TV portrayal of bipolar

In Anne Hathaway's episode of the TV Series Modern Love, she plays Lexi – a beautiful, charismatic attorney living in denial of her bipolar diagnosis. In episodes of mania, even the supermarket aisles become Lexi's catwalk. “I met a man in the peace aisle,” she sings. “There’s not a cloud in the sky”. She sweet talks men, dresses impeccably and the backdrop of her life becomes a Broadway show in which she’s the starring part- work and play operating perfectly in tune. Bipolar is hitting the junction at an altogether different velocity.

Then depression brings the pantomime to a standstill. Lexi can't get out of bed or bear to even open the curtains, cynical death rites surge in her brain. She forgets all about her love at first sight and cancels her date. She slacks at work, eventually calling sick. Day and night merge into one. All the motivation and colour that saturated her exciting existence where inspiration seemed to drift out of billboards is dulled to the extreme. From leapfrogging to social events, she self isolates and disappears off radar.

Watching Anne Hathaway navigate being bipolar in a modern world inspired me. Her story was based on that of Teri Cherney but also led me to Kay Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind one of the books that joins a small but iconic circle of novels depicting high functioning women whose minds are in equal parts their greatest asset and their biggest liability, (I also recommend Elyn R. Saks The Centre Cannot Hold and Esmé Weijun Wan’s The Collected Schizophrenias).

Bipolar needs to be demythologised, as do most mental health conditions. My experience of bipolar has elevated me into psychotic episodes in which my identity is obscured and at the same time been responsible for periods of deep depression. I have personally chosen to take medication and I do so without shame

Sinking into depression

For me, the hardest thing to live with is the sense of loss that will accompany sinking into a depression. I will go through a period of time in which I am filled with energy and potential. Just like Lexi I am eager to see friends and share ideas, collaborate on things, learn, move, stay awake. Sometimes physically, it is like being high. Everything seems to be fatefully aligned and full of possibility. I am organised and strengthened, my diary filled up with plans and achieving firsts in my essays.

Then suddenly, everything changes. I begin to struggle with even the simplest tasks like washing my hair, maintaining contact with friends and family, going into any uni classes. My email may begin clogging up with absence reports or social commitments i made before that I can’t bring myself to attend. This is particularly isolating at university when you’re living on a campus and much of your interactions are nocturnal, at house parties or involve alcohol. It has had a big impact on my relationship with food, and moving away from home made it easier for me to conceal skipping meals. I may realise that all the hours I spent researching one novel in immense detail may have been interesting but hasn’t helped me write that important essay and suddenly the deadline is tomorrow. But the worst part of this change is that I then doubt all the sincerity of the great times before. It is like a process of erasure.

In its extreme form, it is terrifying and demoralising. You start to think that none of your work has any value, that no one will understand or care, that there is no purpose in your dreams. You start to think that you are all alone and to wonder, why didn’t i premeditate this happening? Why didn’t I ask for help when I felt I could? Depression is difficult to write about because it is so internal. Depression sways your trust in reality; were the dreams I had before simply illusions? Do my best friends love a certain personality trait in me that isn’t consistent and therefore they won’t love me on my low days? Can I ever be loved in my entirety?  In fact one of the first searches on Google is the question; Can someone with bipolar ever love? This is a question I will always strive to answer, Yes.

Sometimes in a bad aftermath, I am left staring at an empty bank account after acting on an impulse; a spontaneous decision that has left me vulnerable. Sometimes I realise that I have forged an intense, toxic friendship or unhealthy romantic relationship with the wrong person because of living in an elevated state that has maybe misjudged or over-trusted people I shouldn’t have. I have acted without inhibition because I felt free.

Avoiding diagnosis

For years I rejected seeking out a diagnosis because I feared it would define me. Like so many others, I believed that I would never be taken seriously in a job or amongst my peers. One of the reasons I believed this was because in my past boyfriends or friends had used my mental health as an excuse to undermine me or to let me go. I thought that telling people would be an admission of weakness. I am still learning, but being honest with my nearest and dearest has changed my life for the better. -.Ii remember calling my mum and my best mate after my diagnosis and feeling liberated. The only thing that had altered was that I trusted in my future and believed in myself. I realised that if I let them in, I had a support system around me –people that were willing to listen.

It makes me angry that people mostly give bipolar lip service when they’re talking about someone having a mood swing or a tantrum, “She’s so bipolar” they will say after a little argument. It is also romanticised, associated with writers or innovators, a trademark of creativity, which is also unfair. Manic depression is both easy to trivialise and sensationalise and for so long it’s been subject to great shame and stigma. I am grateful that times are changing and other women are not afraid to tell the truth about their experience. I hope in turn another girl reading this somewhere feels that she is not alone.

This is one of the reasons I love that someone as recognisable as Anne Hathaway played Lexi’s part in Modern Love. This is why I love Selena Gomez's honesty, using her platform to erase stigma from this subject. It is easier to understand something as complex as mental health when it takes the form of a familiar face.