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What’s The Problem with Mania?

It’s hard for people to give up the manic cycle.  And who says they should?

A newly released film, “Welcome to Me,” directed by Shira Piven, stars Kristen Wiig as Alice Klieg. Alice early on declares that she was diagnosed with manic depression, then bipolar disorder, and now has a borderline personality disorder.

Meet the Manic Alice

…that Alice cannot go on, because she offends people – including her therapist – and can’t manage her life.-Stanton PeeleAlice wins the lottery, goes off her medication, and decides to create a television show, “Welcome to Me,” with her winnings. This manic Alice is a lot of fun, as well as being touching and appealing. Clearly, director Piven is drawn to this experience: “It has hilarious moments and dark moments, and I really like living in that world.”

The manic Alice of the television show has off-beat ideas and says unusual things (for example, she discusses masturbating), wants to get even with people, and asks for—and enjoys—wild sex.

But that Alice cannot go on, because she offends people – including her therapist – and can’t manage her life. In the end, she has to return to Abilify, as Dr. Moffat, played by Tim Robbins, told her to do. (Did the drug’s manufacturer sponsor this movie?)

Nonetheless, her therapist rejects Alice.

Adapting to Undrugged Alice

When Alice was previously on Abilify she had no partner or seemingly any dates, other than one very good friend.  Instead, she watched TV all the time—it was her constant companion. The undrugged Alice, on the other hand, tries all sorts of things, meets all kinds of people, and generally enjoys their company while they like her. That’s a very positive life shift.

After going back on her medication, Alice kisses her new boyfriend on the cheek and sends him home. But, judging from the media and pharma ads, people really are seeking hot sex in their lives. So, if they had Alice’s gift for sex, would they take a medication and disown it?  (One other media character who seems to prefer the sex alternative to the medication one is Carrie Mathison on “Homeland.”)

In Piven’s view, many people share Alice’s predispositions:

“I feel like when you meet Alice, you either know people like her, or you are her. We’re all the stars of our social media pages and Instagram feeds. There’s a rise in instances of the disorder where people believe they are the stars of their own reality show. It’s like a mental ailment that meets our cultural ailment.”

Does this mean that you and I might be considered bipolar or a borderline personality? Certainly, many of us are being diagnosed with these conditions. And many more of us must sometimes secretly suspect that we should be diagnosed with them.

But Alice goes off the rails, and is finally committed when she takes her clothes off in a casino. (What does it indicate that the only time Alice is fully nude is during an antisocial act, rather than in any of her sex scenes?  Is getting naked manic?)

Resolving the Unresolved

So, the film ends with this burning question unresolved: Can someone manacle their manic episodes without disowning that side of themselves?

…if the alternative is a lonely and dull life, many people are going to be quite tempted to return to their manic state.-Stanton PeeleIn an earlier post, I described Charles, who likewise welcomed his manic state, even as he endangered himself in car accidents and alienated his family.

In a follow-up post, I described using a Mad Map to help people navigate back from these extreme episodes with the help of family, friends, therapy (and, yes, medications), with the goal of living a more balanced life.

For, if the alternative is a lonely and dull life, many people are going to be quite tempted to return to their manic state. After all, even the director (who has a partner and two children) prefers to spend time in the Alice world. Either out of desire or necessity, people don’t readily let go of that alternative side of their personality.

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