(Probably going to be busy tomorrow so de-embargo-ing this.)
One of the world’s most famous visual artists to suffer from Bipolar Disorder was Vincent van Gogh.
The idea of the artist who feels or sees so intensely that the world and all its sordid and un-Romantic realities seem as if it is not meant for them, that they believe they are above such things, is still all too prevalent as a stereotype to be laughed at.
Why else would the common phrase ‘the tortured genius’ exist? But is that fair?
Something that is common to people who have bipolar is a degree of enhanced emotional sensitivity: towards almost any stimuli. We are by no means emotionally erratic on the daily. It’s quite subtle. Mainly we’re fine, but occasionally our happiness is more intense, our sadness far more crushing. That’s why it is important to create emotionally safe environments without too many stresses on the senses.
During recovery from my second Manic episode I remember being in floods of tears on my kitchen floor after hearing Ellie Goulding’s ‘Explosions’. To me it was a song that spoke so eloquently about love, hurt and the loss of vitality in a person. Particularly the words: “I’ve lost my faith in everything… I’ve fallen from grace… It’s okay to be afraid… but it will never be the same.” Life had been great, but had shaken me again.
Everything became personal.
I think I’m an empathetic person: I’ve had jobs where that skill has been paramount. I’ve always known how to mediate team disputes, or read the emotional temperature of a boardroom… but bipolar heightens this sensitivity to sometimes painful levels.
At University, studying Film, I got deep into a process called interpolation, in that you overly identify on an emotional level with what you are seeing on screen. It didn’t make me the world’s best reviewer, but it did make me very attuned to character arc, mise-en-scéne and the psychological colour palette.
I think it’s for this deeply intuitive reason that so many people with bipolar make wonderful actors.
With my former semi-professional connections to a theatre, I enjoyed being in, or sitting in, a read-through. It’s one of the most liberating, cathartic, exciting things to do, because you indulge that ability to stop being yourself. You make some other character real, and amazingly, there, (as nowhere else in life) you give your trust to a stranger/fellow actor. The story, which is safe needs to be told authentically – in such a way that all your reserves of emotion which have been stored up – suddenly have a valid outlet.
I always try to stress that I am not my condition. Initially having a label was a relief, but then I just felt labelled. It is important to me that people know I have other sides to me. Unfortunately though I feel like the gap in people’s knowledge is too wide for me to sit back and do nothing. Many people are incredibly complimentary about me, but my self-belief in my attributes is something I need to build up.
People with bipolar don’t stop having feelings or desires. We just tend to go into ‘analysis paralysis’ – we scan our feelings for validity (and chemistry!) and explore every angle because normally we are nuanced tacticians in any field. Then we exhaust ourselves in the search for meaning. That makes it hard to do what we’re also good at but more scared of: feeling it out.
But then, isn’t that part of what artists do? Create the debate between expression and meaning?
~ Pola ~