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(Book Review) Nothing General About It

Actor Maurice Benard is known by soap opera fans around the country as Sonny Corinthos, the longstanding mob boss of Port Charles on General Hospital.  He's been a central character on the show for almost 30 years and has seen it all:  enemies, wives, children, you name it.  In addition to all of that, Sonny suffers from bipolar disorder which has been a recurring storyline for years. There's no doubt that's the biggest opponent Corinthos must face.

The diagnosis hits close to home for Benard, who has been dealing with bipolar disorder for most of his life.  It's taken Benard to some frightening places, from before he even had a name for it as a child, to his adult life.  However, through medication, therapy, and his wife Paula who has been with him through thick and thin, Benard is still standing and has become a leading voice for raising awareness about the condition.  He shares his story and talks about the battles he's fought with himself, while pursuing his acting career, in his new autobiography, Nothing General About It:  How Love (and Lithium) Saved Me on and off General Hospital. (out now)

Benard pulls no punches in telling his story, and the honestly is powerful.  Right from the start, he's upfront about the physical abuse he suffered as a child.  There's also discussion of the divide in the highly sensitive youngster who was afraid of the dark who was also getting into a seemingly endless stream of fights.  The warning signs were there early for the young man, and it finally ended in a hospitalization when he was in his early 20's.  Benard is clear about what a nightmare that situation was for him, as his friends and family worried about his long-term health.  People who've had any experience dealing with something like this will recognize the dynamic he describes.

Academics was never Benard's focus, and he eventually found a career path that began with some modeling and eventually turned to the world of soap operas.  He started as Nico Kelly on All My Children before eventually taking on Corointhos.  He also finally met a doctor who diagnosed him as bipolar and prescribed him lithium.  Got a name for it and a medication to take.  That's the end of the fight, right?  Except that it's not.  Mental health battles aren't something that can just be "cured" with a snap of the fingers.  Even though he was on a brighter path, Benard is clear that there are still challenges that in different ways impact his professional and personal lives to this day.  It's an important acknowledgement of the ongoing complexity of these kinds of conditions, and that's one of the reasons this is such an important book.

Benard also explains the critical role that his wife Paula has played in his life.  It's clear he would not be in the same position without her.  No spoilers, but the beginning of their relationship can be described as unusual.  He also makes it clear that he has put her through a lot over the years, and she has handled it all beautifully while also keeping him grounded and focused.  He may be a TV star, but they are partners, and it's terrific to hear about such a strong couple.

Fans should not expect a lot of dirt about General Hospital.  Benard is honest about his own struggles, and there are a handful of mentions of current and former colleagues.  He speaks of them in mostly glowing terms, while acknowledging not being great to a couple of them at points.  It's funny to think of Sonny in a scene now with Laura Collins, when Benard was in such awe of actress Genie Francis years ago before he became an actor.  There are also accounts of a few other TV and film projects, and how his mental health impacted his ability to perform in those roles.

The most apt descriptions of Nothing General About It are "brutally honest" and "inspiring."  Maurice Benard has been in some real fights.  He's overcome many obstacles to reach this level of success, and he's honest about the fact that he will likely continue to need to do so for the rest of his life.  The actor has been rightfully celebrated by numerous mental health organizations for his advocacy.   This book does an amazing job of helping to make bipolar disorder easier to understand.  There's no doubt it will help to further erase stigma around this or any other mental health challenge.

Sonny Corinthos may be a mobster, but Maurice Benard is a terrific role model for readers who may be facing this or other similar battles.

Highly recommended.

 

Nothing General About it CoverA powerful, heartfelt, and inspiring story.  (pic via amazon.com)

 

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