Hi, there! I have a VERY serious mental health problem, one that cannot be helped with medicine or therapy. However, I can make great strides by finding fulfillment through dance, meeting a good friend who’s going through some shit of his own right now, or getting into a romantic relationship and then seeing that relationship temporarily hit a snag but then work out after we make up at a bus depot.
When I’m a woman I am mainly concerned with how my illness affects the emotional arc of some guy. When I’m a man it’s more likely that my illness manifests itself in me being really good at math. And yelling. If I am a male mentally ill person I do lots of yelling. As a woman, my mental illness cannot be allowed to preclude my fuckability, so I do less yelling.
Sometimes my illness seems all-encompassing and inescapable; sometimes it goes away for all of Act II. It varies depending on my mood, whether my relationship with Bradley Cooper is going well, and the tempo of the Shins song in the background.
What exactly is my illness? Unclear. My symptoms shift from scene to scene. Sometimes I’m OCD in all the visible quirky ways of OCD, sometimes I’m bipolar, sometimes I have multiple personalities, sometimes I hear voices, sometimes I am a sloppy pastiche of various earlier cinematic characters with mental illnesses. Often I’m sad in a way that could be clinical depression but is probably just the sort of sadness that afflicts a 43-year-old screenwriter who feels unfulfilled professionally. You know, the kind that magically lifts if you sell a script or meet an attractive woman twenty years your junior who is willing to have sex with you.
How do people respond to my illness? Well, the parts that are commonly recognized symptoms of a diagnosed condition are somehow incredibly hard to grasp. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? My family rudely asks about behavior that in real life would have been explained to them by my childhood psychologist. I DON’T UNDERSTAND YOU! Screams my girlfriend who has been with me for years but somehow never figured out that I probably go to a doctor twice a week and take prescription medicine for a reason.
Meanwhile, the parts of my behavior that cannot be found in the DSM, the parts that aren’t a medical thing but are just a not-that-endearing quirky thing, everyone accepts without batting an eyelash. I only wear mismatched socks and encourage other people to do likewise? Sure, seems normal enough and is kind of cute because it’s original and fun and not something that would never fly in a reality where I don’t look like Natalie Portman. I always want to go skinny-dipping, I fear zucchini, I call sex “twinkly fun time,” I’m basically a seven-year-old in an adult’s body? All great, all totally cool, all reasons to want to befriend/date/watch me in a rom-com and not reasons to run far away and stop responding to the postcards I adorably mail you even though phones exist.
My illness is a curse, obviously, hence all the yelling, but in some ways, it is also a blessing. After all, without it, I would not be so good at art and/or game theory and/or ping-pong. It is the source of all my abilities even the ones that are normally the result of hard work and intellect rather than of a debilitating medical condition. My mental instability may also give me wisdom and insight unavailable to healthier minds. I may hear voices but those voices speak truth.
By the end of 108 minutes, will I be cured? That depends. Is this the sort of film that comes out in summer and is basically a bog-standard romantic comedy with the fun twist that one of the characters is ostensibly schizophrenic? Then sure! Love conquers all, even if all includes a chemical imbalance in someone’s brain. But is this the sort of film that comes out in the fall and has aspirations of winning shiny statues? Because then it seems more likely that I will be inexplicably better for part of the movie but then fall back into old patterns and return to being sad/confused/very interested in ritualized hand washing. This will demonstrate that my life is a Serious Important Story and, as such, a good Friday night outing for America’s aunts.