Stephen Fry and Bipolar

You’ve seen Stephen Fry: The secret life of a manic depressive haven’t you? It’s on YouTube if you haven’t. I think it’s my favourite documentary about this neurobloodyillogical neurobiological disorder we have. It’s two hours of solidly good viewing, I watched it on the Beeb when ot came out (2004? 5?) and again after my diagnosis this year.

Trigger warnings for suicide stuff. Also spoilers by the fuckload. Many words too, the damn thing is full of them. And the screenies are from YouTube and comments.


Happy?! I remember that … seven years old, ice cream, holiday … not since then really.

I love the way Carrie Fisher explains mania – so joyously theatrical. Guilty lol at Stephen saying, “And she’s on medication, imagine if she weren’t.”

Since he has a damn fine brain, he researches as deeply as possible and since he has incredible wit, there are delightful breaks in the generally sombre information. He went for an MRI and then had his DNA tested, “My DNA! It’s so attractive, I knew it would be.” And of course, he manages to be inspiring, because he’s one of the few openly bipolar celebs who does and says more than, yeah I hadda speak out to fight stigma. It’s also great to be able to identify with him, isn’t it? He’s lovely.

There’s a major message there too, for all of us weighed down by self loathing and all of those who try to convince us otherwise. He’s successful, but more than that, he is a much loved figure – and deep down he sees only worthlessness. He’s attempted suicide more than once as well. If you want an in-depth look at what makes Stephen who he is, his three (3!) autobiographies are as well written and self-effacing as you’d expect.


As an interviewer, he is so, so kind and empathetic with people, children and adults alike. And always thoroughly respectful. I suspect that his attitude would work with any kind of issue at all, it’s utterly gracious.

He asks a man whose career and marriage were wrecked by it and whose suicide attempt left incredible scars, if he wished he wasn’t bipolar. The man said the answer was an easy no, because he’d walked with angels. That’s a clear case of psychosis without insight, but he seemed perfectly fit, active and happy, so I certainly won’t judge him.

When he asks people if they would take a cure for bipolar, most of them say no, despite it being, ‘the greatest killer of all psychiatric illnesses’. Personally, I’d say yes with alacrity. You? Credit due, he then went and spoke to someone who’d say yes in a heartbeat. She once tried to drill a hole in her head – and for anyone reading who thinks that’s crazy, it’s not. It’s pain. Picture your mind as the worst torture imaginable, now imagine you’re trapped there.

Googling news about him shows that although documentaries end, bloodypolar bipolar doesn’t. There was another suicide attempt in 2013. Still, he survives and advocates beautifully for and with the rest of us. Thank you Mr Fry.


11 years after his initial diagnosis of ‘mild’ bipolar (cyclothymia), when he refused lithium for the usual reasons, Stephen discovered that his condition was worsening and decided to start medication.

I have screamed in the faces of people who didn’t deserve it. (Richard Dreyfuss)

Dreyfuss is very compelling on the subject of medication. He’s a walking advertisement for it too. And he also has ADD and anxiety to deal with.

A psychiatrist tells Stephen some sobering stuff, that bipolar patients are symptomatic for almost half their lives, that cognitive dulling occurs in both the disorder and the meds that treat it, that if you stop and start lithium you will have more manic episodes than if you’d never taken it … fun times!


Stephen’s depression on camera is an interesting thing to see, poor dude. He has 3 or 4 episodes of depression per year and they each last a week to 10 days. How does that compare to yours? Not that I’m trying to host the suffering olympics.

Here’s more on the Zoe Schwarz segment. This is one of the saddest things I’ve read; it’s her parents on the subject of her suicide.

Could anyone have convinced her otherwise? We will never know. If only, while she was such a bundle of morosity and self-absorption, we had kissed her more often.

The collateral damage of manic depression is so bloody and so hellish. Poor things, those kisses very probably wouldn’t have helped much at all.

I learned that Andy Behrman’s teeny daughter had an Electrobaby tshirt and that the sectioning laws in the UK are freaking draconian. Guys, we need to look at our own countries’ laws asap. Mark Salter said, of sectioned patients, “Nine and a half punters leave here happy!”


“I can’t even write about being depressed when I’m depressed,” said Cordelia, neatly summing up the dilemma of creativity and bipolar. Manic = enormous creativity, depressed = none and the fear of the middle of the range being … bland. “I wouldn’t press the button and live a normal life,” said Stephen, “not for all the tea in China.” And there it ends, without him saying yea or nay about medication.

Well, I was unmedicated and bipolar for most of four decades. Show me that button I’ll probably break bones scrambling desperately to push it.

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