Nicole Bogdas — senior news designer for the Des Moines Register in Iowa for the past couple of years and now a designer for Gannett’s design studio there in Des Moines — did something today I consider to be extremely brave.
She came out today as a sufferer of bipolar disorder. In a first-person column on the editorial page of her newspaper.
Here’s the top of Nicole’s column:
On New Yearâ€™s Eve 2007 I arranged the pill bottles in a neat row and considered my options.
I could take one brand at a time. I could swallow them all at once. I could take them individually or by the handful. With wine or beer.
My neighbor was having a party and I could hear laughter and music through the shared wall. How could anyone have fun when I felt like this?
The orange bottles loomed. The names of the drugs I was prescribed for bipolar disorder stared back. Cymbalta. Lamictal. Xanax.
I marveled at the power we place in the hands of our most at-risk patients. The power in my hands.
I took a deep breath and called a suicide hotline.
Wow. That’s terrifying. I’ve known Nicole a long time and I’ve known she’s had some issues. From time to time, I’ve even tried to lend a hand — via long-distance and not with a terribly high degree of success, I’m afraid. But I’ve tried.
Yet, Nicole has always reached out to help others. I’ll never forget how candid she was when I was writing my “Survival Guide of Laid-Off Visual Journalists” that appeared in an issue of the Society for Design’s quarterly magazine and still resides — and, hopefully, lends aid — over at my old VizEds blog.
So part of me isn’t surprised Nicole was brave enough to write this piece today. What I am surprised about is just how low she’s felt from time to time. I had no idea it was that bad. The lesson here, folks: We all need to take better care of each other. At all times.
Nicole took a few minutes today to tell me how the story came to be:
Last year, a man with bipolar disorder shot and killed a state trooper. In the interviews with his family afterward, they said they had been trying to get him help, but the public response seemed to be “crazy people shoot cops.” I’m not saying I’m crazy, but I do believe if the man had gotten the help he needed, he could have managed the disease.
I wanted to offer up this piece then, but wasn’t sure. Shortly afterward, I was put on some new medication that’s working wonders. When I heard about this new series we’re running and finally had some confidence to tell my story, I suggested it to the editor. I offered it on the condition that he not tell anyone (in case it never ran) and that he be my editor. He obliged and I got to work. As the story notes, it was a similar piece written by someone at the Free-Lance Star, where I worked 10 years ago, that gave me the courage to look for help then, and I kind of wanted to return the favor.
It has been a long time since I wrote anything, but the editing process was pretty painless. I had the full support of the editor and he liked what I had to say. We complain a lot about long stories and stories coming in overbudget (and I won’t stop doing that!), but writing short is hard work. I think this piece clocked in around 50-55 inches. I’ve heard great feedback already this morning and last night from folks who proofed the pages.
They keep saying I’m brave, and I won’t disagree. Mental illness still has enormous stigma in this country and it does take bravery to talk openly about it. I hope to dispel some of the myths that you can’t live a productive, healthy life while struggling with something like this. I also hope someone will see this piece, like I saw the one ten years ago, and decide to get treatment.
I also appreciate the effort Mark [Marturello] put into the illustration. There are hundreds of cliches that could have been used, but I think his illo gives the design depth and shows an understanding of the subject matter.
Nicole’s piece ran on the editorial pages today. The paper put the column in today’s skybox:
I asked Nicole what kind of support she’s received today from her colleagues.
I’ve heard from several since yesterday, but the only other person who knew about my thing was Kelli Brown because I started taking the new meds and didn’t know how they would affect me. The doc told me they could make me very very very sleepy and I wanted her to know that could affect my performance at work.
Other than that, I just told [Register editor] Rick Green who was enormously supportive and very excited about the piece. It was nice to have him in my corner and willing to keep my troubles a secret until the last minute. As much as I’m willing to talk about it, because of the stigma, I didn’t want word to get out if it didn’t have to. I’m very open with my friends and family, but the workplace seemed like a different story. If I’m in a bad mood one day, and everyone gets in bad moods, I don’t want that to be chalked up to some disorder. “Oh, Nicole was short with me because she’s crazy.” you know?
Chris, my boyfriend, was very supportive. I tied myself in knots over this and he kept reassuring me it would be OK. My parents were also supportive. They were the voice of reason, for sure. (“You know your name will be forever attached to this. You really want to do it?”)
In the end, I decided it was necessary. I’ve reached a point where I’m ready to tell my story. I was just tired of hiding.
She writes in her piece today:
I want to dispel the myth that all people with mental illness are unproductive cop killers.
Maybe someone will see this and find hope, rather than fear, in their lives.
Mug shots of Nicole I’ve used over the years here in the
blog. Top row: At SND/Orlando in 2006, 2008, 2009.
Bottom row: 2010, 2011 and current.
I found out about Nicole column early today when I saw where she linked to it from her Facebook page. I immediately shared the link, as did Nicole’s other colleagues around the country.
The response has been tremendous. One designer writes:
Good for you for writing about this … it really does help people to know that they’re not alone in their struggles. You might remember that my dad grappled with depression for years before he killed himself in 2009, so this topic hits very close to home for me. I’m so happy you’ve found your balance.
Actually, I have never had any diagnosis of Bipolar, still I could empathize with her to some degree. I began to think about some of my own personal psychological determinants. Just thinking and wondering …
Nicole reflects on her boyfriend assuring her that her column would be OK. She tells me:
And it is; the response I’ve gotten just since I woke up today has been more than I could have hoped for.
She even posted on her Facebook wall earlier today:
I’m getting emails from readers! how cool is that?!
As if all this wasn’t enough, Nicole has more bravery planned for later this year: She’s donating a kidney to her father.
A 2001 graduate of the University of Missouri, Nicole spent a year-and-a-half at the Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, Va., before heading to the Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale as lead news designer. In 2006, she moved to the Palm Beach Post, in 2007 to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in 2008 to the Orlando Sentinel and in 2009 to the Herald-Zeitung of New Braunfels, Texas.
With her move to Des Moines two years ago, she’s found a permanent home.
A look at Nicole’s work immediately shows off her specialty: Dealing with photo essays.