Chyler Leigh was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 10 years ago, but until yesterday she hasn't spoken publicly about her experience living with the condition. Today, speaking exclusively to Refinery29 and in partnership with Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health, an initiative that aims to empower adults with mental health conditions to speak up, the Supergirl actor shares more about her diagnosis.
Leigh opened up about her journey during a social media and mental health panel moderated by Sade Strehlke, R29's director of health and wellness.
"Yesterday was the first time that I actually spoke openly about having bipolar disorder," Leigh revealed during the panel discussion. "It's something that's terrified me for a long time because it feels like I'm admitting some sort of secret, or some sort of way that people are going to look at me differently or judge me but I've been met with nothing but acceptance and love and support, which is just amazing."
"Celebrities and people that are in the public eye have an incredibly opportunity to use [their] platform and use it for good, and to be able to show people and let people see and understand that [they're] not alone," Leigh continued. "You're not the only one that's going through what you're going through and there are so many great resources and so much community that you can talk to and learn more about in order to be educated and be comforted and to feel like you're heard and you matter, right exactly where you are."
While the actor says she's in a good place now, Leigh acknowledges that she went through a difficult journey to get where she is today, including personal struggles with her family.
"We have three kids that are also living with either a mental health condition — we have ADHD, we have Asperger’s, high-functioning autism — that’s all of my three kids," Leigh tells People. "So that, [and my] career, trying to make [our] marriage work, dealing with all these symptoms and not knowing what to do with it, that’s where I kinda hit my breaking point and I shut down completely."
"During that point, right before I was diagnosed, I was like, ‘I’m drowning, I’m drowning,'" she recalls.
Leigh found herself on six medications at once — all which seemed to be counteracting one another.
"[They] made me feel nothing, and that to me was more important than feeling happy or feeling sad,” she says. “But, that being the case, I withdrew and I shut down. Having such little kids and my husband who [was] dealing with so much with that, I just didn’t know how else to function. And so I lied about a lot, I hid a lot. I kept to myself. And that caused an incredible amount of chaos and just destruction in the family.”
Leigh's illness soon hit a breaking point, and she was hospitalized for several days. She used the experience to start fresh, trying a new medication (under the supervision of her physician) and pledging to lean more on her husband and supportive friends. Until partnering with Be Vocal she hadn't shared her diagnosis publicly, and she hopes that by doing so she encourages others to speak up and find their own support systems.
“We have an incredible opportunity to change the narrative and change the conversation, and lead people to places that can encourage them and really take them where they need to go,” she says.
“It’s okay to not be okay. And it’s incredibly important to reach out. Be willing to let your guard down a little bit to be able to find that community. And also know that if you’re really struggling that there are so many resources. Be Vocal is a great way to go online and find all the advocacy partners.”
If you are struggling with bipolar disorder and are in need of information and support, please call the National Alliance on Mental Illness at 1-800-950-6264. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NAMI” to 741741.