New Movie About A Disability

A few years ago I read the book Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison. Jamison is famous for writing an autobiography explaining her experience of disability due to bipolar disorder. She believes there can be a connection between bipolar states – mania and depression – and the creativity that drives such endeavors as writing. Since she herself is a bipolar patient who earned a Ph.D. and writes prolifically, she may know of what she speaks.

I think it’s important not to romanticize mental illness, to make it seem that being crazy is worthwhile because it can lead to some good poetry or a significant essay. Jamison knows the steep cost of mental illness and she doesn’t try to paint it with a rosy brush. But there is some evidence that bipolar patients may, on average, have a bent toward creativity. Over the last couple of centuries a number of English poets have been tormented by mental illness including what j we in modern terms would call bipolar disorder.

I think it’s important not to romanticize mental illness, to make it seem that being crazy is worthwhile because it can lead to some good poetry or a significant essay. Jamison knows the steep cost of mental illness and she doesn’t try to paint it with a rosy brush. But there is some evidence that bipolar patients may, on average, have a bent toward creativity. Over the last couple of centuries a number of English poets have been tormented by mental illness including what we in modern terms would call bipolar disorder.
I was reminded of Jamison’s book when I read an interview with her in the spring issue of the National Alliance on Mental Illness magazine, The Advocate. NAMI’s medical director, Dr. Ken Duckworth, interviewed Jamison because her book has now been made into a movie also called Touched with Fire. The movie was released last February and it is being screened this month at NAMI’s national convention.

Duckworth asked Jamison about the fact that some bipolar people want to be manic, it’s such a seductive state. Jamison replied that yes, that can be an issue.

“Being manic can feel like it’s as good as it gets – ideas flow faster, invincible moods – but it’s unstable; it doesn’t last. (Still) that feeling is addictive, and in some regards, so is mania. You can get addicted to your brain in that state. The film conveys that you have to give up something when you give up manic states, just like an addiction.”
Jamison is hopeful that people are coming to better understand all sorts of issues tied up with mental illness, whether or not it has any link to creativity in an individual’s life. And she thinks that the public’s attitudes toward psychiatric illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are becoming better informed over time.

“When I speak to students at college campuses,” she said in the NAMI interview, “I see they have more access to information, they know more about where to go for help and they are more open. I see that as progress.”
Such progress is being made in part because people like Jamison speak out about the disabilities caused by mental illness. More power to her, and the makers of the movie inspired by her book.

     Touched with Fire is available from Netflix, and my housemate and I will be watching it soon. Pass the popcorn!