by Camilla Leach

“It’s about looking at these episodes, understanding them and processing them which gives us knowledge and power to move forward in our recovery.”

Having spent most of my life battling with bipolar disorder, I have always found it profoundly strange how this condition is so under-represented in film and TV. Particularly mania. There are countless portrayals of depression, however mania, still in today’s world still feels surrounded by taboo. Having spent many months in an acute state of mania myself, I left a psychiatric ward looking for some answers. I would frequently find myself searching for films about the illness to provide me with comfort in knowing that I was not alone in my struggle, but I found none.

It was at a Bipolar UK event that I met the wonderful actress Jo Hartley. To begin with I recognised her and thought we may have been long lost friends, however it became apparent quite quickly that I knew her from her outstanding performance in ‘This is England’ and ‘Afterlife’ with Ricky Gervais. Jo is warm and one of the most genuine people I have ever met. We talked at length about a new role she had been cast in, a show called ‘In My Skin’. Jo explained that she wanted to do justice to the illness and ensure that her character accurately represents so many people who suffer from this debilitating condition. I was overwhelmed by her professionalism and offered to help provide some context to the character through sharing my own experiences.

In my skin - TV drama

I met Jo at the Dean Street Townhouse in Soho, one sunny afternoon to discuss the series, her character and the different states of bipolar. Jo explained her role and the scene in episode two when her character is sectioned under the Mental Health Act. I found myself a little choked hearing some of her lines as it brought it all back for me. She was on a ‘locked ward’ and there was no way out. We talked at length about the differences between mania and hypomania and the reasons why her character had ended up in an acute psychiatric hospital. I described my own experiences, how someone could go from being completely rational to ‘a danger to oneself or others’.

When Jo read her lines, it transported me right back, to a place and time I had buried away. I think what’s so important, and what Jo reminded me, is that it’s about looking at these episodes, understanding them and processing them which gives us knowledge and power to move forward in our recovery. By ignoring the highs of bipolar and sweeping this part of ourselves under the carpet we do ourselves a disservice. How Jo was able to so beautifully portray her character’s battle with bipolar through honest, researched and informed acting is a true inspiration. It certainly gives me comfort that I am not alone, and I encourage anyone reading this to watch the brilliant series ‘In My Skin’. I am sure there are many other bipolar sufferers who feel misunderstood and underrepresented in the media. Jo recently said in a Marie Claire interview ‘I think we should portray life as it really is’ and she has done just that. Whilst many people with bipolar will have very different experiences I felt her honest take on the condition will provide not only hope and comfort to other sufferers but a platform to help de-bunk existing misconceptions surrounding mania and hypomania.