Understanding Bipolar Disorder
Now a 40-year-old mother of four, Sinéad says even as she was being hailed at age 23 as one of the most influential figures of her generation, she was suffering. Her legendarily erratic behavior stemmed from a terror-filled childhood and an undiagnosed bipolar disorder. "I was watching the previous show you did about bipolar disorder and you had that lovely woman—[Jenifer Lewis] on—and I really identified with her about this thing of when you close the dressing room door after the show, your whole other mind-set would kick in."
As her fame rose in her 20s, she says she began to suffer from depression. At 28, she says she began therapy. On her 33rd birthday, she had her first serious suicide attempt. At 37, Sinéad says she finally was diagnosed as bipolar. In those years between 23 and 37 the depression had been getting steadily worse. "The volume just slowly went up and up and up," she says.
"It's almost very difficult to explain when you are the person that suffers from the thing, but the best way I can describe it is it's almost like before you get ill, you are a solid wall," Sinéad says. "And while you're ill, it's like the bricks are falling away and it's one teetering little brick."
Sinéad says her depression manifested itself in debilitating ways. "I think people experience it differently. I'm very frightened of everything," she says.
Sinéad says even as she struggled to deal with her abusive upbringing and her fame, the music remained an outlet. "In Ireland, we're still quite behind in terms of recovery and therapy and all that kind of stuff," she says. "So when I was growing up there was no such thing as talking to anyone about abuse and what you've been through—there was no such thing as therapy and no such thing as recovery, basically. So for me, music was where I kind of put everything."
On a wall in her kitchen, Sinéad wrote a note to herself: It doesn't matter if it's not perfect! "I was worried about making sure when I went away that all the childcare was all arranged and perfect, perfect, perfect," she says. "But I have to remind myself it doesn't matter if things aren't perfect."
When the medications were prescribed to her, Sinéad says she was scared to take them at first. "But I said, 'I've got nothing to lose,'" and, she says, she took them for the first time. "It was brilliant because I felt this huge hole. And when I took the meds, within half an hour, it was literally like I felt concrete coming in to fill the hole."
Sinéad says she used to feel suicidal but medication has given her a new outlook on life. "Everything just became too much, and the best way I can describe it to you is you're so sad, just terribly sad, that you're like a bucket of water with holes in it. Every pore of you is crying and you don't even understand why or what," Sinéad says. "I actually kind of died and got born again as a result of taking the meds and having a chance to, you know, build a life."
"You could see in her face," Hilly says. "You could see her mind was just starting to go out of control." Sinéad says she remembers how she felt in those times. "You're carrying so much pain that you couldn't know where to put it," she says.
Sinéad says she feels sorry for the scrutiny today's pop stars like Britney Spears live with. "I think it's terrible what the media are doing to her here," Sinéad says. "I feel so sorry for celebrities in this country [the United States]. It's absolutely impossible to live a normal life being followed around, poor girl. We all mess up, don't we, as moms. We never always get it right."
The rebel rocker says she's resolved to let her tabloid persona "rest in peace," and though she had announced her retirement from music, Sinéad is on tour with a her album, Theology. "I'd actually really like to start with a clean slate without all that baggage and not be kicked around really, either," she says.
Back when Chris was a young boy, Pat says he was a great kid—a swimmer, Boy Scout and ball boy for the Indiana Pacers. "He just smiled a lot and he just lit up a room with the way he smiled," Pat says.
But when Chris reached his mid-20s, Pat says he began showing signs of bipolar disorder. "He was like Jekyll and Hyde, and it wasn't the boy that I ever knew. His personality changed. He just struggled. I mean, he tried so hard to be normal, and it just wasn't there."
During his rage, Chris says that he has thrown a television down the stairs, punched holes in walls, broken expensive furniture and kicked in the fenders of his car after it got stuck in the mud. "I'm not allowed to be alone with my kids because they think I'm going to hurt them and I won't know it," Chris says.
Chris gives his family an emotional apology for his behavior. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to do the stuff I do. I want to change but I don't know how."
Chris's anger is also an issue at home. "It's just hard never knowing what mood he's gonna be in. The violent temper tantrums. Verbal abuse."
Autumn believes that Chris's bipolar disorder is affecting their children. "They don't like it," she says. "It makes them mad and sad at the same time. They just don't know what to do."
Oprah asks if Chris believes he could truly cause harm to his family. "Hopefully not, but I've blacked out," Chris says.
"I always loved when Anderson Cooper was down in [New Orleans after] Katrina and he said, 'Hope is not a plan.' So, you all need a plan. 'Hopefully not' is not good enough," Oprah says.
Patty, who has spoken publicly about her own struggle with bipolar disorder, advises Chris and his family to try support groups. "There are peer groups here and I think it would behoove you to take a shot at going to one or more of the meetings," Patty says.
Patty gives Chris encouragement and tells him to hang on. "I pray that the pain you're feeling right now and the fear eases when you realize, number one, you're on the road, and number two, your family, they love you," Patty says. "I attempted suicide a few times. I realized only later, of course, that I don't want to die—I just wanted the pain to stop. You're now acquiring the tools to make the pain stop."
Although recovery is not an easy process, Patty tells Chris, "I know that this pain will lift—never as fast as we want it to—but you've got to hang onto the idea."
Afterwards, Chris says that meeting Patty helped to give him a little hope. "I've never talked to somebody that's recovered from this illness," he says. "It felt comforting."
Another recommendation is for Chris and his family to write a list of questions and concerns for his doctor. "The three of you, sit down and just make up a list while you're thinking well, at the top of your game, and then go in and talk about it," she says.
Dr. Jamison says it's unusual that Chris has been suffering from bipolar disorder on medication for as long as he has, but he should not lose hope. "The important thing to realize is it is treatable. This is a very, very, very treatable illness," Dr. Jamison says.
Think you or someone you know has symptoms of bipolar disorder?
Take care of your emotional well-being.