My Oprah Experience and Why It Didn't Change My Life

John McManamy Health Guide
  • In late August, Julie, a producer from Oprah contacted me. They were interested in doing a show on bipolar. She saw my website and wanted to talk.


    Who doesn't have time for Oprah?


    I could see it now, the inspiration show:


    "Ladies and gentlemen, we have two extraordinary people on this stage, one who survived having his head bitten off by a shark, and the other who went through hell and back with madness ... "


    Or, perhaps the educational show:


    "John McManamy is the author of the best book I ever read. Hold up your book, John, and fill me with your great wisdom and insight ..."


    Soon it became obvious why Julie was calling. She wanted to know about my mad scene. My mad scene of 20 years ago - the one that got me the bipolar I diagnosis - is fairly boring as far as mad scenes go. I had merely wanted to strangle the editor of the newspaper I was working on at the time. Instead, I quit in a huff. It was a disastrous personal decision made in a state of sleep-deprived-induced mania, but hardly a newsworthy one. I would have made the front page only had I acted on my impulse to jump off a bridge.

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    Depression is the real bane of my life. That, combined with my introversion and tendency to isolate is not the stuff of a page-turning memoir. "Two years Inside the House," is hardly going to get me a nibble from Oprah's Book Club.


    Besides, Julie the producer didn't care about my crushing depressions. Oprah would have to find someone more interesting.


    "Did Bipolar Drive a Mother to Kill Her Child?" read the home page of Oprah's website. "Tune in Monday."


    Oprah wasn't going inspirational. She wasn't going educational. Her producers were going sensational.


    I say her producers because it was fairly obvious Oprah was reading her lines. My guess is that she would have spent more time in wardrobe and makeup than she did actually boning up on the topic.


    The show started out with a 911 call: The mother had just confessed to killing her child. By some perverse coincidence, the mother's name was Andrea. In a filmed interview with a producer, Andrea told of a previous suicide attempt. In 2005, she heard voices in her head, and wound up choking her six-year-old son, Garrett. Her idiot family doctor had been giving her antidepressants. In prison (she is serving a 42-year term), a doctor made the right diagnosis, put her on a mood stabilizer, and now she is doing fine, all things considered.


    Andrea got a whole segment, and her friends nearly a whole segment in talking about Andrea, probably a good quarter-hour in total.


    Then Kay Jamison came on. Two minutes. Kay Jamison, two minutes.


    Then came "General Hospital" star Maurice Bernard, with his wife glued to his side. In an industry that you know is crawling with bipolars, Maurice Bernard has distinguished himself by being one of the rare few brave enough to come out of the closet. He has been on Oprah before, but this time the producers were making a stretch. Oprah billed his latest experience as a "blow-out," but it turned out to be an anxiety attack. No laughing matter to be sure, but Oprah was spending 10 minutes on a soap star's anxiety attack.


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    Let's see. Fifteen minutes on a child-killer, ten minutes on a soap opera star with no real story this time, two minutes on Kay Jamison. This was shaping up to be Jerry Springer meets Entertainment Tonight.


    What bailed out the show was the final segment with actress Jennifer Lewis, who talked about "doing the work." I was starting to roll my eyes at the thought of the general public learning about our illness from yet another person in TV or film, but Jennifer turned out to be smart and personable and funny, and presented a human face to the illness.


    Then a hurried one-minute wrap-up with Kay Jamison. End of show.


    If Oprah calls, tell her I'm busy. Who am I kidding? Hand me the phone.


Published On: September 25, 2007