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Former Wichitan Finds Bipolar Disorder Life-Changing

Courtesy photo

This story originally aired on Sept. 18, 2014. Since Carla Eckels last spoke to Zachary McDermott, the successful lawyer and former Wichitan published a memoir of mental illness, "Gorilla and the Bird." It was released on Sept. 26, 2017.

This feature received the first-place distinction for Complete News Feature/Enterprise—Large Market Radio at the 2015 Kansas Association of Broadcasters awards.

McDermott and his mother, Cindy McGilvrey, will speak at Watermark Books on Thursday, Oct. 12, at 6 p.m.

In October 2009, a successful lawyer and former Wichitan discovered he had bipolar disorder. But he won’t soon forget the vivid experience that changed his life.

Zachary McDermott remembers feeling like he was on his own movie set on the streets of New York.

Credit Courtesy photo
Zack McDermott

"The police found me, and I’m standing on a subway platform somewhere in Brooklyn," McDermott says. "I don’t have any clothes on except a pair of blue Adidas soccer shorts, no shoes, no shirt, no underwear—it’s October in New York."

The 26-year-old was found crying with his hands behind his head looking for movie producers to give him direction. For the previous 12 hours, McDermott had wandered around the streets of New York engaged in what he thought were acting scenes.

"I was thinking I was being video-taped by hidden cameras--Truman Show style--by my stand-up comedy partner," he explains. "I made my living as a public defender in New York, but I’d been moonlighting as a stand-up comic. In the previous weeks, we had some meetings with network executives about the prospect of creating a pilot for a TV show, based on my act."

Credit Carla Eckels, Little Brown Publishing
Gorilla and the Bird: Zachary McDermott and his mother, Cindy Cisneros McGilvrey.

Zack’s mother Cindy Cisneros McGilvrey lives in Wichita. She caught a plane to check on her son in New York.

"I went to his apartment. Every inch of his walls was covered with red magic marker," she says. "He had the names of teachers, relatives, song lyrics. It was just a random mix of things from his past life and also from his current life, and it was written in swirls and arrows and straight lines.

"I just caved internally."

McDermott was able to get help with medical treatment and the constant support of his mother.

He continues to practice law as a public defender in Brooklyn and is at work on his first book, a memoir about his experience.

Hear the full story produced by KMUW’s Carla Eckels by clicking on the listen button above.

A local resource for those with mental health related issues is COMCARE, a service of Sedgwick County.


Follow Carla Eckels on Twitter, @Eckels.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.


Carla Eckels is Director of Organizational Culture at KMUW. She produces and hosts the R&B and gospel show Soulsations and brings stories of race and culture to The Range with the monthly segment In the Mix. Carla was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum's Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2020 for her work in broadcast/journalism.