This Actor Says He's Just A Goofy Guy...Unless He's Off His Medication. He Sure Tells It Like It Is.

This Emmy-winning actor is tearing down the stigma of mental illness by drawing on his own experience and putting it into his character. So in this case, art is imitating life.

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Maurice Bernard: A nervous breakdown is, it's like being in a nightmare and not being able to wake up. And then every so often you wake up, and you say, ``Oh, wow, everything's normal.'' And then you go right back into that thing, that nightmare.

I play a mobster on "General Hospital'' I've been doing "General Hospital'' for close to 18 years. He is a lot darker then I am, you know, I'm more goofy in real life. He's on the dark side. But he's actually bipolar, that's a fact. He is great to play. After 10 years on "General Hospital." I won my first Emmy, which was a great night for my family, my mom and dad, everybody.

Growing up Hispanic, I loved my dad to death, loved my mother to death. When I was a teenager, and I would go out and we'd fight afterwards it felt good. It gives you a sense of pride, but it's almost false pride. I'm a tough guy, but in reality I believe I was the fragile guy, I was fragile inside. But I had to prove to people that I was something else. There's a lot going on there, you know. I had just started acting; I was very bad in the beginning. But I had a passion for it. The coach that I had kept telling me to learn monologues and stuff. So I would learn these monologues all night. OK, and I wouldn't sleep. I'd just be [SP] "da dada'' kind of a way for me to release all my demons, if you want to call it. It felt great.

I remember one day being with my mother watching Phil Donahue and going I can read his mind. Well that lead to my dad coming home one day, and I got kind of rough with my mom, which I would never do in a normal situation. And then my dad would have to calm me down then I'd become real fragile, “Mom I'm sorry, I'm sorry I don't know what's come over me.” And then that night I started losing it completely. So, the next morning they took me to the hospital, then they put me in this room, and I thought I was the exorcist. I was fighting the doctors that were holding me down. I was spitting on my brother, and my father. Then they gave me a shot, and they knocked me out.

When I woke up, I thought I had died because it was so quiet in there, and the sun was coming through that I thought I was in heaven. That's when I realized that I was sick because they let me out on a wheelchair, and I remember this couple walking by they just looked at me like they felt sorry for me and I knew there was something really wrong with me.

They were taking me now to a kind of like a mental institution where I could walk around, you know. One time I jumped on the counter, I don't remember why I jumped on the counter, but I jumped on the counter, and they throw you in this, what they call, a seclusion room. It's like four walls, and a bed and they strap you down. There's a wall, and there was a latch and I ripped off the latch. There was a point where I was thinking I wanted to end my life because I couldn't live like this. So I took the thing, and I started like putting it to my wrist and I started praying, and praying and praying. Then for whatever reason I took the thing, the latch, and I busted it in half, and I made it into a cross, and I put it right by my bed. You know I had my 22nd birthday in there, which was not great.

Then I went home, and that's when the hard part starts when the medication started wearing off. Then you start realizing what I did that my life was done. That's the way I felt. I know at that time when I got home from, you know, the hospital that I had gone through a nervous breakdown. I know that it felt just devastating, the pain, the depression, felt really bad. So I went to Dr. Noonan,[SP] a psychiatrist because a few other psychiatrist they would just look at me and say, "And how do you feel? And what do you think?'' And I'd be like well, "`What do you think I think? I think I'm feeling a lot of pain.''

But Dr. Noonan,[SP] I went and told him my story, and he just looked up and he says, ``I believe you're manic depressive. And I'm going to put you on Lithium.'' So he pretty much saved me. Because at least I knew, there was a name for something that was going on. And that he could give me medication and treatment, and I would get better. I didn't get better right away, but it did get better eventually. Let's just put it this way when I stay on my medication, I do well. When I don't, I don't.

So I've had two other manic episodes after the main one, when I got off the medication. So I've been on medication now for 17 years, and I haven't had a manic episode. I've had other things, but not anything major. I get tempted to go off only because I think I'm doing good. But it's just false, it's so scary to take a chance, so I stay on my medication. I always want help. I'm good at knowing there's something wrong with me. I'm not just talking about bipolar, I'm just talking in general how I feel inside. I don't like to feel the ugliness that I had, so I want to fix it.

People kept telling me that if I spoke about being manic, then it was manic depressive, now it's bipolar, that people would think that I was crazy and that I wouldn't get hired. What happened was I got a letter from a boy who said that his brother had committed suicide. He shot himself in the head because he was bipolar. And that he read something that I had ... in a little magazine or something that I had talked about. And that because he read that it helped him deal with his brother's death.

So after that I said, you know, you got to stop thinking about yourself and you got to do what's best. Try to help other people so after that, I start talking about it. That to me means more than anything, really. It is bigger than acting; acting is what it is, but if you could actually save somebody from doing something, it's amazing. I think other people now can say, “Hey if this guy can do it or if this woman can do it then I know I can do it.” I think that's how you start erasing the stigmas, of people just talking about it.

Before you go through an episode or a breakdown, I think it's important to know what the signs are. For me, the signs were the feeling of grandiose, feeling of nothing can touch me. I could run 50 miles and you can't tell me I can't because I can do it. Your thoughts start racing, your obsessive thoughts start racing. You can't stop it; you can't stop it. Very emotion, crying for no reason, and I'm talking bawling like a child. Feeling you can read people's minds, you know, that's the thing that I did a lot.

So if you ever start feeling those symptoms, you truly need to go get help, truly got help. Hope is to be with my family. I just love being with ... I keep saying it, but it's the main thing in my life, just being with my family. That's like where I feel at peace. I've been able to prove that with medication living the life that I live I can be productive, and I can live as normal as you can be. And that's important, that is important.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

I found this great interview on Profiles of Hope. Shout out to Maurice Benard for this raw and brave interview.

May 14, 2014

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