When My 16-Year-Old Son Spoke Out About Bipolar on the News
One day, my son’s psychiatric doctor contacted me with a special invitation that may never come along again.
“How would you both like to attend a movie screening and panel discussion for a new movie coming out about bipolar disorder, and be interviewed on the radio?”
“The movie is called ‘Touched With Fire.’ Katie Holmes is in it. The director, Paul Dalio, has bipolar disorder.”
“I will check with him, but I’m sure he would want to do it!”
My son is a movie fanatic. He knows the names of nearly every director, and can speak intelligently about intricate plots and multi-faceted characters.
His doctor appreciates that about him, and they enjoy talking about movies and music.
She knew that not only would he jump at this chance, but he isn’t afraid to speak openly about his bipolar disorder.
The radio interview would feature his doctor and the child and adolescent mood disorders clinic where she works. She was asked to choose a patient to be interviewed.
“Naturally, I thought of our guy,” she said. “It will be a great experience for him. I’m excited for you both to join us on this journey.”
I was thrilled and touched that of all the teens she works with, she chose him.
She referred us to the clinic’s public relations director, and we made plans for the big day. The interview would take place at their office before the movie screening. After the screening, clinic doctors, the “Touched With Fire” director and actors from the movie would be part of a panel discussion about bipolar disorder.
Would Katie Holmes be there?
The day finally arrived. It meant an absence from school for my son, which of course he was ecstatic about.
We met his doctor and the public relations director in the office. I was relieved when they told me they would only be interviewing him, and not me.
“Sit down and relax. The people from WBBM will be arriving soon.”
The camera crew and interviewer arrived.
The interviewer had dark hair tinged with gray. He had a calm demeanor and a warm personality.
He introduced himself and shook our hands. “It’s nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot of good things about you. Go ahead and make yourselves comfortable while they set up the cameras.”
Why are there so many cameras being set up for a radio interview?
The interviewer chatted with my son, and told him about his brother, who has bipolar disorder. The focus of the movie is the astounding creativity associated with bipolar disorder, he noted. There are so many talented people diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
He asked about his interests, and my son told him about his interest in film, his work at the radio station at school and his writing projects. He told him about a poem he had written about his struggles with bipolar disorder.
“Do you have a copy of the poem, or can you get one?” he asked me.
“No, but I can get one.”
I left the room and phoned my husband to send a copy of the poem.
The interview began, lights on, cameras focused on the interviewer and my son.
He’s a natural. He doesn’t even look nervous. I would be a wreck!
They talked about how it feels to have bipolar disorder, his creativity and his current stability in comparison to when he wrote the poem.
My son read his poem, “Twister,” which compares his bipolar disorder to a storm that sweeps in quickly and leaves all its wreckage behind.
I’m so proud of him.
The interviewer asked him how his illness feels. He described it: “You can either be amazingly happy….or really angry…..or you can be really depressed and feel like you want to die.”
The cameras paused.
“Do you mind if we go outside?” the interviewer asked me, and my son.
They went for a walk outside, wrapping up the interview.
The interviewer invited us to come to the news station anytime for a tour. He definitely had a soft spot for my son.
Who doesn’t? He’s a great kid.
After the interview was over, my son’s doctor and the public relations director pulled us aside.
The interview would be on the Chicago evening news in a matter of hours, they told us.
The news! I knew it wasn’t a radio station with all those cameras!
As a person who doesn’t enjoy much attention, my son sure was smiling broadly, and his eyes were bright.
They told us he would have a chance to meet the director at the screening.
When we left, my son and I were practically jumping out of our skins with excitement. The news, tonight! We phoned my husband immediately.
“Oh wow, I have to tell everyone! Post it on Facebook!” he exclaimed.
Later, waiting in line for the movie, my cell phone began to blow up with messages. The news broadcast must have just aired!
I checked my messages.
“I saw him on the news! He was amazing!”
“He’s so brave….” I heard over and over.
I never really thought of it that way, him being brave. It just seemed so natural, so him, talking about how having bipolar disorder feels. He really was speaking out for himself and for others. An advocate.
By the time the movie started, my son was exhausted. It was a long, exciting day, starting early that morning when we woke up and drove to the city.
His anxiety was kicking in. I hoped he would be OK. He asked for an extra large soda for the movie.
“I need it,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll make it.” I understood. That happens.
I hoped he would make it to meet the director afterward.
The movie was incredible. Yellows and bright colors of mania, blues of depression. The leading characters, a couple with bipolar disorder played by Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby, nailed it. I glanced over at my son a couple of times, worriedly. This sure hit close to home. I was nervous it would be a trigger for him because it was so true-to-life.
He just stared, quiet, sipping his drink through a long straw.
“How’d you like it?” I whispered to my son after the movie ended.
“It was really good.”
Katie wasn’t there for the discussion following the movie, but actor Luke Kirby was a thoughtful, intelligent spokesperson. He discussed his and Katie’s intensive research into bipolar disorder for their roles. He talked about method acting. I was impressed.
When the discussion ended, my son’s doctor ushered us over so he could meet the director.
I saw them talk for a few minutes, and then my son came back.
“I’m ready to go home.”
“That was quick! How did it go?” I asked.
And that was that.
Afterward, watching the news interview, it was even more impressive when it was all put together on television. My son was so composed. I may be biased, but this was a comment often made by people outside the family, too.
“You must be so proud of him,” they said.
I was so darn proud of him and his moment in the spotlight. He deserves this, and so does every person out there living with bipolar disorder. They are beautiful souls.
Thank you, Paul Dalio, for bringing this true-to-life portrayal of your illness to the screen. Thank you, Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby, for doing your research on bipolar disorder and working with Paul Dalio to create characters as realistic as possible, and putting your hearts into the role. And most of all, thank you to my son’s doctor for giving him this amazing experience to speak out about his bipolar disorder, and for always being there for our family.
There is hope. My son’s doctor is a shining example of someone who fights for these kids every single day.
Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son.
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Screenshot via Vince Gerasole’s YouTube Channel