The San Luis Valley Mental Health Center sponsored an evening last Saturday to support mental health issues in the community, and to hear the story of one celebrity’s struggle with mental illness. Patty Duke, as she was known when starring in films and stage productions as a child, presented to a large audience her story about her life with bipolar disorder.
My friend and I bought tickets on Saturday afternoon, and unbelievably, they were only $10. When the time came to go, we were running late, so when we arrived at the theater, the program had already begun. The only seats left for us were way down front, on the third row (oh, darn!!!)
We arrived when Patty was speaking about how, at the age of 18, she was finally able to get away from the ‘guardians’/agents who had mistreated her as she grew up. Unfortunately, as she began life on her own, she took with her a mysterious, unknown ‘demon’ that would plague her until she was 35 years old. In 1982, after several attempts at suicide and many hospitalizations, she was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder (also known as manic/depressive illness.) She began treatment with lithium, and she stated that to this day she has not missed one day of her medication.
With her was her husband of 25 years, Mike Pearce, with whom she had several children. She met him on location for a movie she was filming. He was a drill sergeant at the time. The family lives in Idaho.
Following the presentation of her life story she answered questions from the audience. There was a very poignant moment when a woman on the front row told her that her mother had known Patty’s mother, and they had played bingo together. Patty had been estranged from her mother, and after some time they were reunited, and her mother lived with her until her death. The woman in the audience had a copy of Patty’s autobiography, Call Me Anna, that Patty’s mother had written in. Patty said she recognized her mother’s handwriting.
Afterward, out in the lobby, Patty had a book-signing for her book, A Brilliant Madness. My friend and I hung around until the very end. Another of my friend’s friends, who also has bipolar disorder, and who had written a book, spent a few moments with Patty, and we were there to take her picture with Patty.
As the book-signing wound down, and only a few others waited for their turn to have their books signed, I sat nearby on a bench. Patty looked over at me and said, “Hello. I love your hair.” (I have VERY short hair!) I said to her, because I very much admire her courage for speaking about her mental illness, and her acting ability, “Thank you, and I love you.”
It was only a few moments later, as my friend and I began to leave, that I very gently touched Patty on the shoulder. She turned to me and gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. I blessed her and told her how much I appreciated her. I was so moved, and chills ran through me as I left the theater.
Thank you, Patty Duke! You are a blessing!