Bipolar Disorder and Julia Child, My Therapist

David reveals his gratitude to the late, great Julia for all that she gave him. Especially a much-needed respite from what would 20-plus years later be diagnosed as the hell of bipolar II disorder.

Julia Child
: Lynn Gilbert

Watching HBO Max’s wonderful new series “Julia,” which chronicles the creation of her famous WGBH series “The French Chef,” has brought back a flood of memories. Most delightful, some not so. Actually, some downright bleak. 

For me, Julia Child will always be a mix of joy, delight, sadness, and anxiety. When I was a preteen, my brain felt unplugged from my mind, my body crowded with a blackness I couldn’t describe. All my attempts to explain the desperation I felt went un-understood. My parents tried, but after months and at a loss, my dad said, “Son, everyone has to cope. You’re just going to have to cope.” 

“Cope.” To this day, I hate that word.

It took two more years of “coping” before I threatened suicide unless I could see a therapist. Of course, my parents found me an excellent doctor. But he never uncovered the cause of my distress. It took another 20 or so years before I got the diagnosis of bipolar II disorder

This essay, written in 2014, was one of my first attempts to put into words what I’d felt so very long ago. And it was the response to this story, in the comments as well as via mail, electronic and snail, that led me to think perhaps I had something to say–not unlike what Julia felt when she heard of the 23 letters for viewers. Three years later my book “Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression” was published. This essay appears in it almost word for word.

Like so many people, I love Julia for what she taught us in the kitchen. And while watching “Julia,” I laugh along with The One at her plucky perseverance and trumped-up antics. But I also say a silent prayer of thanks to her, through the wonderful Sarah Lancashire,  for what she did for the sad, lost boy I was.–David Leite  

Swirl

My backpack of school books slumped, unopened, against my father’s La-Z-Boy. My Top-Siders sat pigeon-toed near the breezeway door, where I’d mindlessly stepped out of them. I curled up on the floor in front of the TV, my head tucked into the crook of my elbow so my mother couldn’t study my face for signs that it was happening. Outside, through the open windows, I could hear the neighborhood kids playing. The Jenningses. The Freeborns. The Medeiroses. Please don’t make me go outside, I begged my mother in my head. I just can’t do it. Outside always unsettled me. The bright sky, the backyard with a lawn like a crocheted green quilt, the street full of neighborhood kids. A 12-year-old’s rightful place terrified me, because it gave me no pleasure and reminded me just how troubled I was.

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Abstinence Makes the Taste Buds Grow Fonder

David explains the only thing in the world that could get him to exercise—a doctor-issued threat of giving up his pistachio gelato. (An essay from 2000, but still tasty after all these years.–ed.)

A few green cups filled with pistachio gelato with five pistachios beside.
: Emily Brooke Sandor

I have butterfat flowing through my veins, and I have the documents to prove it. The day before my 40th birthday the universe decided to torment me with a little game of Mess With Your Head. I was happily gathering information for this month’s column about ice cream, perhaps God’s greatest gift to mankind after elastic waistbands and Entertainment Weekly. While dipping away in batches of homemade heaven (research, of course), the phone rang.

“David, it’s Dr. Rysz,” said the voice in a guttural Polish accent. I had had some routine blood work done the week before, and my doctor was calling with the results.

“Everything looks normal,” she said in even, modulated tones. Then an involuntary intake of breath: “Except for your cholesterol. It’s a bit elevated—252.”

Two hundred and fifty-two? Two hundred and fifty-two? That’s in the danger-Will Robinson zone. It should be well under 200, she informed me.

The spoonful of hazelnut crunch hovered before my mouth. I contemplated lapping it up, but this felt too diabolical considering Dr. Rysz’s pronouncement. So I just stood there dazed as it dripped onto my sandals.

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The Time We Almost Became Reality TV Food Stars

There was the briefest of time (like a week) when David and The One might have become reality TV stars. But David’s big mouth and The One’s sensibility caused them to lose the deal. But they got something far better: TV on their own terms.

David Leite

If you had asked me when I was a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up, you’d be dead wrong if you thought I’d say a fireman or policeman or a carpenter, like my dad. You’d be closer if you had guessed a fashion designer; I practically fell over when I first saw Melanie Moniz’s Barbie in full-blown ballgown splendor.

No, what I wanted to be was a star.

But not just any kind of star. Not a Fanny-Brice-becomes-a-huge-Ziegfeld-star kind of star. Not even a Barbra-Streisand-playing-Fanny-Brice-becoming-a-huge-Ziegfeld-star kind of star. I wanted to be the brightest star in the firmament of all stardom. I’m not talking elementary-school dreams here. Every kid wants to be the star of the class play. I’m talking kindergarten dreams. Even younger. If you ask my mother, I’m pretty sure she’d say I was being a diva at birth, because it took 18 hours of screaming labor for me to make my debut.

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