I often wonder whether love is a selfish act. Do we love the people we love because they make us feel better about ourselves? Or do we love them because we feel like better people next to them? I still don’t have an answer. What I do know is that the complete abandon that I see sometimes in couples, or at least from one member of the relationship, terrifies me. To devote yourself in such a way to someone else, to know that their fears, hopes, and joys will affect your own, is a bit like walking a tightrope between two skyscrapers while blindfolded.
But what happens when your significant other requires more than just your devotion? Love means to be there in the good times and not-so-great. It implies support and understanding during the toughest moments. But most people run away from problems, specially when they discover their alleged soul mate has a flaw, not an intentional mind you, but a chemical imbalance in their brain. That’s why I mean with selfish. Most enjoy being next to someone who boosts their confidence, makes them feel sexy, and continuously tells them they’re the best person in the world. Yet when the going gets tough, the vast majority disappears.
The ones who stay next to their significant other during the ugly parts of life, then discover that love has complexities that never get included in Valentine’s Day cards. So, how would you react to knowing that the person who ignites your deepest desires, who you’ve told your secrets to, who you want grow old with, is living with bipolar disorder? How do you stand by them and support them, while also allowing them to be their own person? Movies, TV, and literature seem to love the idea of bipolar disorder, all the while rarely making the research to ensure that the character is not a cartoon or a stereotype of the general perception of what manic depression is.
While I was researching this list I realized that several movies hint at, without ever claiming that a character has bipolar disorder. I find that particularly dangerous, since we’re throwing around terms regarding mental illness with no basis or empathy. If we’re going to portray a relationship that includes someone with bipolar, or any other mental disorder, it should be done with some care, because for most people that might be there first understanding of the condition. This is why I’ve selected the three following films that represent different aspects of what it’s like to love someone who has bipolar disorder, beyond the stereotypes and the “savior” fantasy.
Infinitely Polar Bear (2014)
This film is the story of a family that is forever changed after the father and husband, played by Mark Ruffalo, goes through a psychotic break. His wife, played by Zoe Saldana, starts to look for ways to support the family. At the center of it all, their two daughters are the witnesses of how love cannot solve everything. Yet it can provide the understanding to see people beyond their flaws. It’s ultimately a story of how things get broken by life but that doesn’t mean that they cannot find other ways to work out.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
This movie seems to always make it into the romantic film lists, but the truth is that it’s also about dealing with unexpected moments and situations. Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just been released from a psychiatric institution after a violent outburst, yet he has one purpose in mind: to get back with his estranged wife. Instead he meets Tiffany, a woman who’s battling her own demons yet realizes Pat needs all the help he can get. Tiffany’s story is one about being there for someone in non-traditional ways, and helping them get through the hurdles.
Famous abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock was never diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. However, that might be because the term was coined around the time of his death, and even then there wasn’t an actual consensus regarding the diagnosis. This film focuses on the relationship between the painter and Lee Krasner, who put her own career on the side to support her husband and his work. I think that what this film excels at is showing an unromantic version of this. Lee’s heart is constantly broken, yet she continues to strive for both of them to move forward.
There’s a delicate balance that’s required in a relationship. You can support your partner while never losing sight of your own needs. You can love them for who they are without disregarding your own health. But love is also about knowing when to step in and when to let go. Just because something doesn’t last forever, doesn’t mean it didn’t matter or didn’t have an impact on both lives. I might be afraid of it, but I’m still able to recognize the real thing when I see it. So love freely, but also allow your significant other the freedom to be who they are.
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