TURNING A FAMILY CURSE INTO A BLESSING
My name is Tom and I was diagnosed on Good Friday 1993 with bipolar disorder. The diagnosis came too late to save my marriage and my career as a professor of broadcasting at a small Christian college in Arkansas. It could have saved my brother’s life, too, but he committed suicide a year earlier. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder while serving in the Army, but discharged without ever receiving treatment. He was too afraid of stigma to seek psychiatric treatment once discharged. Our step-sister took her life five years later after several attempted suicides in the midst of major depression and drug abuse. The first symptoms of manic-depression began in my first year of college. Major depression was written off by family and friends as something I could control if I only prayed more.
Mania expressed itself in hyper-sexuality with women other than my wife, grandiosity in performing on radio and television as a broadcast journalist and on stage and later screen as an actor. A major depression in 1988 forced me to commit myself to a psychiatric hospital where I was given the worst antidepressant that can be given to a manic-depressive. It sent me to the moon and I chose to leave my family and faculty position to move to Hollywood where I was convinced I could make a living as an actor. Depression returned once the meds ran out and I was on a bus back to Arkansas six months later to try to rescue my marriage and teaching position, but it was all gone.
I supported myself as a janitor and lived in an unheated cabin in the country. It was five years before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a physician friend told me I was “acting kind of crazy and scaring people”. He strongly suggested I see a psychiatrist who gave me the diagnosis after I talked non-stop for an hour. My journey began. It continues in recovery today by speaking to others about my experience, strength and hope and to end stigma because it discourages people like my brother and sister from getting help.
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Tom Roberts is a speaker and writer about mental illness and stigma. He speaks from the perspective of the brother of two suicide victims and as one who has struggled with bipolar disorder.
Tom is a former broadcast journalist working at local network affiliates and as a freelance reporter for National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and The Voice of America. Tom taught broadcast journalism eight years at John Brown University and Technical Communication at UC-Berkeley Extension for five years.
Tom is a professional actor and voice-over artist. His credits include “The Sara Winchester Story” for the Nippon Television Network, Tokyo. He is represented by IDIOM Worldwide, Los Angeles.
Tom lives in Huntington Beach, CA. and enjoys time with his grandchildren.
Tom can be found on his blog, Facebook and Twitter
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