Please note: This article deals with matters involving mental health issues, self-harm, suicide, and other matters that may be triggering for some.
The Artistic Temperament:
Living with Bipolar Disorder
by Matt Coot
“Which of my feelings are real? Which of the me’s is me? The wild, impulsive, chaotic, energetic, and crazy one? Or the shy, withdrawn, desperate, suicidal, doomed, and tired one? Probably a bit of both, hopefully much that is neither”
– Kay Redfield Jamison
I haven’t written an article in a while. In fact, it has been over a week since you were last given an insight into my mind. Why is this? Quite simply, I’ve been struggling with fighting the darkness that comes with being someone who has to struggle with Bipolar Disorder. As Winston Churchill would have termed it, I have been visited by my “black dog”. My black dog has been stalking my every step and it grew more violent in nature with the disintegration of a romantic relationship, the prospect of upcoming surgery, and the decline in health of a much loved relative. These bad things happening grew into worse things in my head because I was already in a very low place. They were magnified and increased to a level that was difficult to handle. Many times, I considered doing the unthinkable final act of self-destruction. Many times, I had to rely on the support of understanding friends to pull me away from the edge.
“My feelings at this moment are pitiable indeed. I am suffering under a depression of spirits such as I have never felt before.”
– Edgar Allan Poe
Just like Edgar Allan Poe, I was suffering quite a strong bout of depression – one that is still lingering now, threatening to take another big bite out of my soul at any moment – and like Poe, I didn’t understand why. Why must I go through this agony of depression? Why must I be the one to struggle through this storm? Why must it be me?
When I’m at my lowest, nothing is possible. I am surrounded by darkness, by doubt, by desires of death. The world loses its vibrancy. There are no colours. There is no beauty. There is nothing but darkness.
On Monday night, I was in floods of tears. I was considering taking a sharp blade and slicing open my wrist. I would have bled out and died there on my bed. There wasn’t anything that was causing this. The deep depression, which I found myself in, might have been contributed to by the issues that I mentioned above, but the depression itself had no reason. Reasons don’t always matter though. People believe that if you can solve the reason that someone wants to end their lives, then that desire will go away. It isn’t true. You can’t solve the reason when the reason is that I just don’t want to live. That is the simple truth. In that moment, and when I am in that deep depression, I just do not want to live.
“Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me.”
– Vincent Van Gogh
This isn’t always the case, though, as Bipolar Disorder doesn’t just mean that the sufferer struggles with depression. Bipolar Disorder also means having to cope with the manic highs that flare up.
The word “manic” is used a lot in society. A lot of time, it isn’t being used in the context that would truly reflect what mania is for someone struggling with Bipolar Disorder. In fact, a description for a manic episode is difficult to pin down. It was recently that is hit me where I had seen the best representation of a manic episode, and it was in a film that wasn’t overtly about Bipolar Disorder. The film in question, which was later expanded into a truly awesome television show, was Limitless. The film stars Bradley Cooper as a struggling writer who has a difficult break-up and is drifting in his life. A chance encounter leads to Cooper’s character to try an experimental drug, NZT. What NZT does to Cooper’s character is the greatest representation of a manic episode that I have ever seen on screen. Watch the scene below to see just what I mean:
At the start of the scene, we see Cooper’s character in the depressive state, but as the scene progresses and the NZT kicks in, we see the mania set in. His mind opens, possibilities become endless, he begins to feel invincible and like he can do anything without any consequences. He feels like he is more likeable, he can talk to more people about more things, he is confident. Just after the actions of the above scene, Cooper’s character finds that he can write more and is far more creative than he normally is. The words just flow.
In fact, the clear difference between the highs and the lows in Limitless is that everything changes colour. The whole cinematography of the film is a visual representation that shows what life is like for Bipolar Disorder sufferers. When I am in a manic episode, I see the world in a brighter, more vibrant, way. The world has more colour in it, everything is louder, everything is possible. When I’m in a depressed state, everything loses its shine, everything feels duller, everything feels that more difficult to accomplish. I find it incredible that the Director of Photography (DoP) on Limitless, Jo Willems, was able to capture something that is so difficult for Bipolar Disorder sufferers to explain, and he was able show it on screen. This is what I can only hope to achieve with my own work in filmmaking. I want to be able to touch audiences with representing their personal experiences on screen in an accurate and loyal portrayal. If I can help someone else to be able to explain to someone what their life is like by pointing to a scene in a film that I have made, then I will be a very happy man. I want to thank Jo Willems and Neil Burger, the director, for that they have done for me with Limitless.
Another film that can accurately portray the rollercoaster journey of Bipolar Disorder is Touched With Fire, directed by Paul Dalio and starring Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby. This film, unlike Limitless, is very much about Bipolar Disorder. Holmes and Kirby play two Bipolar Disorder sufferers who meet in a psychiatric ward and fall in love. Despite warnings from loved ones and psychiatric professionals, the couple continue to pursue their relationship. The film shows the ups and downs of both the relationship and of the Bipolar Disorder that they both struggle with. Whilst Limitless has the most accurate portrayal of a manic episode, it is Touched With Fire that has the most heartbreakingly accurate portrayal of the deep depression and the absolute hopeless situation that I can sometimes find myself in. I cannot find this particular scene anywhere online to post here, so instead I would like to encourage you to find this film on Netflix. The scene will become apparent. Just know that once you’re watching it, that this is just a representation of how it feels and, actually, when you’re in that low place, it feels a lot worse.
“I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything. A few drops of desperation.”
– Winston Churchill
However, sometimes that ultimate self-destructive impulse isn’t always when I am feeling low. Sometimes, just like how Winston Churchill described it, the impulse can come simply by standing on a train platform. The sound of the oncoming train, the knowledge that one movement could end it all, just that one step… But it isn’t just a train platform, what about when walking along the side of a road with oncoming traffic? What about when at a great height? What about when in the kitchen and there’s a sharp knife in reach? Sometimes there isn’t a reason, there is just the impulse. Just like the greatest leader this nation has ever had, who took us through the toughest and darkest of times, I need to stand right back. I cannot stand on the edge, because I won’t always have someone there to pull me back.
The ups, the downs, the spins, the spirals, the never-ending rollercoaster ride of Bipolar Disorder will always be a part of my life and I know that there is no escaping it. There is only the acceptance of riding it. I can either scream all the way, or I can learn to understanding and enjoy the ride. And that is what I am trying to do. I am currently on the strongest dose of a powerful anti-depressant and I have begun treatment on an anti-psychotic mood-stabiliser. I am also accepting help from a Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN), and the Community Mental Health Team. My family and my friends are becoming increasingly more knowledgeable about the disorder and continue to support me through my highs and my lows. I honestly wouldn’t be able to live without them. A common phrase, but one that is very real for me.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If anyone ever needs a chat, please do get in touch: