesic effects reducing the pain of being ripped apart and eaten.

    The mind was born in "terror" states of extreme dissociation from a felt sense of reality, an escape into those synaptic gaps inside the brain beyond nerve endings & pain receptors.

    Of coarse for such a dissociated animal as we, this does not bare thinking about, let alone feeling? In the coarse of a cosmic evolution though, perhaps this is exactly how a universe driven by the twin forces of creation & destruction becomes sentient.

    Are we as a species the universe perceiving itself?

    1. Hmmm...your wording here is very odd. I too have bpd, but seem to retain a greater than average propensity for "self awareness," and monitor my state as if in the third person. The vast diversity of your vocabulary and lack of lucidity instantly indicates to me that you were at least in a hypo manic state at the time of posting this blog. Maybe you need to reflect on your screen-name? Maybe some education on your condition too? You don't recover from bpd, like it's flu. You manage it, live with it, and die with it. Hopefully, you can learn to accept it. Andy

    2. Very good i suffer from bp and adhd and no what a difficult life we have to live with including all the ignorance society heeps on our shoulders as well

  3. I think you're onto would explain so much!

  4. The nervous system thing could make a lot of sense. Last summer I went to the hospital with some nervous system issues that were almost debilitating but they were unable to connect the issue to any know nervous system disorder and simply dismissed me. Also, when you take a look at the majority of people that are bipolar that you come across, whether celebrity or not, you will see that they are highly creative in some facet or another and/or highly intelligent. Someone, somewhere should be putting 2 and 2 together.... I'm just saying!

  5. Hi Krissy,

    I think your spot on about people not putting 2 & 2 together, the current medical model of disease is based on managing the crisis periods we go through & people involved in the system seem so caught up in that process there is no space for more holistic views.

    The great problem with the auto nervous system is that it takes us into an area we do not want to acknowledge & that is our animal heritage with the mammalian "freeze" response probably at the core of mental anguish problems.

    Intelligent people all give lip service approval to science and the theory of evolution, yet we are decidedly uncomfortable about feeling the reality of that theory, endlessly trying to justify life through the mind and becoming unbalanced in the process.

  6. Anonymous25 June 2012 16:54
    "Hmmm...your wording here is very odd."

    Possibly you don't recognize the wording because of strict left-brained logic and need for certainty/security in all that you've learned about your condition. Consider;

    "Schore proposes that the right-brain correlates with Freud’s “unconscious,’ the right brain is centrally involved in unconscious activities, and just as the left brain communicates to other brains via linguistic behaviors so the right non-verbally communicates its unconscious states to other right brains that are tuned to receive." _ Roz Carroll.

    "The left-brain style is to verbalize, to fall back on what is already known in order to preserve the sense of self mastery." _ Roz Carroll.

    "It may be that the “mind-body split,” is in effect a right-left split, with left-brain activation overriding the right-brain assimilation and regulation of sub-cortically generated emotional states." _ Roz Carroll."

    This particular blog post was written a year ago in June 2011, and if you read more of my blog you will see a natural progression in clarity of thought as I use the writing process and two more "psychosis" episodes to unfold more of my natural disposition, thwarted by birth trauma. Condider a recent comment on;

    "“Our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness,
    provided the madness is given us by divine gift.” _Plato.

    “Descartes was a great dualist. He thought not only that there were two types of substance, mind and matter, but that there were two types of thinking, two types of bodily movement, even two types of loving; and, sure enough, he believed there were two types of people: ‘the world is largely composed of two types of minds . . .’ It has been said that the world is divided into two types of people, those who divide the world into two types of people, and those who don’t. I am with the second group. The others are too Cartesian in their categorisation, and therefore already too much of the party of the left hemisphere. Nature gave us the dichotomy when she split the brain. Working out what it means is not in itself to dichotomise: it only becomes so in the hands of those who interpret the results with Cartesian rigidity.” _Iain McGilchrist. “The Master and His Emissary.”

    Has the young, smart, well educated mind become so embalmed in a split off sense of self, it can’t see reality, right in front of its eyes?

    Example: When Magellan’s fleet sailed around the tip of South America he stopped at a placed called Tierra del Fuego. Coming ashore he met some local natives who had come out to see the strange visitors. The ship’s historian documented that when Magellan came ashore the natives asked him how he had arrived. Magellan pointed out to his fully rigged sailing ships at anchor off the coast. None of the natives could see the ships. Because they had never seen ships before they had no reference point for them in their brains, and could literally not see them with their eyes. Therefore, it is to our advantage to expose our brains to varied stimulus so that the proper neuronal connections are forged. In this way we expand and enrich our ability to experience more of our environment in a meaningful way."

    Then you may like to read?

    1. I dismissed you at first too. I think I was wrong. Do you consider right brain situations occurances like when you figure an answer real fast "from instinct" unsure if youre correct on the surface, then sort of quietly looking back and realizing you just ran a bunch of details through your mind and the decision really was sound? Everybody does it I think some just develop a sensitiviy to it sooner than others. Kind of fascinating stuff. Staying grounded like the previous critic pointed out is the way to go but trying to figure this stuff out has its own meaning too, and might not always be manic driven.