Throughout her childhood and much of her adult life, best-selling author Terri Cheney hid a painful secret from her friends, family and colleagues — she had bipolar disorder.
The condition caused her to swing from dark depressions to manic highs, but Cheney also credits it with much of the success she experienced as a lawyer in the entertainment industry.
The disorder is often correlated with creative thinking, she said on Tuesday as the keynote speaker of the university’s 21st annual Unity Luncheon.
But eventually the effects of the disorder became too much for her to handle. Following the death of her father, she came very close to committing suicide.
“I didn’t manage to kill myself, though I gave it a damn good try,” Cheney said.
It was that episode that prompted her to seek out professional help and begin making changes to bring her life under control. One of the most powerful weapons she has against the disorder is disclosure, speaking out and telling others about her experiences.
“The disease thrives on shame,” Cheney said.
Cheney hammered that message home on Tuesday. No one should be afraid to be open about who they are. The theme of this year’s luncheon was “See the person, not the disability.”
In his opening remarks, Cal Poly Pomona President Michael Ortiz said the university is dedicated to being a welcoming place for people from all walks of life.
“Accessibility and affordability are deeply felt in the university’s values,” Ortiz said, adding that there is still more work to be done.
Maria-Lisa Flemington, a member of the Unity Luncheon Committee, said it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of making assumptions about others, especially those with mental illnesses.
“Our minds are just geared toward stereotyping to make order out of chaos,” Flemington said.
For instance, it’s common for the media to portray those with mental illnesses as being prone to violence, when, in fact, they are more likely to be victims of violence. Cheney said one of the best ways to combat that misconception is for those with mental illness to speak out.
“I can tell my own story as often as possible to as many people as possible,” Cheney said.
The luncheon concluded with each affinity group presenting certificates of merit to this year’s diversity champions, which included staff members and students. They are:
Access and disABILITY Alliance:
- Michael Lemus, student
- Debbie Jackley, staff
Asian Pacific Faculty, Staff, & Student Association:
- Andrew Phan, student
- Won Choi, staff
Black Faculty and Staff Association:
- Christopher Osuala, student
- Lorraine Jenkins-Jones, staff
Latino Faculty, Staff & Student Association:
- Cynthia Velazquez, student
- Dr. Gilbert Cadena, faculty
Native American Task Force/Native American Student Center:
- Charles W. Heineke, Danee E. Berumen, Gabrielle S. Garcia, of the American Indian Science & Engineering Student Chapter
- Elena Gonzales, community partner
- Tracy Lamas, student
- Reyes Luna, staff