Former Wichitan Finds Bipolar Disorder Life-Changing

Dec 8, 2015

Zachary McDermott in New York City
Credit Courtesy photo

This piece originally aired during Morning Edition on 9/18/2014. It received first place for Complete News Feature/Enterprise--Large Market Radio at the 2015 Kansas Association of Broadcasters awards. 

Since this piece first aired, Zachary McDermott’s memoir of mental illness, Gorilla and the Bird, has been sold to Little, Brown Publishing and is expected to be released Mother’s Day, 2017. 

In October 2009, a successful lawyer and former Wichitan discovered he had bipolar disorder. But he won’t soon forget the vivid experience that changed his life.

Zachary McDermott remembers feeling like he was on his own movie set on the streets of New York.

Zack McDermott
Credit Courtesy photo

"The police found me, and I’m standing on a subway platform somewhere in Brooklyn," says McDermott. "I don’t have any clothes on except a pair of blue Adidas soccer shorts, no shoes, no shirt, no underwear—it’s October in New York."

The 26-year-old was found crying with his hands behind his head looking for movie producers to give him direction. For the previous 12 hours, McDermott had wandered around the streets of New York engaged in what he thought were acting scenes.

"I was thinking I was being video-taped by hidden cameras--Truman Show style--by my stand-up comedy partner," he explains. "I made my living as a public defender in New York, but I’d been moonlighting as a stand-up comic. In the previous weeks, we had some meetings with network executives about the prospect of creating a pilot for a TV show, based on my act."

Gorilla and the Bird: Zachary McDermott and his mother, Cindy Cisneros McGilvrey.
Credit Carla Eckels

Zack’s mother Cindy Cisneros McGilvrey lives in Wichita. She caught a plane to check on her son in New York.

"I went to his apartment. Every inch of his walls was covered with red magic marker," she says. "He had the names of teachers, relatives, song lyrics. It was just a random mix of things from his past life and also from his current life, and it was written in swirls and arrows and straight lines.

"I just caved internally."

McDermott was able to get help with medical treatment and the constant support of his mother.

He continues to practice law as a public defender in Brooklyn and is at work on his first book, a memoir about his experience.

Hear the full story produced by KMUW’s Carla Eckels by clicking on the 'listen' button above.

A local resource for those with mental health related issues is COMCARE, a service of Sedgwick County.

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Carla Eckels is assistant news director and the host of Soulsations. Follow her on Twitter @Eckels.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.