By Michael Mendones

Content warning 

This film is a powerful artistic impression of Michael’s personal experiences of bipolar. The scenes include nudity, flashing lights, loud music and some intense images that some people might find overwhelming or triggering. 

Please do not watch it if you are feeling unwell.

If you do find it triggering, please do reach out for support. 

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The loneliest part of this terrifyingly beautiful illness is that partners, friends, family and the general population have no idea what depths of emotion we experience; the pain, euphoria, anxiety, deep connections to the world, beauty, colour and sheer muchness of living. It’s all there, inexpressible except through the manifestation of mania, depression, psychosis and everything in between.

My family weren’t able to understand  

When I first sat in a circle with the Central London Bipolar UK support group, I felt I was with my tribe. I had no need to explain myself: everybody else’s experience was broadly my own. I was no longer alone. However, when family members attended and spoke, they were still unable to comprehend the inner worlds of their children, siblings or parents.

And that’s where the idea for my film ‘Oscillations’ came from. I wanted to convey through music, movement and spoken word, the sheer intensity, numbness and joy of having bipolar. How it’s a gift and curse at the same to think so deep, to feel so hard.

The start of my bipolar journey 

Waking up in a dorm room aged 17 on an adult ward, the shock of being sectioned and not being in CAMHS stays with me still. No sleep for 3 weeks, wandering around London all night, my brain and body gave up on me.  

I was only formally diagnosed with Bipolar I during my second inpatient stint two years later, spending the majority of my late teens and my whole 20s glued to my bed oscillating between deep depression and mania.

Bipolar derailed my education

I dropped out of my A-levels after being an academic superstar in primary school and told I had a bright future. Depression and insomnia eroded me from the age of 14 and I failed numerous times to return to college. In my late 20s I did an Access Course and then a Sociology degree at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

During my second year, I had an inpatient admission, missing 6 months of that academic year. Despite that I got a 2:1, commencing a Masters in Social Research with the aim of starting a PhD concerning male suicide (way back in 2005!) I dropped out after another admission.

Effective treatment meant I could study

I completed 12 sessions of CBT and began a medication regime which agreed with me, and completed a PgDip/MSc in Occupational Therapy at London Southbank University. I had started the course 3 months after leaving hospital.

I came off all medication (mood stabiliser and antidepressant) for a few years, started my career as a mental health Occupational Therapist, running the therapeutic programme for my own ward and becoming a senior OT on a Psychiatric Rehabilitation Unit.  

I was managing my mental health well and so proud of my journey from inpatient to clinician in the same mental health unit I had been in four times.

I discovered a passion for storytelling 

Unfortunately, a series of personal and professional factors led to burnout. Attending an Acute Day Unit, where, ironically, I participated in therapeutic activities, writing poetry and Music Therapy unlocked my passion to express my own stories.  

I had used music, art and writing in my own groups, however I had neglected its importance for me, its self-soothing ability and way to get difficult emotions out.

I tried to go back to work but could not cope with such a stressful environment and went back on medication. I retired early on health grounds and attended a Day Centre, where I developed a love of pottery.  

In this period I started releasing albums (9 to date) as ‘Frequency.Fixer’, performing live and making music videos with dancers.

An insight into my world 

In 2019 the original version of ‘Oscillations’ was screened at the Day Centre. Audience members said that some aspects of the 10-minute film and performance had given them an insight into my world.  

An image, a video clip, my spoken word, live music or recorded music had resonated.

Taking the film to the next level 

In December 2022 Arts Council England awarded me a ‘Developing Your Creative Practice’ grant to make Oscillations to a standard high enough to share more widely.  

The aims were still the same: to convey the extreme mood states experienced in bipolar disorder. I wrote, recorded and mixed the soundtrack, encompassing electronic, film soundtrack, free jazz, classical piano, classical, hip-hop and orchestral drum and bass genres! 

Bringing the Mood Scale to life  

Each piece of music portrays a mood state correlating to the Bipolar UK Mood Scale. For example, The Spiral is a ’10’ on the scale where someone experiences: ‘Total loss of judgement, exorbitant spending, religious delusions and hallucinations’.  

Utilising the Mood Scale as a framing device, the intention is that abstract scenes of dancers interpreting the soundtrack can be understood more easily. 

This is an INTENSE journey, and I make no apologies for its rawness. This is what it is feels like to me to live with bipolar. 

Last updated: 9 November 2023