Maggie Newcomb speaks about mental illness acceptance and mental health recovery, and has written about the topic in her book Chocolate Pudding in Heaven. She draws from her 21 years of experience treating her own bipolar I disorder. Although this topic can be extremely difficult, Maggie finds a way to speak and write about these issues in a way that entertains, informs, and inspires.
Maggie is a member of the National Speakers Association, but got her start in public speaking as a stand-up comedian in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2003. She has worked major comedy clubs, corporate events, and charity functions all over Northern California, including opening for the industry’s best comedians. Maggie has a BA in International Relations from UC Davis and an MA in Adult Education from San Francisco State.
With the skills she learned from her graduate work in education, Maggie has developed speeches to help different groups understand mental illness and find a new perspective to accept and manage it. She had to develop her own strategies of managing mental illness after being hospitalized for two major manic episodes at the age of 16 and another at the age of 26. Each episode almost completely destroyed her life. However, she worked closely with her doctors to find the right medication combination and treatment plan that has proven effective for her. She has had to learn how to not just accept the illness and treat it, but to thrive, living a stable and fulfilling life.
She hopes that by adding a bit of understanding and dash of humor to the difficult topic of mental illness people can move past the stigma and fear that often surrounds it. For more on Maggie’s unique and sometimes irreverent perspective on mental illness, check out her blog: The Mental Patient Next Door.
A Life of Struggle, Acceptance, and Recovery
Although Maggie’s experience with mental illness for the past 21 years has been difficult at times, she constantly finds ways to manage the illness so she can live the life she wants.
Born and raised in San Diego, California, Maggie had her first mental breakdown in 1994 at the age of 16—a surprising, terrifying, and confusing event for her and her family. This breakdown was a severe manic episode with psychotic features, which meant that she was completely detached from reality and delusional, though not violent. She was hospitalized, and eventually diagnosed with bipolar I disorder.
Nothing could have prepared Maggie’s family for the difficult situation they had been thrown into, and they felt helpless watching Maggie spiral into mania. With few resources at their disposal due to limited public knowledge or understanding of Maggie’s disorder, all they could do was trust her doctors. After 10 days in the mental hospital, the doctors and staff thought the episode was over and Maggie was released. She tried to jump right back into her old life, but after two months she relapsed into another manic episode that was worse than the first and went back to the hospital. Fortunately, after trying several different medications, Maggie slowly returned to reality and was again released from the hospital. But that was just the beginning of Maggie’s difficult journey.
After her hospitalizations, Maggie was devastated by her new reality and struggled with depression. She was confused, haunted by powerful emotions and the dangerous places her mind had taken her during her two manic episodes, and felt ashamed and embarrassed about her new identity. Although she didn’t fully understand her diagnosis, she made the decision to fight back, doing everything her doctors advised. Consequently, with a huge amount hard work, persistence, and support from her family, she was able to have a life again. She created long-term stability because she never stopped treating the illness. She saw a doctor regularly, and never stopped taking medication. She didn’t allow the illness to define her or stop her from achieving her goals. Learn more about Maggie’s experiences with mental illness and strategies for recovery in her book Chocolate Pudding in Heaven.
In 1996, Maggie defected to Northern California to attend UC Davis. She became a collegiate athlete for four years as a rower on the women’s crew team. Although she lacked the competitive edge that her coach desired, she found a way to contribute by making the team laugh. The routine and regular exercise helped keep her stable as well. She also worked on campus at the Coffee House making food, washing dishes, and serving customers. She found a supportive group of friends at Davis that accepted her and her illness, which helped boost her self-worth and self-esteem, but she still felt uncomfortable opening up about her illness to the public at large for fear of rejection or alienation.
Maggie graduated from UC Davis with a BA in International Relations and minors in Spanish and Business in 2001. She started her international career by teaching English in Argentina for four months. After returning to the U.S., she found several jobs related to business, finally landing at a media research company. Although she was grateful for the work, something was missing from her life.
In 2003, Maggie’s comedy career was born in a small café in Berkeley, California, where she surprised herself and the crowd with a humorous seven-minute set about her life. She started taking comedy classes at the San Francisco Comedy College, where her love for comedy grew.
Unfortunately, Maggie’s stressful work schedule was too much for her to handle. In the spring 2004 she had another manic episode with psychotic features and was hospitalized. Again, this episode took her family and friends by surprise. She had been stable for 10 years. Fortunately, they found new medications that helped lead Maggie out of the mania and psychosis. However, because the episode was so severe, Maggie was unable to go back to work for quite some time. She spent the next year working on her recovery and trying to create a new life with less stress.
Maggie used stand-up to help her deal with the depression following the manic episode. It gave her something positive to focus on, and she even placed high in several major comedy competitions. Her clean, honest, and clever material seemed to resonate with audiences. Maggie soon started working clubs all over Northern California as an emcee, opening for major headliners, and also performed at fundraisers and corporate events.
Maggie was able to work as a professional comedian for several years by also working as a substitute teacher during the week. Although teaching gave Maggie a lot of material, she decided to go to graduate school. In 2009, Maggie got her Masters in Adult Education and her adult teaching credential from San Francisco State University. During graduate school, Maggie taught ESL (English as a second language) to adult international students at private language schools and adult public schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. Maggie was also selected by the education graduate department at SFSU to conduct education research in Hong Kong and the south of China. In Hong Kong, Maggie found a venue, called Take Out Comedy Club, where she performed for an international audience.
Since the fall of 2009, Maggie has held a job she enjoys in Sacramento, working as a program coordinator at a non-profit that provides education opportunities for health care workers. She continues to make her mental health her number-one priority by taking medication, coordinating with her psychiatrist, and working hard to create a healthy lifestyle. Like everyone, she has her ups and downs. She finds new ways to manage the mania, depression, and anxiety that can come with her illness, and she sees her mental stability as a journey and not a destination. She is now proud of what she went through and who she is, and is ready to share her story.
Maggie has written her first book, Chocolate Pudding in Heaven, about her experiences, which will be available to purchase by the end of 2015. She’s been transitioning from stand-up comedy to public speaking, and in 2013 she became a member of the Stop Stigma Sacramento Speakers Bureau, where she has already given speeches to law enforcement about her journey with mental illness. Be sure to check out Maggie’s blog, The Mental Patient Next Door, for an insider’s view of mental illness, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
I want to spread the word that mental illness can be managed and doesn’t have to stop people from living the life they want. I believe that we, as a society, need to end the stigma so that people can get the help they need. I want all people to be proud of who they are no matter what they have been through. – Maggie