The best bipolar documentary you can watch if you want to know what bipolar is like, how it is treated and what people look like when they are suffering from it, is NOT the high-profile one recently released that features Stephen Fry.
Don’t get me wrong, that had its moments but it was generally disappointing in its blandness. While I was faffing around with iPlayer I saw ANOTHER documentary, this one was called “My Baby, Psychosis and Me” and was listed as being about post-partum psychosis, sometimes called post-partum bipolar disorder. Stab me for merging the two, I don’t care, watch the documentary and tell me I’m wrong. Everyone with bipolar disorder, post-partum psychosis and their partners/anyone who wants to know what it’s really like should watch this documentary, it’s really that good.
There are two women being followed by the documentary as they deal with post-partum psychosis. One of them already had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The other didn’t, and I don’t think she has been diagnosed with it either but it wasn’t stated, but she did have very severe depression. I think this is the absolute best documentary I’ve ever seen showing what it’s actually like to experience bipolar disorder.
Like so many other people, I first watched The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive about 8 years ago, when it was broadcast. I wasn’t diagnosed with a mental illness at the time. Last year, in August, I was diagnosed with Type II Bipolar Disorder and PTSD, after losing both my parents within 5 months (clarification edit: this was NOT why I was diagnosed with PTSD). I also lost my career as a teacher, and I nearly lost my life. My whole life was completely destroyed by bipolar disorder.
Last year, The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive was one of the documentaries I watched again whilst trying to come to terms with my illness.
With the newer update, titled The Not So Secret Life of the Manic Depressive – Ten Years On, I felt (and I’ll say that a lot because it’s my opinion) that one hour wasn’t enough for them to go into the same depth with the number of people they were following. Of the original people Mr Fry spoke to, there was only one who was followed up. It’s also a crying shame that they couldn’t follow up some of the others, even if it was just to inform us about those who had died or committed suicide, or that they didn’t want to be part of the next one. A black card at the beginning or end with the names on would have been enough. Suicide got very strongly avoided as a topic, only being mentioned by Stephen Fry with his psychiatrist, and nobody discussed the way that NHS cuts have caused changes to the process of hospitalization, either, which would have been a good follow up from the previous documentary. I felt like the people being followed for this one had excellent stories to tell, and that some of this got left untold and just dropped. We got snapshots instead of postcards. I felt as well that the question that was asked wasn’t fully answered, “has the way we live with bipolar disorder changed?” The obvious problem with their conclusion being that the thrust of the argument was that younger generations are more accepting of bipolar disorder – where older generations are more stigmatizing. This is problematic because we don’t go through life interacting only with people our age and particularly in the world of work (which most of us would like to be part of if we’re not already) we sometimes have to communicate our illness to other adults and trust that they will respond in a reasonable way. I also felt that it was unrealistic to juxtapose Robin Williams because (and I’ve said it before) every freaking mental illness minority has been trying to label him with their own special label since he committed suicide, and without an official diagnosis prior to death, I think post-mortem mental illness diagnoses are untenable and often rely on circumstantial evidence. This is also why it annoys me that Marilyn Monroe is often “claimed” as bipolar – she looks borderline from where I stand.
On the contrary, My Baby, Psychosis and Me was a lot better at showing what it’s really like to have bipolar disorder, to live with it, to be in a relationship with someone with bipolar disorder, and I feel that this documentary did a much better job of showing (rather than telling) the way that bipolar disorder and post-partum psychosis affect people. I identified very strongly with the issues being faced by both of the women being followed in this documentary and believe it felt better-made and showcased much more appropriate film-making techniques (e.g. a manageable sample size for a 1 hour documentary about a complex subject). I was very impressed that they filmed someone receiving ECT, which was less scary than I expected.
The only criticism I have is that, while I haven’t been sectioned, I did attend my local mental hospital for assessment (which is now closed because it was in such a bad state of disrepair – meaning the future of mental health services here is in question at the moment), and I don’t genuinely believe that most people in the country get access to such good facilities as those on the documentary. But the psychiatrist in the documentary did point out that it’s a postcode lottery and in many places, women aren’t able to be placed in a mother and baby unit, and this was borne out as the episode unfolded.
This is an issue that is close to my heart. With my pregnancy last year, I was trying desperately to find out any information I could about this specific condition because women with bipolar disorder are more likely to experience post-partum psychotic episodes than women who don’t already have bipolar disorder (which is classed as a psychotic disorder although most people wish it wasn’t). Not finding anything specific enough like personal experiences on the internet, I reached out via WordPress. My blog, usually abuzz with information and opinions, fell oddly silent except for three or four voices, and I felt that a lot of people actually went out of their way to avoid this elephant on the table, particularly people who were allegedly well-qualified to speak on this matter.
This silence, which lasted long after my pregnancy ended (and the silence still perpetuates), has culminated in my being de-friended on Twitter and WordPress by some of the very people claiming to speak for women with bipolar disorder and claiming to be so very misunderstood. I’ve said before, but when people say they are “raising awareness” when they blog about bipolar disorder, what, exactly, are they “raising awareness” of? Raising awareness of bipolar disorder, or raising awareness of themselves? Either way, I’m not, by some people’s measure, bipolar enough for them, because I’m not running around going on about how bad it is all the time and screaming that the world owes me something. So I don’t get to weigh in on matters of bipolarness.
I was left alone and adrift, by people whom I had supported when I could, in a world where I lost my job, where I was forced to fight to abort the baby I very much wanted, and two months on, I am still trying to move on anyway, in the face of all the shit that had already happened in 2015. But the ‘trying to move on’ is what has unsettled some people. I guess some people are so jealous of anything that other people do (regardless of how shit my or anyone else’s life is in other ways) that they just don’t try to understand other people (while bitching that no-one understands them).
It’s interesting that one of the bipolar blogging people who defriended/unfollowed me was, two weeks ago, crying blue murder (again) that someone else had done it to them (I now wonder why). Maybe that person (let’s call her Person A) should think of that next time Person A acts like they’re someone’s friend then decide on a whim they won’t help Person B out with a problem that is Person A’s specialist subject that they’re writing a book about, *then* (after Person B didn’t bring it up or hold it against Person A in any way) not bother finding out that Person B’s critically ill, assume Person B’s ignoring them and decide Person A absolutely doesn’t like Person B at all because Person B’s in hospital and *can’t* give Person A the attention Person A desperately craves and expects from people. But they won’t. They’ll continue in their little self absorbed bubble luring in new people with all the lovely things they say right until they get to their discard phase and call them fit to burn again (bipolar… or narcissistic personality disorder with depression? I know someone who has this so it’s possible). I was going to link to her so she got pinged by this, but she’d only love the attention/drama. I’ve blocked her from commenting anyway.
On a bipolar-related note, do you know who should have got a book contract to write about bipolar disorder (I’d especially love it to begin or end each chapter with a Spangladian recipe for something tasty)? La Sabrosona. If you haven’t seen her blog My Spanglish Familia, get your ass over there, it’s my absolute favourite. It’s a lovely mixture of topics, she doesn’t over-dramatize things (she analyzes her responses to triggers – I don’t know anyone else who does this – I certainly can’t), and she’s very open minded and open to discussion on thought provoking questions, which I really like, as well as her brilliant weekly series, Metamorphosis Mondays. By contrast, she has also been known to talk about the “normal” stuff like organizing a family etc, which is a refreshing change too; reading her blog is like having a conversation with a good friend over coffee.
I am aware I’m burning yet another bridge here re: my comments higher up, but y’know what? I don’t care. Not since I found out none of the people I was worried about upsetting even follow my blog. Now, I don’t care about follower numbers but it seems to me this relationship has become a little one-sided. I don’t even USE WordPress reader normally, and I still follow their blogs with WordPress. Thanks for nothing. Everyone wants to be heard but no-one wants to listen. Well I listen as much as I can, and I feel slightly mean but I like a bit of reciprocation every now and then. As a mature adult, I haven’t unfollowed them, but as a dissed bitch I’m considering it. What can I say? I’m a Scorpio. I try to overcome it but sometimes people bring out the worst in me.
I think that people in general in mental health and other minority groups (vegan, trans etc) need to stop creating pockets of 100% agreement about everything (and demanding a tactfulness akin to mindreading from people who don’t have bipolar etc) that leads to the distortions of perception of reality that cause us to break with reality. This is especially important for those of us with bipolar disorder, because ain’t nobody got time for being manic. I thought we were all supposed to be individuals not sheeple. If people stopped feeling so damn invalidated by anyone else doing things differently to themselves we could solve 90% of world conflicts, though, and even “sane” people don’t seem to manage it most of the time. That’s no reason not to try, of course (I am convinced that jealousy comes from feelings of inadequacy). But I’m Not Bipolar Enough to comment on such things because I’m not full of drama. Oh, the irony of this post.
Don’t worry, I’ll grow the hell up again tomorrow and resume my normal posts but I just needed to get some of this out of my system since we’re talking bipolar disorder today, because I want to be able to say that I officially don’t care but I’m not in that place right now. I’d have to write every one of my posts just like this one to qualify to be part of the very special bipolar blogging clique that I’m Not Bipolar Enough to be a part of, anyway, so the bridge was already on fire when I got here.
It does beg the question though, after seeing several posts about the “problem” of self diagnosed people and people who aren’t really bipolar pretending to be bipolar bloggers (I have 3 psychiatrists’ diagnoses of bipolar II and I’m now MORE sick of the lines in the sand than I am with the original problem, which I ignore) why do people feel the need to patrol the boundaries of “their” mental illness? And how are those boundaries decided and managed? Is it really so terrifying if we take down those boundaries and start to blur the lines between normal and bipolar? Because we all wail about ending stigma; this is what it entails. It requires there to be no difference between us and them and how we treat each other. Many “normal” people are trying to meet us halfway, can we not budge an inch??? Instead of needing an “other” to rage about, can’t we all just be “us” with no them?
I mean, this is assuming for even a minute (as all these bipolar gatekeepers seem to do) that everyone without bipolar disorder is “normal” which is ludicrous – what about the schizophrenics? I think it’s this profound and deep-seated ablism that’s what bugs me so much about this “I’m more bipolar than you so your opinion doesn’t count because MY HEAD FELL OFF WHEN I WAS MANIC and yours didn’t so there” attitude. Maybe it’s because we’re all outsiders in our own communities and can’t cope with the numbers of other bipolar disorder sufferers that are now talking about it online. We opened up the floor for a discussion of bipolar disorder, hoped to end the stigma, it mostly happened, and a lot of people don’t seem to like the results because they’re no longer the most special snowflake in the snowdrift any more. Are the arbitrary lines in the sand a coping mechanism? You’ll have to forgive me, I’m now thinking from an anthropological point of view rather than a bipolar one.
COMING BACK TO THE DOCUMENTARY ITSELF, I can’t think why this excellent documentary hasn’t been lauded yet amongst the bipolar bloggers (apart from the fact the title could have been more revealing, and aforementioned lines in sand), so do check it out. It’s only an hour long so if you’ve got some time, whether or not you’re bipolar or whether you have experienced post-partum psychosis, this really is a fantastic resource to educate yourself about these two very closely related mental health events (for want of a better word) so you can recognize these illnesses and support people to get help. As Blahpolar suggested for the Stephen Fry documentary, hola.org is a good way to watch it if you don’t get iPlayer (or if it doesn’t work). I managed to get iPlayer to work today but if you don’t, you’ve got another option there. That link again, if you made it this far:
Let me know what you think of it, and any thoughts you have about the questions I posed in the third-to-last and second-to-last paragraphs.