Trigger Warning: This column contains graphic content regarding mental health.
I’m someone who tends to take many things in life to either extreme. I would go without reading a single book for months and then one day decide to buy multiple novels and read them all in one sitting. I survived without streaming services for a year before resubscribing to Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime out of the blue. I could cook an elaborate meal one evening and then barely eat anything over the following days. I could clean every corner of an apartment by myself in an afternoon, only then to let my room descend into a state of chaos. And of course, I would procrastinate for days on a paper and then write all 15 pages the day it’s due, but you don’t need to be Bipolar to do that.
Yes, I’m Bipolar. Type II to be exact. The aforementioned is really just some of the least harmful manifestations of my mood constantly being a rollercoaster. While I was never trying to hide it, it’s not something I like to talk about outside of my psychiatrist’s office. Why write about it now? Well, I watched a TV show.
We seem to be living in an age where it’s easier to find thoroughly researched, well-written psychopaths on screen than it is to see even just a semi-accurate depiction of more common mental illnesses, without it being romanticized or sensationalized. Believe me when I say, I’ve never seen someone remotely like me in TV shows or movies. And thanks to Kanye West, the American public has heard quite a bit about Bipolar disorder in recent years; This has definitely done more harm than good.
So imagine my surprise when, after a bad day, I started binging the new anthology series Modern Love on Amazon in the middle of the night, only to find myself watching the very nightmare I was trying to avoid unfold on screen. The series is based on the beloved New York Times column of the same name, and the third episode, specifically, is adapted from the 2008 essay “Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am,” where the author Terri Cheney details her journey with rapid-cycling Bipolar and the disaster it made of her life and her romantic relationships. Anne Hathaway plays Lexi, a brilliant, accomplished attorney with beautiful red hair and a personality just as vibrant. She goes days without sleep during a manic episode, dresses whimsically and finds herself dates in the fruit aisle of the supermarket, only to crash the moment she walks through her own door and proceeds to block out the world by hiding in bed. The guy she meets at the supermarket, upon seeing her disheveled and disoriented on their first date, asks her jokingly: “Do you happen to have a twin?”
What he doesn’t know is how close to the truth that is. But Lexi doesn’t tell him the truth. But after failing to make it through her second date with supermarket guy, and getting fired by her law firm because despite her brilliance they simply could not put up with her dismal attendance record, Lexi finally confides in a friend and co-worker.
Her friend cancels a meeting, buys her coffee and listens. “How does it feel telling me?” She asked. “Like the elephant has taken one of its feet off my chest.”
And isn’t that just the crux of it. It’s amazing how trusting people can finally allow you to breathe, but opening up in the first place is the foot of the elephant you yourself have to lift. I’m lucky to have supportive people around me. But even then this illness is the worst form of loneliness. I’ve often said that representation shouldn’t exist solely for representation’s sake, but that is not to discredit the tangible social impact storytelling can make. In depicting mental illness right in art and media, we could not only help many people understand experiences they have not lived through. More importantly, it could let those who suffer from the disorders know with absolute certainty that they are seen.
Students may consult with counselors from Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) by calling 607-255-5155. Employees may call the Faculty Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) at 607-255-2673. An Ithaca-based Crisisline is available at 607-272-1616. For additional resources, visit caringcommunity.cornell.edu.
Andrea Yang is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Five Minutes ‘Til Places runs alternate Mondays this semester.