Crazy life: Victoria Maxwell’s one-woman play on living well despite mental illness

Victoria Maxwell, an actress and creative director for Crazy for Life Co.,  performed her one-woman show "Funny, You Don't Look Crazy" at DePaul May 19. (Photo  courtesy of BONNY MAKAREWICZ/VICTORIA MAXWELL)
Victoria Maxwell, an actress and creative director for Crazy for Life Co.,
performed her one-woman show “Funny, You Don’t Look Crazy” at DePaul May 19. (Photo courtesy of BONNY MAKAREWICZ/VICTORIA MAXWELL)

In an event hosted May 19 by DePaul University’s Center for Students with Disabilities, Victoria Maxwell performed her one-woman show “Funny, You Don’t Look Crazy,” a play about coming to terms and living with bipolar affective disorder, a mood disorder categorized by periods of alternating mania and depression with normal mood intervals occurring in between.

Maxwell, who identifies herself on her business card as BFA, BPP (Bachelors of Fine Arts, Bi-Polar Princess), spoke about being diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder, anxiety and psychosis after multiple stays in Vancouver psychiatric wards. The diagnosis came when she was 25 years old, after being picked up by police during a psychotic episode where she skipped nude through the neighborhood where she lived.

After the diagnosis, Maxwell struggled to come to terms with her mental illnesses and tried to find ways to justify her behavior and avoid prescription medications.

“It’s my personality,” Maxwell said, referring to her mindset at the time. “It’s a gift not a curse. Don’t make my personality a burden.”

Maxwell told her story of going through cycles of mania and depression to students and faculty in the Lincoln Park Student Center. Student Kayleigh Cox told Maxwell, in a discussion after the performance, how she related to Maxwell’s story through her mother who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder while Cox was in middle school.

“She has kind of gone through this cycle, and just in the last few years, she reached stability,” Cox said.

While Maxwell discussed all her mood changes, she answered more questions about the depressive phases. Maxwell felt the periods of depression were difficult because in the moment, she believed that mood was never going to end.

“I definitely think a lot about the ‘what’s it going to take’ part,” student Clelia Sweeney said, referencing her own experiences with mental health and reaching wellness.

Maxwell came from a family who was familiar with mental illness: her mother was bipolar. She said it was important for her to know there were people who understood and could support her when she was in a dark place.

“Even if you feel you can’t get up, there are people reaching out to you,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell also said her moods didn’t stabilize right when she began taking medication. The drug lithium was the first prescription she took, but she said it didn’t just even out her mood, it took away her emotions.

“I felt like I was a walking piece of chalk,” Maxwell said.

According to Maxwell, the idea of giving up the high, manic moods was difficult, but now that she is stable, she doesn’t need her disorder to create happiness for her.

“When I’m craving the highs, it’s because I’m not cultivating joy in my life.”

“Funny, You Don’t Look Crazy” is Maxwell’s second play about mental health. For the past 10 years, Maxwell has toured internationally, performing her works and educating others on the “lived” experience of mental health. She said her story is one that shows living with mental illness isn’t impossible.

“Things don’t just get better, they can get really great,” Maxwell said.