ABC’s hit show Grey’s Anatomy has tackled a myriad health issues, covering both physical and mental illnesses. Never afraid to shy away from controversial content, the long-running medical drama has brought a host of life-altering conditions to light, informing and empathizing with the show’s massive audience.
Recently a former cast member from the series shared she’s been struggling with bipolar disorder, picking up on signs when she was a young child.
Other celebs who’ve revealed their diagnosis
According to Prevention, approximately 7 million Americans have bipolar disorder. The mental health condition brings on rapid mood changes, such as severe manic highs of feeling elated and reckless, to devastating lows of depression and hopelessness. Several celebrities have come out to reveal their own battle with the disorder in the hopes of helping others. Demi Lovato, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mariah Carey, and Catherine Zeta-Jones are some who have shared their diagnosis.
Former Grey’s Anatomy star Chyler Leigh, who portrayed Lexie Grey on the popular drama, recently came forward publicly to discuss her own battle with the condition. Now on CW’s Supergirl, the actress says she realized when she was just 12 years old that there was something amiss. “I knew the makings of bipolar disorder were there at a young age, but I didn’t know what it was [at the time],” she told Prevention.
Leigh’s mother also had bipolar disorder, where the actress felt inhibited to share her own struggles, saying, “because I was put in a position to support my mother, I didn’t get the opportunity to speak about my own feelings when I was in my teens… I suppressed this for years, and it continued to get worse. I closed off and developed a shell around me.”
Marriage, children, and ‘Grey’s’
The actress met her husband, Nathan West, shortly before her 17th birthday. The two quickly married and had three kids—Noah, Taelyn, and Anniston—before Leigh turned 27. “There was so much going on and no time for me to feel,” she said. “I was raising kids while still trying to grow up.”
Each of Leigh’s children are dealing with their own health afflictions, including Asperger’s, autism, ADHD, and epilepsy, as reported by Prevention. Leigh found that her role on Grey’s gave her an outlet for channeling her own mental health issue, where she could just disappear in her work. “I was experiencing such a high version of mania and irritability that I couldn’t sleep or eat, and I was angry and reckless,” the Supergirl star said. “I would go to work and use that adrenaline and expend my energy and feelings there, and then I would come home exhausted.”
Though her symptoms reached a point where she realized she needed therapy, Leigh confessed she simply “talked her way through” her sessions “to get a cocktail of prescriptions. My goal was to feel nothing,” she admitted. “I did so—and I completely obliterated my ability to be able to manage such a colorful and diverse family. I destroyed it.”
Leigh hit bottom after turning 29 and decided to check into a hospital under an alias, where she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder II. Her family gave her the motivation she needed to embark on the journey of recovery. “I was so terrified because of my past,” she said. “I was so worried about turning into all of the things I hated when I was growing up, but it was life or death. I was going to make a change, or I wouldn’t be here anymore.”
Moving on, moving forward
During Grey’s eighth season, Leigh decided to leave the hit drama, which was about a year after her diagnosis. “Our daughter was two and having severe seizures, it was a critical time,” the CW star explained. “Coming off of the show was a collective choice. I had so much support, especially from my husband.”
Now, Leigh is hoping to help others by sharing her struggle with the disorder and encouraging those who battle the illness to seek support through the Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health initiative. Daily medication and therapy help Leigh manage her bipolar disorder.
“I still have things I’m working on, but I’m constantly on a path of healing and awareness,” she said. “My diagnosis isn’t giving me limitations, it’s telling me how I can function. I use it to my advantage and find creative ways to expend my energy, like stunt work.”
The Grey’s alum credits the support of her husband and family for helping her through the tough times, stressing the importance of bringing mental health issues into the spotlight. “I want people to know that they’re not alone and there are millions of people in the same boat,” Leigh said. “The more we talk about mental health, the greater the positive impact.”