Why It Took a Psychiatric Hospitalization for Maria Bamford to Realize She Could Find Love


Comedian Maria Bamford has been open about her bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) for years now. Her Netflix show, “Lady Dynamite,” is based off her time in a psychiatric hospital, and she was awarded the 2014 Illumination Award by the International OCD Foundation for her work spreading awareness about living with mental illness.

Most recently, in a piece for the New York Times published Tuesday, Bamford discussed what it’s like to stop working while in mental health treatment, how being unable to work made her feel unlovable — and how she learned this wasn’t true. She wrote:

At the age of 43, I had never had a relationship last more than a year. My colleagues in comedy suggested that it was par for the course in our business, and that paired with my psychiatric issues, I might never be eligible for lifelong commitment. But strangely, it was when I was hospitalized in a psych ward that I first found real hope that I could be married one day.

Bamford signed herself into a psychiatric hospital in 2010 when her suicidal thoughts were so bad, she feared she was going to kill herself. She thought it would be a quick visit, and that after 72 hours she’d be able to go back to work. But, like many with mental illnesses know, you don’t just “get better” because you have work to do, and Bamford had to cancel comedy shows to continue treatment.

When she was worried this meant she would never find love, her fellow patients showed her differently.

I kept asking other patients the same questions: ‘Do you still have a job? Do you think you’ll ever be able to work again?’ I kept asking my doctors when they thought I’d be well enough to go back to comedy. Of course, none of them could guarantee full recovery. But I did gather some surprising information that I wasn’t particularly interested in at the time: Many patients had partners and wives and husbands.

There was the wife and mother of grown children receiving ECT treatments that caused short term memory loss. A young woman who, after a psychotic episode involving the K.G.B. and aliens, spoke of her longtime boyfriend and all the support he provided when she was fired from her sales job. There was the man who came into the ward after a manic, knife-wielding episode in which he might have stabbed someone (I was very out of it and couldn’t get the whole story). He chatted amiably with his wife during visiting hours.

Over and over again, I encountered people with debilitating mental illness who were also part of a couple. They weren’t working, they needed care… And yet they were loved.

I started to think: That could be me. If I ever got better, maybe I would meet someone who could love me as I am. That maybe, work or no work, I’d no longer have to wait to be ‘lovable’ (translation: ‘productive’) in order to be loved.

Eventually, Bamford started online dating and ended up marrying a man she met on OkCupid. She said being in a long-term relationship has taught her “weaknesses” (as she calls them) are what binds people together, and that she can find love while being exactly who she is — mental health challenges and all. “I think that’s what love is,” she wrote, “Not having to hide exactly who you are.”

You can read her full piece here

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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