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Relatable Reels: My Bipolar Life on the Big Screen

My favorite movies have nothing to do with bipolar but somehow perfectly represent my mood episodes—which helps me feel understood and gives me hope.

A close-up of peoples hands and laps as they sit in a row at the movie theater, holding popcorn and soft drinks.

There are a handful of movies that aim to demonstrate the experience of having Bipolar disorder. To be honest, I have yet to identify strongly with any of those movies or characters. With that said, there are definitely times when, for me, Hollywood hits the nail on the head—just by accident. Below are a few scenes from different films that aren’t particularly about mental illness but that strike a chord with me and my bipolar experience. Grab your popcorn—no spoilers!

Act I: Manic Moments


In Adaptation, Nicholas Cage plays twin brothers who are both screenwriters, but whose personalities are opposites; one is confident and successful, and the other is anxious and struggling. I identify with both of them! The back-and-forth between these identical twin brothers makes for a pretty easy comparison to my bipolar feelings.

But I think the element with which I identify the most is the internal narrative of the anxious/struggling twin, Charlie. In this scene, he’s brainstorming a new screenplay, and he becomes pretty amped up about it. I do something similar sometimes—when I’m (hypo)manic. My projects can easily turn into all-encompassing opuses. It’s especially hilarious to me that his brainstorm involves going back to the beginning of time, so that he can cover everything in history. I… um…may or may not have done the same thing for a book I’m writing….

A Christmas Story

This movie has so many things to offer, but there are a couple of scenes in A Christmas Story that remind me of the delusions of grandeur that sometimes accompany my (hypo)mania.

In this scene, the main character—Ralphie—turns in a homework project. He’s quite proud of his work and imagines what will happen when his teacher reads it. In his mind’s eye, the teacher gives him an “A++++++,” and he receives a standing ovation from his classmates.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I sometimes feel this way too. I’ll begin to think that a piece I’m writing is going to blow everyone’s mind and go down in history as an important piece of literature.

Act II: Macabre Moments

The Wall

This version of The Wall has nothing to do with Pink Floyd! In this movie, the main character finds herself completely cut off from the rest of the world when an invisible wall materializes around her overnight.

For me, this invisible and mysterious wall symbolizes the onset of depression. One minute I can be (metaphorically) strolling along a lovely winding road, and then, boom—a loss of interest or a feeling of worthlessness or fatigue stops me in my tracks. The element of surprise is key here; my brain doesn’t give notice before releasing depressive chemistry.

Everything may seem normal to the naked eye, but just like the character’s invisible wall, depression becomes an invisible blockade that keeps me locked in isolation. I feel unseen and unheard and forgotten, just like in this scene. And like the character, I hunker down and try to manage the harsh conditions all alone. It’s not easy for either of us!

The NeverEnding Story

The NeverEnding Story is a children’s fantasy film in which a dark, tornado-like force called “The Nothing” begins destroying everything in its path.

There are so many great scenes, but I think this one, in particular, is a perfect illustration of the way it feels to helplessly sink into sadness. A lead character and his horse are navigating through a dark and muddy swamp. The horse gives up on trying to escape and sinks. Sometimes, when I’m down, I can’t shake the image of his panicked eyes as the mud overtakes him.

I have always had a hard time watching that scene, and I think it’s gotten harder as I’ve gotten older. Partly because I feel sorry for the poor horse (this was pre-CGI), but also because it’s a painful visual reminder of the sinking helplessness brought about by depression.

Another set of symptoms I often encounter on the downside are lethargy, apathy, and irritability. In this scene, a boy and a massive turtle are having a conversation. The turtle is slow, heavy, and sick. In fact—he’s allergic to people! The agony, annoyance, and warped view that the turtle demonstrates are a perfect rendition of me when I’m depressed.

My Very Own B Movie

Even though these movies remind me of the unpleasantries of my bipolar experience, they are some of my all-time faves. Something about identifying particular scenes as “mine” helps me feel understood. It sorta gives me confidence that my own tragicomedy of a life might have a positive twist. After all, Charlie finished his screenplay; Ralphie got his wish; and the horse came back to life—so, anything is possible!


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Relatable Reels: My Bipolar Life on the Big Screen


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