Not your mama’s Patty Duke Died Post-Badass Bipolar Hero

wHAT the Fuck?

she died

she actually died

Patty Duke is dead now?

i’M fucking SAD y’all

It feel in a way like my grandparent died

except I don’t really know my grandparents

I know Patty Duke

not personally!

I know her because she let everyone know her

that happens when you write memoirs

I know I have said previously that Therese Borchard was the first Bipolar person I “knew”

but that isn’t actually true

It was Ms. Duke

I feel all respectful and shit like I should call her that

maybe I shouldn’t have sworn ?

oh well let’s keep going

At first I didn’t know it…that she was the first fellow Bipolar I “met”

As a kid I drank up The Patty Duke Show (reruns! I’m old but not that old)

thoroughly enjoying the preposterous premise and the dresses Cathy wore

Somewhat later I was slightly hypomanicly obsessed with the Miracle Worker

it spoke to something in me

a deep dark emotionality and poignancy

and I found it beautiful in a way that went beyond what people around me felt (same thing with Moonstruck shrug)

From the creepy black and white opening with her stumbling through dark hallways to chilling music

to the pure aliveness of the end

I was hooked into the story

and mesmerized by the acting

I’ve always been somewhat of a fool for superb acting

I can tend to be rather Holden Caulfield about movies but great acting sucks me in

and she sucked me in

and next thing I knew I read her page turning (to me?) intense crazy memoir Call Me Anna

and THAT my friends was the first time I came across

Manic Depression

and so it didn’t cause me any judgement and there was no stigma or shame or anything in it to me.

Patty Duke had it.  That was all.  It seemed like it sucked immensely.

It made for an exciting heart breaking yet inspirational story

I didn’t know anything about society’s feelings surrounding it


I was an undiagnosed unaware cyclothymic teenager who felt removed from all of that….

like teenagers and humans tend to do…

I never thought anything like that would ever happen to me….

I also remember seeing the TV movie that was made out of Call Me Anna

I have somewhat recently scoured the world trying to find a way to see this movie and found it sadly impossible

maybe it will be possible now

now that she’s gone

And she played HERSELF in that movie

she played HERSELF people

rocking in corners

and hurling things around

and being Bipolar

literally reliving her own Bipolar

it is hard for me to imagine such bravery

such courage

such ferocious vulnerable exposure

especially 30 years ago

a time when Bipolar was even more stigmatized and way less understood and all of that good stuff

But anyway….

I felt a connection to her as a teenager…fascinated and inspired

so where do I go a large and raucous decade later when the Psychiatrist grabs my hand and stamps it with the Bipolar stamp….

I go to the Library of course and pick up….

Call Me Anna

and her other memoir A Brilliant Madness (a title I can’t help but love)

and I find comfort being immersed in the words of the one person I know is Bipolar

and I know she has “beaten” it…made a fine fine life for herself

overcome so much I mean Holy Hell what DIDN’T happen to her in childhood…

and given back in SO many ways…to our Bipolar community and so much more

she was as smart as a fire cracker

creative and beautiful inside and out

and witty of course…can’t do without witty around here

I went through youtube with a fine tooth comb watching her speak about Bipolar

I watched a clip of her on Oprah speaking to a newly diagnosed and suffering Bipolar man…

with a deep emotional ocean behind her eyes that can only come from one who KNOWS…

and she told him it could be better…. that he could have a good life

and that slammed me with a desperate trusting hope

and I cried

and I’m crying now

I’m actually kind of surprised how much the whole thing pings the back of my heart

but I’m also so sad because I just saw that her son, Samwise Gamgee…I mean Sean Astin, reported that she suffered horribly before her death

and I’m like


I don’t want it that way

I want her to have passed peacefully in her sleep like Gene Kelly or something

I know suffering is part of life and many people suffer terribly

but I still don’t want anyone to suffer

and to know of everything this woman went through….

a woman with such demons she tried to escape/kill herself numerous times

and then suffered terribly into death

at 69!

at 69

too early

and I think we could have used a lot more of her

I feel the loss for our community

she had a big voice

she was someone to point to….

I often did actually…when Bipolar came up…especially among an older crowd…stigma filled conversations and me voice shakingly piping up with….

“That isn’t what Bipolar really is.  Look at Patty Duke… she’s Bipolar.”

too afraid to out myself but happily using Patty Duke as an example of what a Bipolar can look like….

and what a Bipolar life can be

And we NEED that stuff

She was very wise

I learned a lot from her

Bipolar stuff and other life stuff

and one thing that matters most to me is that she accepted the Manic Depression wholeheartedly while also refusing to renounce one of her mystical experiences….

refusing to write it off as nothing but fucked up brain shit

she stood up to her PsychDoc and he continued to tell her she was in denial of all sorts and had just had a delusional and psychotic blip of sorts.

and she was all like fuck that shit

and as a Bipolar chick with a fair amount of mystical experiences tucked away in special files…I appreciate this greatly…

the idea that someone else…so known and so Bipolar..ALSO believes that this shit does not have to be all One way or All the Other…..

that’s just me

and Ms. Duke

I tweeted once for a post on textbook Bipolar that

“Nobody is textbook Bipolar except maybe Patty Duke”

she really was pretty darn textbook Bipolar

which unfortunately also allowed me to deny my own issues because held up to her Bipolar mine looks nothing like it

except in ways

and I get it now

this last quote from her sums everything up….

to me it is the quote I want to cross stitch (or someone else to cross stitch for me. I can’t handle that shit) and hang on my wall……

“I’ve survived. I’ve beaten my own bad system and on some days, on most days, that feels like a miracle.”


It is a miracle

we all know that

Shall I be super cray cheesy right now and say……

we’re all Miracle Workers

sure whatthehell

We’re all Miracle Workers



What the fuck?

She’s really dead?????????









Add Yours
  1. dyane

    Amazing post, Claya.
    You taught me things I didn’t know….thank you so much.
    I have Ms. Duke’s book “A Brilliant Madness” on my Kindle for *years*, but I haven’t read it yet.
    I will.
    I will leave you with this – last Wednesday on World Bipolar Day, there was a preview of a new PBS documentary about bipolar called “Ride the Tiger”.

    There were some segments filmed with Patty Duke for this production (a recent interview) and when I watched her I was floored by her spirit and her bright green eyes, and so much more that I can’t express.

    They wil be airing the series starting April 13 and I encourage you to watch her in it if nothing else.

    Here’s the link – you can watch previews online:

    Again, a brilliant post that Ms. Duke would be deeply moved by, Claya, as well as Samwise – I mean her son Sean – he would be deeply touched by your words as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. andrewsaltarelli

    To be honest, never heard of Patty Duke. Feel old…or young. Hey, I had to pay fifty cents to watch a half hour of TV when I was kid, and I spent it on Fat Albert. Anyway, to any possible readers who follows the fabulous Capers, a Depakote/Lamictal combination may help: has helped me: is helping. If you are med resistant and ultradian and don’t realistically foresee your 40th birthday, and find yourself in the deep dark sunless regions of the Bad Thing, it could possibly help. For real. Ask your doctor. Been, at this point, on 32 meds, and it’s the only combo that has worked (and failed and produced toxicity twice), and now seems to be working at the lowest possible manufactured dosages. So. Early stages. But. Minute tweaking IS important. This is something I have been slow to learn. We don’t have a disease — a priori, genetically — but it definitely becomes one — a disease, a disorder — after a certain developmental deformation, and this is a distinction too subtle for the grossly minded to discern, be they psychiatrists or therapists or bureaucrats or your father or sister or husband or daughter. Yet. It is the ALL important distinction. It’s up to to us. Meanwhile, I guess we have a forerunner in Patty Duke. I read the Samwise Gamge (sic) interview. She retired to Coeur D’Alene! Drove through there many times. At least ten. Was a favorite lunch spot on road trips. Remember once, eating a turkey and cheddar sandwich, seeing five bald eagles, above the lake, circling. Maybe that was her. Ha. I’m no mystic. Was just five bald eagles circling and glinting and being all majestic like. But. A fitting tribute to one of us. Who was here before us. Who understood us. Who figured out how to have a life. Good for her. I might be just an asshole at this point, but I think the only time I feel unambiguous cheer is when a member of the tribe somehow works out a good life. RIP Patty Duke, whoever you were.


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