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Living with Bipolar Disorder and the Stigma of Mental Illness

Paul Jones on Experiences of Living with Bipolar DisorderPaul Jones wason the verge of committing suicide 6-years ago, when somehow he pulled himself together just enough to make it to the doctor's office where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Today, the standup comedian, author, singer/songwriter tours the country talking about the ups and downs of his life and the stigma attached to mental illness. He's also written several books, including: Dear World- A Suicide Letter.

Paul joined us to discuss the various aspects of his life with bipolar and how he copes with the stigma of mental illness.

Natalie is the HealthyPlace.com moderator

The people in blue are audience members.


online conference transcript

Natalie: Good evening. I'm Natalie, your moderator for tonight's Bipolar chat conference. I want to welcome everyone to the HealthyPlace.com website. Besides having comprehensive information on all mental health conditions, we have a large social network. The social network is a place for people with mental health conditions as well as their family members and friends to meet each other, maintain blogs and provide and get support. It's free to join. All you do is set up a user account.

Tonight, we are talking about personal experiences of living with bipolar disorder along with the stigma attached to having a mental illness.

Our guest, Paul Jones, is not only a well-known stand-up comedian, but he's also an author, singer and songwriter. He is 42 years old, married, a father of three and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 36; just 6 years ago. Paul is very involved with educating people about bipolar disorder and not only its effect on the individual, but also on family members and friends. He's also written several books, including: Dear World- A Suicide Letter, Life after Suicide: A Bipolar Journey, A Bipolar Discussion: From the Inside Looking In, and his most recent release My Five Key's to living with Bipolar Disorder (purchase these here: www.BipolarBoy.com).

Good evening, Paul, and welcome to the HealthyPlace.com website

Paul Jones: Evening to you and all. Thanks for having me.

Natalie You're an entertainer. Many famous actors and writers, including Robin Williams, Martin Lawrence, Ben Stiller and, of course, Patty Duke, all have bipolar. Some credit the disease with providing them with extraordinary creativity and so, in various articles and interviews, you'll see bipolar disorder even glamorized. In your case, how much truth is there to that?

Paul Jones: Indeed many "famous" and "successful" people have been diagnosed as Bipolar or Manic Depressive; depending on which title you prefer. I have been blessed over the years to have worked with so many very creative people and can say that I think probably 90% of them suffer from some sort of mental illness.

The fact is, I know this illness is not who I am, but it is a part of me, a part that has allowed me at times to do some pretty creative and incredible things. I attribute it to the ability to have many thoughts at a time.

The key is having someone around you who can do something with those thoughts. You know, harvest the good ones and throw away the bad.

Natalie Has it ever crossed your mind that you would not be as funny or productive if it weren't for bipolar disorder?

Paul Jones: To some degree, yes, it has -- but I have to tell you right now, I am not really a person who looks back at what could have been and or what should have been. One of the problems we have in our country right now is people are constantly trying to figure out what could have been. I have enough mental problems and trying to figure out the past is like sitting around planning on what you will buy when you win the lottery. It is a complete waste of time. Would have, could have, should have, all three have no place in my life.

Natalie So our audience can get a perspective, prior to your diagnosis, what was living with bipolar disorder like for you?

Paul Jones: Hell, Hell, Hell, and did I mention, Hell? I think I am not any different than most people living with this illness who have no idea what is wrong with them.

Natalie So, can you please describe what "hell" was like for you?

Paul Jones: I spent the last three-and-a-half years before the diagnoses in depression. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get out. I was on stage every single night making people laugh and praying I would get shot all at the same time. I lost my family, my money and my hope.

Natalie You went to the doctor in August 2000. In an article I read, you mention being extremely depressed at the time. But you had been dealing with this depression for a long time. What kept you from going to the doctor earlier?

Paul Jones: Stigma, Fear, Pride and Stupidity and not in that order. What keeps most people from facing a brain illness? All four of the above and more I am sure. No one wants to have a mental illness, do they? I know I did not. I would take cancer, diabetes, and such. If I have those, then I will have people come and visit me with food and stuff. Have a mental illness and you'll be labeled for the rest of your life.

Natalie And how has your life changed since your bipolar diagnosis?

Paul Jones: This could be a very long-winded answer. I will try and make it short.

My life, since being diagnosed, has been harder than it was prior. Why? Because the day I was diagnosed, I had to participate in my own recovery and mental health. I could no longer say, " I wonder what is wrong with me" because I knew. I could no longer sit in my room and say, "poor me" because I knew. I could no longer look at the mess I had made and blame it on other people -- because I knew.

Many people think being diagnosed makes it all go away. The fact is, nothing goes away, ever. You simply have to learn how to face and handle life again.

How is my life? My life is wonderful because I know. I know and I am back in the driver's seat. Still hitting bumps from time-to-time but I am driving and that is all that matters to me.


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Last Updated: 31 March 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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