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Former Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton on Being Bipolar: 'I Don't Have One Ounce of Shame'

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Brian Lowe

Nearly three years ago, it was revealed that former Olympic runner Suzy Favor Hamilton was leading a secret life as a high-end escort. Today, her life is finally back on track.

In her revealing new memoir, Fast Girl, excerpted in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, the onetime golden girl of track and field explains how she was able to triumph over the bipolar disorder that led her down a very dark path – and wreaked havoc on her career and family life.

“I wrote my book to help people not feel ashamed about who they are,” says the three-time Olympian, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in January 2013. “My mistakes are greater than others, but we’ve all made them. Stand up and be proud of who you are. Life’s too short to live in shame.”

These days, Hamilton, 47, is living a quieter and more candid life with her husband and college sweetheart, Mark, and her daughter, Kylie, 10. Splitting her time between Madison, Wisconsin and Malibu, where she works as a yoga instructor, Hamilton credits her regimen of medication, talk therapy and rigorous exercise with helping her find peace.

Living by the ocean, she adds, “has been mentally important to me.”

She’s come a long way from the shocking moment when she fell before reaching the finish line at the 2000 Sydney Games, which she says is “where my spiral down started.”

The mania she’d been experiencing worsened in 2011 when a prescribed antidepressant caused hypersexuality and drew her into the dangerous world of high-end prostitution. It wasn’t long before a reporter from the Smoking Gun website found her in Las Vegas and exposed her secret life in December 2012.

“The next morning, my darkest thoughts were on a loop: I had shamed my parents, my husband, our family,” Hamilton writes in her book. “It would be better if I were dead.”

But the scandal ultimately saved her – and writing her memoir has helped heal the scars that once defined her.

It “was therapeutic for me,” she says. “There are so many people who are silently suffering. What would happen if they spoke up? That’s what I’m hoping to help with.”

For more on Suzy Favor Hamilton’s struggle with bipolar disorder, pick up a copy of this week’s PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday