I am one of the four featured persons in the film OF TWO MINDS. I feel very honored to be in this film by Doug Blush and Lisa Klein. The honor comes from the fact that as Alice Boyce Ph.D. says in her blog review of the film on Psychology Today (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-practice/201208/two-minds-new-documentary-film-explores-life-bipolar-disorder) the film is a great conversation starter. People who hear about the film are very curious and surprised that I, who appear today as a fairly rational and sane individual, have been afflicted with Bipolar Disorder, which has been increasingly stigmatized by the many violent people who have killed others and have been labeled bipolar. The hidden pronouncement is that bipolar people are likely at any time to go insane and hurt others. The film shows that we people are not unlike everybody else in most respects. We work. We make dinner. We have relationships. We have our own particular pain in our lives, but everybody has some kind of pain, too.
Five million or more citizens of the United States have this condition. Only a few are criminally violent. Most carry on as best they can. Some fall to suicide, the self- inflicted violence that is more likely to be the fate of a bipolar person than that he or she hurt others; and some prosper. I am one who has prospered, turning lemons into lemonade after decades of personal failure. The lemonade is the film and the book “bipolar bare” that I wrote about my mental illness. I have become someone whom others, generally those with the disorder or those affected by the disorder, want to talk to. They want me to hear their stories and to reassure them that they are valuable human beings. Each of these interactions is a conversation among peers that exchanges valuable information. I learn from them; they learn from me.
Some of the best conversations have come about through the Q and A sessions after a screening of the film. Six times I have stood before the audience after the screening of OF TWO MINDS with the filmmakers and the other cast members, heard the universal praise of this film, and fielded numerous questions. The film is praised by the audience members, who clap vigorously at the end of each screening, as an accessible film.
They state how they see part of themselves or a family member or friend in characters revealed. The audience can relate to the cast and their families and see the humor that flows beneath the condition. They ask the filmmakers about the humor in the film. Doug or Lisa answer that the humor is essential to making a film that deals with the tragedy of suicide and severe mental pain by balancing it with other side of the condition, which can be comic. Comedy, the inverse of tragedy, exposes the human element in those afflicted with Bipolar Disorder. I get a lot of laughs in the film, especially when I say it would be fun to cross dress again. My wife quickly says that she hopes I won’t do it. I respond that I would only if I lost 100 lbs. I can be a big ham.
Another question often asked is: Do we who have bipolar disorder experience times of mood balance? I am able to answer that I did. There were periods of time, some lasting months at a stretch, when I experienced no major mood swings. What follows on from that question is: how did I cope with the major mood swings? I can answer that by saying that I self-medicated with illegal drugs. This leads to the question: how often is the condition one of dual diagnosis? The answer to this is very often. What I find from these questions is that there still exists, in spite of all the information available on Bipolar Disorder, a huge lack of knowledge about it and a prevailing fear by those with it , those around people with the condition, and the general public.
This brings up the subject of stigma. People are afraid to admit they have the disorder for the consequences it will have on their lives. Doug and Lisa field many questions about how they selected the four featured characters in the film. They answer that they interviewed many people before settling on Cheri, Petey, Liz, and me. They speak how they had wanted to use a Wall Street banker, but he was afraid that exposing himself in the film would affect his career. The audience then notes that all the people in the film are creative. I answer that I too have noticed that many bipolar people are creative, but not all. There are no reliable statistics that prove Bipolar Disorder is associated with creativity. Creativity, I add, is not limited just to the arts. Bankers, doctors, and dentists can be creative forces in their fields, but revealing mental illness is another matter. I note that in the arts being a little crazy is acceptable. How many people however would go to a crazy dentist, but they have and will buy art from a crazy painter? Yet the main reason that I say that I expose myself in this film is desire not to shrink before my condition. The stigma attacted to Bipolar Disorder must be smashed.
OF TWO MINDS creates a different picture of the bipolar condition — one that is not wrapped in medical or psychiatric jargon. It is a portrait that shows us who have the condition in full spectrum from the nature of our illness to the dimension of our lives, which are lived in and beyond the confines of our illness. This portrait is one that provides understanding for everyone. It is a gentle yet effective description. OF TWO MINDS is helping to smash the stigma associated Bipolar Disorder, and that makes me feel good that I am contributing to this effort. The film also makes me feel more normal, since the portrait of me doesn’t simply focus on my illness. It shows the many dimensions of my life. Lastly I relish the fact that this film is helping others cope with and understand the bipolar condition. I spent a lot of time in my life feeling bad and thinking negative thoughts. Participating in OF TWO MINDS continued my education on the illness and liberated me from fear and self-loathing. My self-esteem has risen another notch because of my part in making this film a reality. The conversation started by this film will help bipolar people feel better about themselves, and friends, family, and interested others know there is nothing to fear from the majority of bipolar people. To be part of this film is one of the highlights of my life.