Kimi Culp Hid Her Mental Illness for Years. Here’s Why She Shared the Truth—and How it Changed Everything for the Better
It was morning in New York. I had just completed three separate interviews with three remarkable people: a news anchor blown up by a roadside bomb, a firefighter hit by a twenty-ton bus, and a network morning show producer whose family was killed in a murder-suicide. It was my first full day of making my brand-new podcast, All The Wiser, and my heart was broken and full.
After decades as a producer in the television and film industry, I’d never felt as connected to the impact of stories as I did that morning. Newsrooms saw headlines, I saw people. It felt so good to be entrusted with the deepest parts of their souls, sharing reflections on what it means to be human.
That’s it! I thought. I have found my purpose! I had no idea at the time that the price of admission in seeking the truth in others was to uncover the truth in myself.
My podcast grew quickly. I interviewed a shark attack survivor, a blind football player, a holocaust survivor. I asked them to have raw, real, brave, and vulnerable conversations and in turn, they showed up and shared their wisdom in the most beautiful ways.
What they were really doing was standing in their truth, and what I came to realize was this: I was asking people to do something that I was, in fact, not willing to do myself.
“Something had to change. I didn’t want to hide anymore, and I knew that in order to dismantle my secret, I had to step out of the shadows and be fully seen. I was terrified—but I was ready.”
My truth? At age 19, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and told I would be on medication for the rest of my life. My brain was on fire and my nervous system was on the brink—even the simple sound of a passing car would make me tremble with agitation. I was barely eating, and my bones protruded from lack of food. I felt trapped in a mind and body I could no longer control. So, I hid, in a shadow of my own making.
Shame and secrecy became my constant companions.
Over time, it really started to sink in that each guest on the podcast had grown stronger in their suffering. Their resilience had saved them from their past, and their wisdom had shown them the way forward. I spent hundreds of hours valuing the truth in other people's lives; it suddenly felt dishonest to hide my own truth.
Choosing to do something is one thing, but doing it is another. I had carefully mastered an illusion for 24 years. On the outside, I was a happily married, successful working mom of three. On the inside, there were bathroom drawers full of mood stabilizers and anti-anxiety meds, empty bottles of wine used to self-medicate, and many instances of pulling over on the side of the road to sob.
Something had to change. I didn’t want to hide anymore, and I knew that in order to dismantle my secret, I had to step out of the shadows and be fully seen. I was terrified—but I was ready.
My dear friend Holly Gordon interviewed me for my big “reveal episode” of my bipolar disorder on the podcast. We talked about the scary yet beautiful manic highs, the relentless drip of adrenaline, the rapid speech, sleepless nights, brilliant bursts of creativity, and a mind that never rests. We talked about the inevitable crash that follows—a low that dances with my high. And we devoted time to the peace that lies in the periods of calm and “normalcy” between episodes.
Holly was curious about the lengths I went to in order to protect my secret. Why did a woman with close family and friends choose to hide for so long?
The answer was simple: Because I was ashamed.
In my mind, this piece of me was dirty, broken. What would people think? She is Unpredictable. Undependable. Unlovable.
The day the episode aired, I went from having five people know I had bipolar disorder to thousands—friends, relatives, colleagues, and faceless strangers I'll never meet. As I walked through a sea of moms to get my kids from school that afternoon, I took a deep breath before stepping out of my car. Who listened? Did anyone listen? Are they talking about me? I was no longer safe in my own shadow.
It started slowly, a voicemail here, a text message there, an email from a friend I knew in high school. I was too scared to check the messages at once. I put my phone aside and logged off. I just needed to keep breathing. And then the flood happened. I returned to my phone a few hours later to find hundreds of texts, DMs, and emails.
Love washed over me.
All at once, I knew in my bones what so many of my podcast guests had conveyed in our conversations: Vulnerability is a form of courage that is nothing less than magical.
My life changed forever when I shared my story. Suddenly, people's eyes looked softer. They leaned in a bit closer. Moms reached out and asked for advice about their children's suffering. Neighbors opened up about their struggles.
The hope I provided was that people with mental illness can, in fact, lead rich and meaningful lives. Shame and secrecy transformed into service.
The story that once held me captive in the dark corner of fear is also the story that set me free to experience authentic connection in my life and community. Sharing my truth led me to embody wisdom I once only knew from others.
A few months after my big reveal, on the last night of a vacation we had taken together as a family, my 10-year-old daughter, Katie, lay beside me in the dark.
“Mom, what is bipolar? I was showing my friend your podcast, and I read you have it,” she whispered.
I could feel my heart beat quicken. I was quiet and still for a minute until I said, “Honey, that’s a great question. I want to give you a great answer. Can we wait and talk tomorrow?”
After an In-and-Out stop for burgers on our three-hour drive home, I asked Katie if she would listen to the podcast where I talked about living with bipolar disorder. Katie cried during the sad parts and laughed at the funny ones. The interview finished, and now it was my daughter who became quiet and still, absorbing a new truth and story of her mother.
Her little voice traveled from behind me as she said, “Mom, remember when Holly asked you if you would take your bipolar away with a magic wand, and you said, ‘no’? That surprised me, but now that I think about it, I think bipolar is your superpower. I am glad you didn’t make it go away.”
For years, I hid because I felt defective. The fear that other people would find me unlovable was actually just me, having a hard time loving myself. At that moment, in the car, the way Katie looked at me through the rearview mirror with such complete acceptance, with total openness and love, it was like looking at what God must see: A person with a unique and creative mind, capable of contributing to the good in this world with a willing and open heart.
I often find God most alive in the eyes of children. Katie saw me as God created me. There was no mistake. My illness was not a mistake. My brain chemistry was not a mistake. It is not a mistake that I have dedicated my career to telling brave and truthful stories.
Maybe there’s something in each of us that we worry is deeply flawed, a mistake, but it’s really just part of our story. In fact, it is this very thing that makes us uniquely human.
By stepping out of shame and secrecy, I found freedom.
Kimi Culp is a speaker, writer, and the host of All The Wiser Podcast. She has traveled the world interviewing hundreds of people and creating content that motivates people to live a happier, more fulfilling life. Kimi served as Executive Director of Talent and Development at OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. During her television career, she was a producer on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Today Show and Good Morning America. She’s also the co-author of the best-selling book, A Letter to My Dog. Kimi’s intention is to continue to tell stories with soul while supporting causes to make the world a better place. Learn more at kimiculp.com.