3.11.2013

The Bipolar Linings Playbook


Last year was a fantastic year for movies. The Hobbit, Cloud Atlas, Life of Pi,  Lincoln, Perks Of Being A Wallflower - all hold a special place in my heart. Some of them (namely Perks) spoke to me in powerful ways, mainly because of the ease with which I related to the main character's struggle with depression and suicidal ideation. 

Once again, I'm rather late to the party but I finally managed to catch Silver Linings Playbook last week. When I first saw the trailer last year, I was mildly intrigued because it seemed like a football movie starring Jennifer Lawrence, whom everyone adores (how could you not?). I couldn't have been more wrong about the film's premise and I am happy to admit it. This film goes far beyond sports and romance, into a more sensitive and darker subject - the realm of mental illness. 

In case you hadn't figured it out by now, this is not a film review. I don't do that.

I was diagnosed with bipolar II back in October of last year shortly following my second suicide attempt (as detailed in an older post). I'm still trying to figure out the nuances of this condition as it is still a muddy concept. I know I have elevated moods, random impulses, am easily irritated, have episodic insomnia, etc. Perhaps you look at bipolar and see schizophrenia. I look at it and see a fogged up mirror. It seems I suffer from the disease of being human, for what person isn't easily irritated? However, the problem lies in the fact that I suffer from an excessive amount of this so-called human disease. I can't fully discern what it is that I suffer from even six months after my diagnosis but I know it is there because something is pulling at me.



I could throw words like hypomania out there, but instead I want to focus on something that I feel Silver Linings Playbook does very well: break down and bring to light the "stigma" of mental illness.

I read copious amount of reviews of the film after watching it, and the aforementioned word "stigma" was used in nearly all of them. Several reviews were written from the perspective of an individual who also suffers  from bipolar disorder, including a former Congressman. I learned that director David O. Russell made the film in part for his son, who is also a victim of this mental condition. He did this in order to show that he is a person - not a disorder - and that he too can accomplish astonishing feats.

The film itself flits between the stark and the cute. At its most harrowing, we see a family cave in on itself as mismanagement of anger, ritualistic obsessions and compulsions, and mood swings mount on top of each other in rapid succession. I realized these actors on screen were portraying the symptoms I have, but in far worse degrees. Pat (Bradley Cooper) has frequent outbursts of anger. He suffers from insomnia. He bristles and becomes defensive quickly. On top of that, he has deluded tunnel vision and bases his life on it, mistaking his pursuit of it as progress.

Cooper's cast mates are no exception. Lawrence's character Tiffany appears to have a case of nymphomania as a result of her intense depression. Pat's father (Robert De Niro) has anger issues and his quirks are reflected in his behavioral OCD. Pat's friends possess the same problems. We see a vibrant, unpredictable,  eccentric, and dysfunctional collection of souls striving to come together in a sort of crazy community.



Oddly enough, I feel that that last sentence could aptly describe any handful of six or seven people anywhere. Sure, most of us aren't sitting around joking about and comparing which medications are better or precisely what level of "crazy" we are, but we would be kidding ourselves if we think we're normal. Normal isn't exactly synonymous with boring (in a certain light), which is why I believe that we are all crazy - it's just that not all of us take pills for it. 

I mentioned earlier the "stigma" that seems to exist concerning mental illness. Let's be honest, most people just don't get it. I admitted earlier that I'm not too keen on what my own diagnosis means. People hear schizophrenia and think of split personalities and hallucinations. Similarly, bipolar people have exaggerated and frequent mood swings while depressed people mope and cry a lot while cutting themselves. What this film attempts to do is take those things we don't understand and put them in the light; in everyday situations being performed by people with ordinary problems. Even the word "problems" is....well, problematic because it fails to fully ascribe all of the appropriate attributes of humanity to a person, as if they could only be like the rest of us if those "problems" didn't exist. Or better yet, if they just got over them.

I'm not like "the rest of us" and I'll wager you aren't either. It's too easy to say you know someone who suffers from some form of mental illness (I mean, you are reading my blog...) because in all likeliness, most of us do. I will never cop out behind my chemical imbalances as an excuse to have low expectations in life. Similarly, I would hope that those who do not fully understand mental disorders would strive to seek that understanding, perhaps starting with that person you know who does suffer from one. It's not sensationalized. It's just a gritty and overwhelmingly human thing to have to grapple with, though not everyone does.

That is my disease. It seems I fit into my body altogether too well. There is no entry in the DSM-IV for what most of us have. We have the curse of feeling too much when we are in tune with our humanity. Even though my condition keeps me at arm's length from what I want most of the time, I respect its presence - but not enough to let it completely run my life. 

But even here, at a seemingly safe distance, I'll never outrun it. And that's alright - I'm completely fine with running beside it. It's my millstone, fully visible to the world. I think it looks pretty good.

In conclusion, go see this movie.

Cheers,
JDS

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UPDATES & SUCH

I finished reading Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child some time ago. Spoiler alert - it was depressing. Now I have to decide if I really want to read Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, which I hear is equally somber. If anyone has any other suggestions for a happy story, please let me know.

I went through a Shai Hulud and Counterparts kick. Now I'm listening to a lot of Wide Eyes, Within The Ruins, and...Daughter. Also, this band called Unifier, of which I've provided a video below. They used to be called Future Ghosts.


I bought tickets to see New Found Glory (June 2nd), Now, Now (May 4th), Daughter (May 16th), and The Contortionist and Within The Ruins (April 4th). I may have went a little crazy, but I'm catching up for all those times that every band ever skipped over Abilene, TX during my four year imprisonment there. Consequently, these will be shows #6-10 since I moved here...which means I'll buy 4 more shirts. Yay! Best way to shop. Also, The Appleseed Cast's new album Illumination Ritual comes out on my birthday. You can bet I already preordered that mess. Annnd I ordered a My Epic T-Shirt. Ok, I love music. Call it a problem.

I won't bore you with any more of the mundane. Just watch the above video and go see this movie!



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