Black Box – To Bash or Not to Bash?

Last week while on Facebook I spotted an International Bipolar Foundation post about the new ABC television series Black Box premiering Thursday, which features a doctor living with bipolar disorder. 

ABC’s Black Box overview is:

“The twenty-first century is the era of the brain, and this show will be riding that wave on the cutting edge of medicine. The brain is the source of everything — from whom we love to how we act and feel. It is the ultimate mystery, which is why doctors call it the “black box.” Dr. Catherine Black and the staff of “The Cube” will constantly be challenged by cases never seen before on television. The patients have rare, highly visual, often hallucinogenic and startling conditions, which we will see through their eyes as Dr. Black diagnoses and treats them.”

Wikipedia’s description adds:

“Dr. Catherine Black (Kelly Reilly) is a famous neuroscientist who secretly has bipolar disorder; the only person who knows is her psychiatrist, Dr. Helen Hartramph (Vanessa Redgrave), who was with Catherine after her first break and has been a maternal figure for Catherine since her mother, who also suffered from bipolar disorder, committed suicide.”

The International Bipolar Foundation post provided a link to a Washington Post/Associated Press article about Black Box written by the renowned AP national television columnist Frazier Moore. 

Moore wrote an intriguing Black Box article, but the title he chose (“A Bipolar Doctor”) and the phrasing found within his article (i.e. she’s bipolar) inspired me to write him a brief email.  

Those of you who have followed my IBPF blog and my personal blog know I never gave a hoot about how the word “bipolar” was used until I was diagnosed with bipolar!

Black Box series co-creator Amy Holden Jones is quoted in Moore’s article and her remarks include “bipolar people” and “someone who’s bipolar”.   

When I first read those four items, I felt the equivalent of fingernails scratching on a chalkboard – screeeeeeechhhhhh!  Hey, we all have our “things” that set us off, and this phraseology issue is obviously one of mine.  Maybe I hold such strong opinions about speech and bipolar because I’m the daughter of a speech pathologist/trained theater actress.  Moreover, back in college, I took a “Speech for Teachers” course during my studies to become an English teacher.  My professor gave me the top grade in the class.  

The main reason, however, why I feel the way I do is when I say “I’m bipolar” it sounds like that’s pretty much all I am, and nothing else.

ANYWAY, I was in the mood to contact this influential journalist about my cause, so I placed my quivering fingers upon my keyboard and took off.

Here’s what I wrote to Frazier Moore:

“Dear Frazier,  

I hope this finds you well.  I just read your article about the new television show “Black Box” and I found it exceedingly well written and interesting.  I would like to bring up a point for your consideration.  I am writer living with bipolar disorder; I was diagnosed at age thirty-seven just eight weeks postpartum.   I grew up close to my father who had what was then called “manic depression”. I like to tell others that “I have bipolar” instead of saying “I’m bipolar”.  It sounds petty, I know, but more people with this mental illness feel the same way as I do than you’d expect. 

I’m finding that it’s the most respectful way to address people who live with this mood disorder and so I wanted to share my thoughts with you.  I hope you take this email with a grain of salt.  If I didn’t like your writing, I wouldn’t bother taking the time to contact you! 🙂  I wish you the very best! 

Warmest regards, 

Dyane Leshin-Harwood,

Consumer Advisory Council Member, International Bipolar Foundation

When I checked my email the following morning, I was stunned to see a reply from Frazier Moore in my in-box.  His warm, diplomatic response, which I copied in part below, really made my day.  I honestly didn’t expect him to write back, and I had let the whole matter go. 

Moreover, Frazier included a brief section (which I’ve deleted out of respect for his privacy) that implied that he had been affected by someone with bipolar disorder in his extended circle. It was obvious to me that his own experience has given him empathy and compassion for those who suffer with mood disorders.

I believe that all good journalists possess both of these qualities, and I am pleased that Frazier Moore appears to be one of them! 

Frazier wrote me:

“Thank you for your gracious note.  I take your point and will aim to be more sensitive in writing about this subject in the future (which could very well happen if “Black Box” is a hit).    Btw, I would be interested in what you think about the show if you happen to watch.  



On the International Bipolar Foundation’s Facebook page, there were many  comments in regard to the Black Box announcement –  it was interesting to read the replies.  (There was also a follow-up IBPF Facebook post asking people what they thought of the show and there were numerous replies to that question as well!)

After my exchange occurred with Frazier I felt emboldened to keep speaking up about what matters to me as far as bipolar disorder (or anything else) is concerned.   If each of us addresses the bipolar disorder-related issues that are important to us with others, then a positive sea change can actually occur!

I taped Black Box last week and despite wanting to see it badly, I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet.  So the jury is still out as far as whether or not I regard the show as a hit or miss. I’ll definitely let you and Frazier know my thoughts about this show soon.

Dyane Harwood is on the International Bipolar Foundation’s Consumer Advisory Council and has been a freelance writer for the past fifteen years. She is currently working on her book “Birth of a New Brain – Healing From Postpartum Bipolar Disorder”.

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