Almost three years ago, three-time Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton made headlines in Las Vegas.
But not for running.
She was outed by SmokingGun.com, living a double life as a suburban housewife in Madison, Wisc., and as a high-end prostitute in Las Vegas.
Favor Hamilton talked with KNPR's State of Nevada about a lifetime of undiagnosed mental illness: in her case, bipolar disorder. When misdiagnosed and given drugs to treat depression, she said it only enhanced her desire for risky behavior.
"It made me think of sex all the time," says Favor Hamilton.
Bipolar is a hereditary illness. Favor Hamilton's brother, also diagnosed as bipolar, killed himself in 1999. Favor Hamilton, who had ran track in three Olympics, had also attempted suicide a few times.
In anticipation of her new book, "
On the purpose of writing the book:
The purpose is to really help the people that are silently suffering. The people who don’t have a voice, because I’ve run into these people since my story. They can’t share their story because of fear of losing a job, fear of family leaving them. So, it’s to shed light on there are bizarre things that come with bipolar and don’t leave. Focus on the illness, like my husband did. Focus on the illness not the behavior.
Didn’t you realize what was happening, could you put it all on mental illness?
That’s the interesting part about bipolar. What you’re doing risky behavior, you’re not aware of. The brain doesn’t have a ceiling. Somebody whose brain is more even can tell the ceiling of right and wrong. For me, with bipolar, there’s no end to risky behavior.
On her brother and his suicide in 1999:
My brother did what many people do, and absolutely should not do, is he went off his medication. This happens with so many with bipolar. They’re feeling good or they’re missing the high and they think ‘I can go back off the medication and I’m strong enough and tough enough I can handle this.’ But once the disease grips the brain and you can’t see right from wrong, you don’t tell yourself ‘oh, I need to go back on the drugs.’ It doesn’t work like that. It’s a disease that takes over. And you lose the sense of what is right and wrong.
The relationship with your husband went beyond ‘open marriage’?
At that time my husband and I were going through marital problems in that I was going through, what they thought was depression, and it’s incredibly difficult to live with somebody with depression plus we were working together and our job was tearing us apart because my husband was a workaholic and we were doing great financially. We were soaring to the top of our company but yet, I was miserable.
I still have regret for the pain I put Mark through. I went out of control in this open relationship.
He didn’t make a fuss, because you weren’t arguing?
Mark liked me when I was manic, just like Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon that I worked for and Disney. They all like that energy. So, Mark liked it when I was happy versus depressed. So, when I would come back to Madison I was depressed and didn’t want to be there. So, I would be like, ‘I’m going back to Vegas.’ And in many ways, he was glad to get rid of me. And keep the structure of raising our daughter in a normal healthy way where we weren’t arguing.
But we definitely wouldn’t be where we are today, if this hadn’t happened, meaning we’ve changed. We’re stronger. I found a voice in myself to speak up. So there are positives.
What about escort that was better than just hooking up?
I started off just going to Vegas and just hooking up and the first time it was great but it lost its luster and so hiring the gigolo brought up that high even further and then that lost its luster and then I had to bring it all the way up to being an escort but then that wasn’t enough then I had to bring it up to even crazier, riskier things as an escort and then after that I had to bring drugs into the equation. It kept getting to higher and higher levels. I kept climbing and climbing. The next drug was going to be cocaine. I remember it laying out in lines on the counter top and refusing it. That was shortly before I got outed.
Why did you eventually move from Madison to Los Angeles?
I felt like the whole world was staring at me there. Not that they were, that was my insecurity. But it got better over time and even this last year I was feeling very normal in Madison but I knew the book was going to come out and it was going to get difficult again. And we were planning on leaving before the book came out.
I was lucky that my husband was willing to move out here for my health.
What is life like now?
My daughter is 10 years old now. She has transitioned so well into the school. My husband and I walk her to school every day, two blocks from our house and pick her up. And we can walk everywhere we need to go. And she’s just a thriving young girl who understands mental illness. She understands her mom’s behavior and what happened in Vegas for a 10 year old.
What do you think of the escort industry?
I still have friends who work in that industry. For the friends of mine who choose to do it because they want to and they enjoy it. I believe a woman has the right to decide what to do with her own body. I would never shame my friends. In saying that, this industry is very flawed and has a lot of problems I hope to see something done to help these women, if they do want to get out.
Have you moved away from the sense of shame that seems to be throughout the book?
I have. When my story came out, it was amazing how judgmental people can be. And how much shame the media places on you that you really start to get consumed with that. And you start to take on this. And you start to feel that you’re a terrible… that you’re the worst person in the world. I had the hardest time forgiving myself. But really, with the help of my husband, he had forgiven me. He said ‘Suzy, you’re never going to get better unless you forgive yourself.’ I started to see how shame was killing me and let that go.
Suzy Favor Hamilton, author, Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running from Madness
You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.