Bipolar Disorder and the Bold Women Who Live With It

Bipolar Disorder was formerly known as Manic-Depressive Disorder.  While the name has changed, the diagnosis has not.  It is one of the more misunderstood mental health diagnoses with a stigma attached to it and the people who have it.  However, there are well known, accomplished women in the world who have the disorder and have been willing to share their journey and how they deal with the challenges of the illness.

Bipolar Disorder is marked by highs and lows that are more extreme than they are for “normal” folks.  People who live with the disorder are often very creative and energetic during the highs, offset by severe lows that tend to last long and can be debilitating.  Bipolar symptoms include excessive talking, grandiose thinking, and changes in sleep and appetite.  It usually takes a few months of observation before a correct diagnosis can be made as people with the disorder often seek help only when depressed. It is not uncommon for successful businessmen, artists, musicians and other performers to have the illness. The drive and creativity that comes with a manic state can be amazing.  However, that manic state can lead to delusions and psychosis that get these successful people into trouble.  It is also common that drug and alcohol use are prevalent in this population.  This behavior is known as “self-medicating” and people living with the illness often find that illicit substances alleviate symptoms that they do not recognize as mental-health related.

One of the successful and inspiring people who has made public her struggle with the disorder is Carrie Fisher.  Fisher is best known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars trilogy.  She struggled for many years with erratic behavior and substance use, and it affected her career.  However, in 2000, she announced to the world that she was living with the disorder.  This made her one of the few celebrities at the time who was open about the illness.  Fisher has written books and a memoir that talk about her illness, often in a disarming and witty fashion.  Carrie appreciates the ability to laugh at herself, and hopes that her journey can inspire others to get the treatment that they need.

Catherine Zeta-Jones is another celebrity living with the disease.  She is diagnosed with Bipolar II which is noted to have less severe highs and more prolonged lows.  She was diagnosed in 2011 following her husband’s illness with throat cancer and a publicized legal battle with his ex-wife.  It is widely believed that stress can trigger bipolar at any time in an individual’s life.  Zeta-Jones checked into the hospital for treatment in 2011 and made it public that she has the illness. It is her hope that she can be an inspiration to others.

Jane Pauley is well known for her work in news and television.  She enjoyed a long career on the Today Show and Dateline NBC.  Pauley is also diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and is very vocal about how it has and continues to affect her life.  She has a problem with the negative stigma attached to the illness and wants to heighten awareness of mental health issues in general.  She speaks to groups and gives interviews about her life and illness.

The bottom line is that while Bipolar Disorder cannot be cured, it can be treated effectively with medication and therapy.  People with the illness need to know that there are others out there who are able to have a successful life even with the disease.  It can be an isolating disorder which is dangerous for those who have it. Conversations about it can only improve the chance that more people will seek treatment and get the help that they need.


by Cathy England


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