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    "There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered."
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David Baxter

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Turning into the Sun
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
by Anna Pearce, aka actress Patty Duke, author of Call Me Anna and A Brilliant Madness, and NAMI spokesperson.

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982, my immediate response was, ?Thank God it has a name?and a treatment!? Within 10 seconds, it was like turning into the sun from a very dark pit.

Was there some self-consciousness about being a person with mental illness? Yes, but it was short-lived. About six months after my diagnosis, I was on medication, feeling balanced, and I realized that I had an opportunity.

As an actress, what I enjoy most is pretending, connecting with the child in me. In the theatre, I love hearing the energy come back from the dark. That?s the most fun, connecting with people. Television and film are other mystical worlds for me, as I have to translate with my eyes.

Playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker was a kid?s dream?I got to beat up an adult and people laughed. Acting in that role was when I first began to understand what it meant to transcend connection with another actor. Between actress Anne Bancroft, who played Annie Sullivan, and I, the biggest miracle was us together.

Portraying Helen exposed me to different stigmas in society. The power of the stories of Helen and Annie?s lives became infused in me at such a vulnerable age. Helen has been an example my whole life. I was involved with causes for the blind, for instance, but because my illness is so immediate to me, I was compelled to focus on advocacy for others with mental illness.

I knew that I had a certain amount of celebrity, a certain amount of access to the press. I could go public and reach people. Like Patrick Kennedy, this drive comes from a pure place.

Both writing Call Me Anna, my autobiography, and acting in the television version were difficult experiences, but I just wanted to get the word out about mental illness.

Almost 26 years later, I know that this is my calling in life.

If you know something this good, you have a moral obligation to share it.

At first I thought, If I can reach one person, that will be enough. I?ve learned that was a big, bold lie.

I want everyone!

There is no reason for anyone to suffer without treatment. I know that so many of our social ills come from a mental illness of one form or another.

I can hope pretty deep. I hope that people who are suffering will find that there is a process that will stop the suffering.

I was recently appointed to the Center for Mental Health Services National Advisory Council and I know there are truly wonderful mental health facilities out there. We need to build a stronger network.

When I speak to audiences, there?s part of me that wants to run. I focus on the people when I?m speaking?everything from that point on is easy. Floodgates open, we compare notes.

Maybe I?ll say something that resonates. I always walk away feeling that I?ve been refueled.

This is the closest I?ve come to understanding communion.

To those who have been recently diagnosed or discouraged by stigma, I say, ?Welcome! You?re on the path. This may not be what you want your recovery to be yet, but it will be.?
 

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