Of Two Minds by Catherine Cottam #CompassionOrBust

If you haven’t already watched Of Two Minds, please go to the Resources section at the bottom of this page, click on Of Two Minds Documentary Free on Youtube, and do so.  Alternatively, you can just click the blue link here.

Of Two Minds is a documentary I originally came across on Netflix shortly after my own diagnosis as having Bipolar Disorder.  I immediately fell in love with it because of it’s humor and it’s truthfulness.  Of Two Minds doesn’t hide the parts of having Bipolar Disorder that some people may consider shameful, and I appreciate that it’s all about telling the truth.

Dr. Daniel Siegel said, “Bipolar Disorder is a condition where you’re prone to being either chaotically immersed in irritability or mania or you go into a rigid state of depression and depletion.”  Dr. Timothy Pylko said, “I like to think of Bipolar Disorder as tone controls and volume controls on a stereo.  I mean you’re still hearing the same music but you’re hearing it very differently depending on how you adjust those things.  It can lead to erratic behavior, but you’re still yourself.”  I disagree with Dr. Pylko because there have certainly been times when I have acted very unlike myself.

Of Two Minds starts off talking about Tina, a young woman who committed suicide.  She had no boundaries, experienced the crushing lows of depression, and wouldn’t come out of her room for days.  A voiceover says, “I could never imagine what she felt like because she didn’t feel anything.”  But I don’t think that’s accurate.  I think most people with Bipolar Disorder are highly sensitive and one of our problems is that we feel everything, except when we are in the middle of a depressive episode, at which point we may feel numb and apathetic instead of helpless or hopeless.

Of Two Minds states that over five million Americans have some form of Bipolar Disorder.  One of those five million, Cheri, says “This is what it feels like when you’re manic,” then goes on to dance vigorously for the camera through a song.  I particularly identified with this part because the first night I was manic, I spent a good portion of the evening with my music loud dancing around the room of the bed and breakfast where I was staying.  This was particularly troubling as I don’t usually dance at all other than to tap my feet or bob my head along with the music.

An unnamed man says, “Everything is entertaining and everything is interesting.  I was so funny and I was so clever and I had so much energy.  I was unstoppable.”  THAT is what being manic feels like.  Teri Cheney says, “It’s like having the flu but it’s a hundred times worse because it’s like having the flu in your mind.”  Cheri said that, for her, at the height of mania before it goes to psychosis, you feel like God.  I’ve never experienced that personally, but I have heard voices and felt invincible and made bad choices because I didn’t care about the consequences of my actions.  Cheri said she felt so exhausted at 14 that she didn’t know how she was going to live the rest of her life and I totally get that.  The exhaustion that comes with the depression and after the mania is real and crushing and defeating.  Cheri tried to kill herself by slitting her wrists, but she passed out from loss of blood, woke up, cleaned herself up, and no one ever knew.  She said, “I didn’t even do a good job,” which is a sentiment I think many people share following suicide attempts.

One quote from the movie particularly stuck out to me: “Do I really want to die?  Do I really want to end my life?  Or is it just that I want the pain to end?”  For me, it’s always been that I just want the pain to end and luckily my parents were able to pay for years of therapy that kept me safe.  When I’ve been suicidal, I’ve been able to see therapists and psychiatrists and have medications adjusted and talk to the people at the suicide hotline.  Not everyone is so lucky.

Cheri and I have something in common, we both travel out of desperation to try to escape.  It’s not the only reason I travel, but it certainly helps that I know I can get out of my house and into a different environment and maybe do a little bit better.  The first time I traveled post diagnosis, I was already depressed and I became more depressed.  However, when my friend, Tiffany, and I traveled to the UK for two and a half weeks in 2015, I woke up our first day in London miraculously stable after months of depression.  I have hope that the trend will continue and that traveling will continue to be a positive thing for me.

Petey, who was Cheri’s boyfriend for a time during filming, was diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder a few months into their relationship.  At one point he said, “I don’t even go for happy anymore.  I’m looking to just not feel like this.”  I really identified with that because there have been times I have been so depressed that I just want to feel not horrible.  Numbness would be a welcome distraction and I would greet apathy like an old friend.  When the depression is that bad, it can be physically painful.

People who are hypomanic or manic can become hypersexual.  Cheri has an interesting take on what that’s like when she says, “Having sex while you’re manic isn’t having sex.  It’s having a conversation with your body.  It doesn’t have to be pleasurable.  It doesn’t have to be good sex.  It can be abusive.  It can be bordering on rape and it’s ok.  I’m not in my body at that point.  My body is just up and talking and walking and drinking and fucking and I’m not even there anymore, it’s somebody else.  I wake up the next morning filled with shame and disgust.  I can feel it on me and there’s no amount of showers I can take to get rid of what SHE did the night before.”

I’m not going to discuss Carlton and Liz in this blog post because you will be introduced to them by way of interviews in the podcast, but their stories are very interesting and I hope you have watched the movie to see them.

I’ll leave you with a quote from an unnamed woman.  “We’re your mother, we’re your sister, we’re your brother, we’re your friends, we’re your neighbors and we’re out there and we want to be respected for who we are.  We don’t want to be in the closet.”


Of Two Minds Documentary Free on Youtube

Interview with Liz Spikol


3 thoughts on “Of Two Minds by Catherine Cottam #CompassionOrBust

  1. familyfurore says:

    I relate so well to this article through my daughter’s experiences. The worst part is knowing that the height of the highs is matched equally by the depth of the lows. I guess at least we can be kind of prepared.
    Definitely going to watch the documentary!


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