Hilary MacGregor, Los Angeles Times
Cheney's memoir 'Manic' has special significance in L.A.
Manic Hollywood tales are never in short supply: crazy agents screaming
into the phone, out-of-control actors driving drunk, starlets creating
outre public spectacles or insomniac writers, holed up in hotel rooms
for weeks, hammering out the perfect screenplay. This is not natural
behavior, except in L.A., where it is almost expected.
The city provides the
physical and emotional backdrop for a new book by
Terri Cheney, a former entertainment lawyer who exposes the more
clinical side of all that out-of-control energy.
chronicles Cheney's decades-long struggle to come to terms with and
manage her bipolar disorder.
The book is not the first to give an autobiographical account of living
bipolar. It joins the ranks of Kay Redfield Jamison's "An
Mind," Carrie Fisher's "Postcards
From the Edge" and "The
(two novels based on her life) and Andy Behrman's "Electroboy:
of Mania," to name a few.
set in a glamorous world saturated with
money and celebrity, the book not only describes Cheney's individual
struggle against this disease -- which afflicts 5.7 million adult
Americans of every age, gender and social class -- it also provides an
apt metaphor for the bizarre psychological terrain of Hollywood.
"Hollywood is an industry of extremes," said Cheney, whose clients
included Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones. "It is feast or famine,
euphoria or despair. Everything has got to be faster, bigger, more, and
right now! In a way, you need to be manic to survive."
Therapists and psychiatrists around L.A. tend to share Cheney's view.
"We are not talking about a town where being married and going to
church every Sunday is highly valued," said Rebecca Roy, a therapist
who estimates that 75% of her clients are musicians, actors, producers
and writers, and advertises her practice with the slogan "Stay Sane in
an Insane Industry."
is about reaching for the heights, for
whatever is possible. That is kind of a manic view: the idea that there
is always a carrot on a stick in front of you and if you can just gear
yourself up for it you can get it. Millions and millions of people come
here for that reason."
No one knows what percentage of people living in Los Angeles are
bipolar, but studies have shown that there are very high rates of
bipolar among people in the arts, which includes musicians, poets and
"We don't know why this is the case, but there may be something about
the gene for creativity that runs not only in those types of
professions but in bipolar as well," said Dr. Lori Altshuler, the Julia
S. Gouw Professor of Psychiatry and director of the UCLA Mood Disorders
The up and down nature of Hollywood life, Cheney suggests, makes it
easier for those who suffer to conceal their mental illness here.
Bipolar may go undiagnosed in many communities, but in Hollywood, manic
traits are not only overlooked, they are celebrated.
types of bipolar: I and II. The difference is one of degree. Those with
bipolar II experience hypomania, but not mania. In most cases,
hypomania does not impair a person's daily functioning.)
Bipolar traits include increased energy and productivity, a decreased
need for sleep -- many with bipolar need only three to four hours of
sleep a night during a manic or hypomanic phase -- and increased
self-esteem, talkativeness and sociability.
are the types of
traits most actors would like to have all the time," Altshuler said.
"People who are hypomanic are the life of the party. They are magnetic,
and the problem is, they don't want to be treated for hypomania because
it feels so good."
Written in episodic chapters that mimic the ups and downs of bipolar
depression -- hypomania, mania, depression -- Cheney's book is a
gut-churning ride. At times the reader feels lost, discombobulated, but
Cheney said the nonlinear structure was intentional.
"I wanted this book to mirror the disease, to give the reader a
visceral experience," she writes in her preface. "It's truer to the way
I think. When I look back, I rarely remember events in terms of date or
sequence. Rather, I remember what emotional state I was in. Manic?
Depressed? Suicidal? Euphoric? Life for me is defined not by time, but
On a recent evening, curled up in her writer's lair in a hidden canyon
in Beverly Hills, the petite, red-haired Cheney came across as
controlled and slightly fragile. It is hard to imagine her living the
crazed sexual and suicidal episodes she describes in her book.
For Cheney, a correct diagnosis took seven years. She has endured
multiple suicide attempts, nights in jail and even electroshock therapy
in her struggle to reach what she calls "an uneasy truce with the
Her view of L.A. is inseparable from the disease. During 16 years
working as an entertainment lawyer, she often wondered if the agent or
studio executive talking a mile-a-minute on the other end of the phone
wasn't secretly manic, too.
when she sees stories of volatile young
celebrities struggling with substance abuse problems, she suspects the
undiagnosed symptoms of bipolar.
Britney Spears, for example, now hospitalized for the
second time: "The
relentless exuberance, the irreverence, the constant defiance of rules
-- mania looks like fun on the outside, but it's not," Cheney said.
absolutely terrifying. You're swept up by forces you can neither
control nor understand. To me, it looks as if bipolar disorder has
swallowed her whole."
Doctors know there are very high rates of drug and alcohol abuse in
people who are bipolar, many times higher than the general population
rates. "They are trying to self-medicate," Altshuler said.
Experts say the list of celebrities with bipolar disorder -- some
confirmed, some not -- is in the hundreds. Some actors, such as Carrie
Fisher and Patty Duke, have come out publicly about their struggles.
Actress and activist Mariette Hartley, who has appeared in shows such
as "Star Trek" and "The Incredible Hulk" over the course of her long
career, called her decision to come out about the disease "wrenching."
you are a famous actor, or a farmer in Iowa, this disease can
be hidden from yourself," she said. "When the demons hit, they get you
wherever you are."
Still, she said, for actors or rock stars, one depends on the highs to
perform, and as time goes by it becomes harder and harder to reach
those highs. When that is not there, you plunge down. "Often, you are
lost, if you do not have a life."
Even when the disease is diagnosed, many artists and performers are
reluctant to be treated, because they fear treatment will extinguish
their creative fire.
For Cheney, who spent seven years on her memoir, writing became a form
of salvation. In one chapter, she is arrested and jailed in Van Nuys.
She was deeply ashamed, and for years could not return to the site of
after she wrote her story, it lost its power over
It's perhaps surprising that Cheney writes with humor, and even wonder,
about this disease that has wreaked havoc with her life. In the end,
she offers hope -- that the proper medication can be found, and that
some semblance of a normal life can be lived.
"It's an incredible time to be bipolar," she said, with only a touch of
irony. "There is so much awareness. There are so many medications.
There is so much unexpected compassion."
Angeles Times February 1, 2008
Genaro Molina, Los Angeles Times
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