With his struggles with bipolar disorder under control through lithium and therapy, life was going well for General Hospital star Maurice Benard during the early days of 2020. He was preparing for his memoir Nothing General About It to be released. His storyline on General Hospital, having to do with his character Sonny dealing with his father's Alzheimer’s, received critical and public acclaim. And he was simply enjoying his time with his wife Paula and their kids. Then came COVID. The book tour got cancelled, General Hospital shut down for months, and, in a case of art imitating life, Maurice learned that his father had Alzheimer's. "It was the end of the world - in my head," recalled Maurice. "It hit me so hard."
Though he had occasional anxious times in his life, he was always able to push through on his own - and he thought he could do the same this time. But he lost the ability to sleep because his mind was racing constantly with nothing but negative thoughts. Maurice reached the point where he didn't want his family to leave him alone because he feared the choice he might make. "I'd go and run outside, and I'd be crying," he told me during a Christopher Closeup interview. "I just said, there's no way I can get through this. . . . I was looking at a tree to figure out how to put a rope around it [to hang myself]. . . . But somehow, this is where I think God comes in, He puts a hand on your shoulder and He says, 'It's all right, just keep [going].'"
In Maurice's case, God made Himself present through the actor's family. Maurice recalled, "I was in the car with my son Joshua, and I was crying and I said, 'Buddy, I don't think I can go on any longer.' . . . Then he says, 'Dad, I'll take care of you.' And he did. And my other kids were great, too."
Maurice struggled through this depression for four months before asking for help from a psychiatrist. The doctor put him on a drug called Lexapro, which can make you feel worse for the first five days, but then starts improving your mental state. In retrospect, Maurice wishes he had asked for professional help sooner, realizing that because he was that far gone, he needed medication.
General Hospital started shooting again just as the Lexapro was working, so Maurice was able to return to work and went on to win his third Daytime Emmy Award for the Alzheimer's storyline. "I’m not going to say [I was at] the worst of my life, but maybe the second worst," he noted. "Then you go and do your job, and at the end win an award. What a difference a year makes."
Beyond that, Maurice is also experiencing a renewed sense of joy in his life, saying, "What brings me joy is that I'm free of that darkness. I don't have it in me. If we had this interview a year ago, I would be a totally different person. Now . . . I have so much joy because I know that other feeling, [the darkness], because it just happened, in a sense. And I see the huge difference. . . . It's like heaven."
Regarding others enduring mental health struggles, Maurice noted, "There's no need to do what I did for four months. Get help now. . . . I know I look strong and I'm tough, but there is a fragile side to me that's unbearable. So if I can do it, anybody can do it."
This essay is a recent "Light One Candle" column written by Tony
Rossi, Director of Communications, The Christophers; it is one of a
series of weekly columns that deal with a variety of topics and current