‘The Things You Could Change May Be Your Great Strength’

Actor and screenwriter Brian Klugman on how his bipolar disorder inspired him to write a children’s book encouraging kids to embrace what makes them different.

Words by John Pearson

A few years ago, my good friend and a big supporter of Mr Feelgood, actor and director Gabriel Macht, asked me if I’d wish to be on a ‘Gratitude List’ that one of his college friends, Brian Klugman, had initiated.

I’d heard about such things, and indeed, in my existential moments of doubt and wonder, had even played with the discipline myself. But the idea that Gabriel, a very decent husband and father, was actively participating in this exercise encouraged me to join.

Weekly gratitudes from the group were shared via email, and I quickly felt comfortable responding with my own list. I learned from what others were thankful for, and it also gave me a sense of brotherhood and inclusion, understanding that all these men from a myriad of different backgrounds were expressing thanks in communion, connected by the basic needs that unite us all. It felt good. And I met some good men, including Gabriel’s pal Brian.

“I did my gratitude list every day for almost 11 years,” Brian tells me. “I believe that if you have gratitude for what you have, you get more of what you have. And I believe in openness, and I believe in saying yes.”

Recently Brian, a new father and professional actor, screenwriter, and director, as well as a high-end corporate marketing and branding expert, fulfilled a dream that he first set sail in pursuit of six years ago – he’s written and published a children’s book called ‘You Are You’, with 100% of its profits going to the actress Goldie Hawn’s children’s mental health charity, MindUp.

Brian tells me, “As a fan of literature from an early age, I remember writing poetry, and I’ve always enjoyed stuff in verse. And I love those children’s books that straddle the line between childhood and adulthood. You could give someone Dr Seuss’ ‘Oh, The Places You’ll Go’ when they’re a baby or graduating college. and I love how Pixar touches the spirit of all ages.

“And because I decided to give all the proceeds of the book away, I’m having no trouble self-promoting it, because normally self-promotion is the pits. I wanted to do something that’s an absolute good. It’s very rare that you get to do that.”

Although aimed at kids, ‘You Are You’ holds jewels of wisdom for all ages. In a time when the thirst for knowledge is extreme and our attention spans are becoming more limited, many of us are looking for succinct soundbites that are anchored in substance, integrity, and experience.

What’s fascinating and important to acknowledge is that Brian’s work on ‘You Are You’ was born out of his own challenging battle with bipolar, and feeling very much on the outside. Thus from a dark and tormented seed has grown a very beautiful tree offering shade from the sun, shelter from the rain, and wisdom from the heart.

‘You Are You’ book cover

Brian says, “I’m an open book, especially regarding ‘You Are You’ because I can’t talk about self-love and owning yourself without owning and being unapologetic about my own experiences.

“I grew up undiagnosed bipolar, so that’s been the journey of my adulthood to discover, ‘Oh, that’s what, and that’s why.’ I’ve only talked about it publicly since I started with this book.”

Brian tells me he was inspired by his great uncle, Jack Klugman, an accomplished character actor who starred in shows including ‘Quincy, M.E.’ and ‘The Odd Couple’. He wanted to be an actor and drop out of college, which upset his family and left Brian “miserable”, until his uncle intervened and offered some guidance.

He recalls, “I didn’t know that you could make a living as an artist. And here was the guy that did it. I was so distraught because I was feeling black sheeped by the family, so I called him and I said, ‘I don’t know what to do. I’m here at school but I want to move out to LA.’ And he said ‘Go to the library, take out ‘Hamlet’, look up act one, scene three, line 78, and call me back.

“It was a November day in Pittsburgh and I crossed the quad and went to the library and I took out ‘Hamlet’, read it, and called him back. He asked me if I’d read it, and what it said.

“It said, ‘This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.’ I said, ‘I want to move to LA.’ And my 75-year-old uncle said, ‘You can stay with me until you get set up.’ I have a tattoo of 1-3-78 on my body. And that’s the credo I live by.”

Since then, Brian has enjoyed success as an actor, screenwriter, and a position on a think tank at Microsoft led him down another interesting path of marketing and branding work.

And his passion for writing, despite being dyslexic, has been the spark for this new project, penned without ambitions to gain financially but inspired by a dream to sell one million copies to help the self-esteem of young readers, as well as the charity that proceeds are benefiting.

He says, “To be a writer and a lover of literature when you’re dyslexic is to tie you to a chair. It’s like I need someone in the room to hold me accountable to do it. It’s so grueling sometimes.”

‘You Are You’, complete with delightful and on-point illustrations by Alex Stephen Martin, is a valuable guide for young people on the art of celebrating the individual, and inspires the courage to reflect on all areas of one’s life, even the darkest aspects, that Brian explains can actually become one’s superpower when embraced.

A page from ‘You Are You’

He says, “One of the pages in ‘You Are You’ reads, ‘You may want to change you, you’ll go to great lengths, but the things you can change, may be your great strengths.’

”That sentence is so true to me, and I’ve learned it through experience. Everything’s a double edged sword. Things you don’t like can hold your superpowers if you embrace them.

“Here’s an example. I have these crazy arms. It’s a condition, and I can’t turn them palm up and they’re very willowy and odd. I hated them growing up. And then one day I was at an audition and I realized my arms could help create an odd little character. And from that day on, what I hated, I’ve embraced.

“With my bipolar, I’ve had these emotions that were so big and carried a lot of shame. You could have an episode that meant being vicious to yourself, or to others, especially to those people closest to you. You could have self-destructive moments where you can lose your grasp on reality. You have to live with the shame of having said and done horrible things to people you love.

‘So with ‘You Are You’ I dealt with my journey of bipolar, and have taken all these experiences of my life, and boiled them down into some kind of elemental wisdom.”

Buy ‘You Are You’ here. And follow Brian and You Are You on Instagram.

John is a world-renowned male model who has been the face of countless leading fashion houses. During his 36-year modeling career he has also moonlighted as an actor, writer, restauranteur, editor, and producer. He co-founded Mr Feelgood to provide a safe space for candid discussion and sharing ideas.

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