Benard eases his tension by boxing, something he's done for 10 years. "There's nothing better than boxing—the exercise, the way it makes you feel. The art of boxing—it's amazing to me."
The other thing he does is to never miss his medication—lithium, which he says he's been on for 15 years.
And side effects? "The only side effect is, if I don't take it, I have a breakdown," he says. "I've been lucky, man."
For a two-year period, Benard says he went off his medication "and I shouldn't have." Lithium had been prescribed for him after he escaped during his initial hospitalization. "I ripped off these tennis shoes from another patient; they let me out for a walk and I never looked back."
Unhappy with his treatment there, Benard subsequently met a psychiatrist who sat him down and said, "You know, I think you're manic-depressive." "I said 'What's that?'" He said, 'Well, it's this and this and that,' and I said, 'I don't care what it is, as long as I know there's something.' He said, 'I'm going to put you on lithium.' And that was it."
Recently, Benard met with a group of fans in Los Angeles, who presented him with a poster that included his name among the many renowned artists who've been diagnosed with bipolar.
"I gotta tell you, I looked at it and saw my name there and was really moved," the actor says. "It had Van Gogh, Kurt Cobain, a bunch of people and I saw my name and said, 'Wow.' I think it's all about emotions, you know. And the more emotional you tend to be, the better painter or whatever you tend to be, too. There's a cost, sure, but that's the give-and-take. I can just look at myself and know the pain I've had to endure because of being bipolar, but the payoff is how great my life is now. And I've also become a much better actor because of being bipolar."
Just imagine if Van Gogh had had lithium. He might have had a less exciting life.
"Absolutely," Benard laughs. "But his paintings wouldn't be worth as much."
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