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Patty Duke’s Brilliant Madness

Friday, 22 April 2016 00:00  by Yolanda F.


The recent passing of Patty Duke at age 69 is a good reason to consider the importance of the practice of mindfulness. Anna “Patty Duke” Pearce was best known for her Academy Award-winning portrayal of Helen Keller with Anne Bancroft, who played Anne Sullivan in The Miracle Worker. After that, she played identical cousins in her own TV sitcom, The Patty Duke Show.

Both shows, which date her career back to the late 1950s, came long before Duke’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder in 1982, which she wrote about later in two different books. That’s when she became an advocate for mental health issues, which she may not have done if she wasn’t mindful of the many people she would address and comfort with her honesty and courage about her experience.

She was one of the first celebrities to speak publicly about bipolar, depression and substance abuse. Her first book, Call Me Anna: The Autobiography of Patty Duke, was published in 1988 and detailed her personal bout with bipolar disorder.

In 1992, came her second book, A Brilliant Madness: Living With Manic-Depressive Illness, discusses her own experience as well as the disease in general provided by medical reporter Gloria Hochman, whose expertise makes it a must-read for anyone with the disorder.

According to Bipolar Lives website, Duke’s depression made it difficult for her to get out of bed for days, sometimes weeks at a time, and her mania contributed to the following behavior:

  • She had three failed marriages, including a 13-day marriage to someone she barely knew.
  • She went on wild spending sprees.
  • She engaged in out-of-character promiscuity.
  • She attempted suicide multiple times.
  • She was known to throw herself out of cars.
  • She was enraged at times, and was known to smash and throw things while verbally abusing the focus of her anger.

Unfortunately for Duke, her issues were genetic. Her father was an alcoholic, which is not uncommon in family members of people with bipolar, and her mother was diagnosed with unipolar depression. Duke’s accounts in both books offer not only a solid case study, but provide insight in the ongoing debate of nature vs. nurture. In Brilliant Madness, she also opened up about how she managed the disorder.

“I have been taking lithium every day – two times a day – since 1982, when I was diagnosed,” she wrote. “I’m one of the lucky ones. For me, lithium works.” (Patty Duke, p 117 of Brilliant Madness, 1992)

While research shows a strong link between creative ability and increased rates of bipolar and other mood disorders, Duke acknowledges the connection without minimizing the emotional chaos and destructiveness brought on by the disorder.

She was quoted as saying, “. . .the mania may have been at work in a positive way for me . . . the ability to feel intensely the highs and lows, to have the capacity to be at one with the human condition, is something I wouldn’t have traded for anything. . . . I think that . . . chemical imbalance . . . gave me a certain amount of energy and insight . . . to do things that most . . . don’t.”

Last modified on Friday, 22 April 2016 04:58

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