So I just watched this amazing documentary and I’m feeling so many things. I had to test the dvd for the films we are screening for the Reelabilities Film Festival this week. So I’m going through and testing the dvd’s to make sure they work. The one I just watched was called Bipolarized – here’s a link to the trailer. The long and short of it is that a young man had what was diagnosed as a psychotic break in his early twenties. He was hospitalized, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and place on Lithium – which he took for 16 years. He was numb for most of it and struggled to function, find balance, and develop a relationship with his own emotions – because he couldn’t feel any for all of those years. He knew in his bones that this was not the path to his full self and he committed himself to coming off the drugs and healing the pain that was hiding all along. The film documented that journey. It was harrowing, at times hard to swallow but at other times I completely understood and held this man in my heart. He was in pain, his body and mind reacted and that reaction set him on a course that changed his life forever.
He takes on psychiatry and seeks to heal himself with alternative, holistic therapies, some seem silly, others more reasonable, and finally addressing a loving but abusive relationship with his father – who experienced his own trauma as a child of extremely abusive parents – and addressing his emotional trauma he finds some peace. He learns to feel his emotions and not swallow them. He learns that it’s ok to have them. He realizes that his relationship with his father was in fact abusive – though they were middle class, though his father supported him, though he provided a very comfortable life for his family, though his father was better by a long shot than his own parents had been – he was still abusive and he hurt his children. They were hurt and didn’t know where to put that hurt.
Everything that Ross Mackenzie says and does in this film is a genuine look inside a desperate man trying to make sense of his diagnosis when he knows and feels to his core that what he has been given as a “treatment” is not enough. He appears to be a lovely man. He is honest and true and shares his deepest pain and most significant vulnerability; yet I am left feeling so many things.
Part of me wants to call bullshit.
Well I’ll tell you. Because not everyone has the luxury to travel the world on a journey of self discovery that takes 3 years and engages expensive doctors, shamans, naturopaths, acupuncturists, yoga instructors, etc. to determine that they need to deal with past traumas. Kids in the projects growing up with no parents and seeing people selling drugs and getting shot on a regular basis don’t get to have chelation therapy to reduce their metal toxicity and see if that results in a clearer mind – they experience significant amounts of trauma and never get to process it enough to even understand that it’s trauma. Kids in foster care get bounced around and deal with all kinds of abandonment issues and other traumas. Who knows what kinds of trauma were experienced by the homeless guy in downtown Richmond who was poisoned by someone who gave him food laced with rat poison earlier this week and he died. People don’t live on the street because they have a healthy ability to function in society. What about just regular, averagely screwed up folks like me whose parents gave them lots of love but got divorced when they were kids and they lived in dysfunction junction until adulthood? Maybe I’ll take three years off from life and go on a journey to discover my pain – oh wait I can’t because then my children would starve. None of that is Ross Mackenzie’s fault or responsibility and yet I feel frustrated because our system is so flawed, so broken.
I’m cool with hearing that the psychiatric industry is filled with misdiagnoses and that psychiatrists are in bed with Big Pharma – this is not surprising. Many people in the mental health and psychiatric field themselves are disillusioned with the rampant over medication and misdiagnosis. But I guess the question is – if we can’t send people in droves to the one place in Costa Rica with the one qualified Dr. from Texas who can spend a month detoxing all of the patients who want or need to safely come off of their meds then what the hell is the point?!
What I want to say is “Congratulations privileged white dude – once again you win at life.” I’m not denying his struggle or his pain – as I said before he’s lovely, vulnerable and genuine. He does the work there’s no denying that and not everyone who has the chance to do the work takes it – and not everyone who takes it has the chutzpah to come out the otherside;but the majority of people don’t have the chance to do this kind of work this intensely for so long.
I know that the bulk of this anger and frustration that I am feeling is because I would love to see my mother walk this path – or my grandfather before he passed away. My mom has significant trauma from a very broken relationship with her mother. She is so hurt and so beaten down by this toxic relationship that it has destroyed her ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships. My mom has been diagnosed with everything under the sun but mostly she lives with a bipolar diagnosis. Watching this film would likely send her over the edge because she would see it and know deep down that she wants and needs to explore her trauma and yet she doesn’t have the money or the infrastructure to tackle this beast. Even in the past when she tried to walk this road while also working and raising us kids she never found very much peace – unless you can count the temporary kind that was reflected through the eyes of a man. The pain and helplessness that is experienced as the child of a parent struggling with mental illness cannot be described in words. Maybe she would be one of those people who couldn’t do the work and she would squander the opportunity – maybe that’s the point – that this guy was so intensely focused that he was able to build this bridge to his own health and that others could build their own if they really wanted to. Some could that’s true but so many can’t. I’m not sure about my mom but I would hope that it would be easier for her to take this road if she chose to. It’s very personal – really, really personal and I’m sorry to dump two heavy posts in one day but alas this is where we are.
I encourage everyone to watch this film, read about the Mad Pride movement, fight the status quo and ask the hard questions of our doctors, demand that more alternative therapies be covered by insurance, talk to legislators, whatever it takes. There have to be more options but we have to tell the people making the rules that this is a priority. It used to be that mental illness just needed to be medicated away because “those people” were embarrassing and we wanted them to be ok enough to not cause too much trouble with their weirdness. Today we can understand that mental illness is often a symptom of past trauma or other misunderstood physiological issues presenting as depression, bipolar, or worse. We can understand more and we should be trying harder to make opportunities for real healing not just medicating away people’s pain.