NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The scene was hard to forget back on Thursday, June 30 – male model Krit McClean shutting down Times Square as he stripped completely naked, danced on the TKTS booth and taunted police for an hour.
CBS2’s Ali Bauman spoke exclusively with McClean on Monday.
At 21, McClean is much more than a model. He is a painter, a political science student at Columbia University, and a loving son and brother.
But after the very public manic episode in Times Square, McClean has added a new title to his résumé – advocate for mental health.
“I couldn’t handle just being in the world,” he said.
At the time of the full-frontal nude scene for thousands at the top of the TKTS booth, McClean was hitting rock bottom. He said a manic episode of paranoia drove him to dance, yell and spit in the nude toward police officers for nearly an hour.
“Everything was fine. School was going well. Modeling was going well. I was doing my acting classes. Artistically, I was expressing myself. I couldn’t have been in a better place in terms of my life and the direction I personally wanted to be in,” McClean said.
McClean has since been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has been undergoing therapy. Charges of public lewdness, disorderly conduct and exposure were dropped on Friday.
McClean said he remembers everything from that day, but now he is left trying to make sense of it.
“I was paranoid that people were after me, and that they were evil, and that they were coming from all sides,” he said.
The former magazine and runway model said paranoia began to build the night before, while leaving his family’s home on Roosevelt Island. He took off his gold sneakers and slept outside, compelled to be one with nature.
“I was in tears and I was crying, and I felt so alone and so scared and so vulnerable, but I didn’t want to involve my family in it because I thought that they would get hurt,” McClean said.
At dawn, McClean’s paranoia was getting worse, so he headed for his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen – soothing himself with song and dance. But he became transfixed by the signs in Times Square.
“And then I all of a sudden saw all these messages — the Express advertisement, and it said, ‘Express yourself,’” he said, “and I thought, ‘Well, how can I express myself now?’ And then I realized, ‘Oh my God, I need to take off my clothes and express myself to the fullest; in my most natural state.’”
What happened next was anyone’s worst nightmare, as thousands gawked at McClean’s meltdown in the buff. It was not until a few days after he woke up handcuffed at Bellevue that McClean realized his episode had spread around the world.
“I’m just a student trying to pursue art trying to pursue a career in modeling, and it just happened like this. It just happened in a flash,” he said. “I didn’t even realize what was going on.”
But the public did not see everything that happened. McClean said he tried cleaning the litter as he ran up the stairs.
“There’s no garbage can here, so I just started to eat the gum – like, pick up all the pieces and eat it – and then I ate the cigarette butts, and then it became this like big ball, and it was my way to dispose of things,” McClean said.
McClean added that he did not trust the police officers approaching.
“Pigeons came and they excreted onto a police officer, and I took that as a sign of: ‘Wow, the animals are really protecting me. I can’t trust these people,’” McClean said.
So McClean jumped and purposely avoided the air bag that police had set up below – fracturing his arm.
“It’s not me,” he said. “If anything, I’m just the instrument and telling the story that people might be able to understand and relate to.”
CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez explained the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder that McClean described. Bipolar disorder used to be called “manic depression,” but not everyone has the kind of severe manic episodes that McClean experienced – which can be hard to distinguish from a psychotic event due to schizophrenia.
There are various types and severity levels of bipolar disorder. The type that McClean apparently had is defined by manic episodes that start with feelings of elation, energy, insomnia, and grandiose, racing thoughts, Gomez reported. But in severe cases, that can spiral down into delusions and hallucinations.
Nearly 6 million adults have bipolar disorder, which usually starts in the late teen years but can start even in early childhood or later in life. But age does not really predict the severity of bipolar.
Since his arrest, McClean has been dropped from Ford Models. He now faces disciplinary hearings with Columbia University, but still hopes to go back for senior year in the fall.
Some of the conditions of the charges being dropped are that McClean has to stick with his therapy and appear back in court in the next six months. But he said he is looking forward to continuing with art and seeing where life takes him next.