Bipolar UK Ambassador April Kelley reflects on episode three of Amazon’s Modern Love: ‘Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am’
So, who’s heard of the Amazon Prime series Modern Love? Each episode brings to life a different story that has been inspired by the New York Times’ popular column of the same name.
In episode three, Anne Hathaway stars as Lexi, a woman navigating life and the dating world whilst living with bipolar disorder. Little did I know that this episode, in its compact, thoughtful way, would change my life. With that in mind, go and watch it before you continue reading.
For the first time ever, I had something I could put in front of my loved ones and say, “This is it! This is what it does to me. This is what you don’t see when the door closes behind me.” And this was the gem that would truly get through to people.
However, I was terrified to watch it – in case they got it wrong.
I sat on the sofa with my dear friend and we hit play. I instantly started biting the skin around my nails and shaking my right leg. Over the next 30 minutes, I chuckled at the moments of pure joy that the character Lexi was experiencing, in her intoxicating way, shaking my head exclaiming, “That’s what I do!!” and “Am I that annoying when I’m high?” – a timid ‘yes’ was what I got in response.
I cringed with my head in my hands at moments which I only knew to be true in my head. I struggled to watch them being plastered across the screen, for everyone to witness. I had been exposed.
Then I sobbed. I sobbed uncontrollably. Yes, it was sad. Of that there was no denying. For me, it was a combination of seeing how the ‘possession’ takes over and how the mist descends – watching the character’s nuances of what I would believe to be one of Anne Hathaway’s greatest performances to date.
She was behaving the way I do: her excuses were my excuses; her internal thoughts were my thoughts; her tears were my tears. Her attempt to reach out and the release that she experienced made me exhale in the same way.
These quotes listed below are somewhat out of context but, if you know, you know. And I hope some of you will read them with a little nod and knowing smile.
Lexi: “This is where the problems start, I don’t know what kicks it off. Blood sugar, chemical, psychological, who knows. But it comes. Like a monster from an old black and white movie walking and no matter how fast you run, he keeps up with you. And there’s only one place he can’t find you.”
I wanted to start with my favourite quote from the episode. The anguish of trying to understand what happens, combined with the superb imagery is a good place to start for anyone with a loved one living with bipolar – if only to understand just a smidge more of how it feels.
Jeff: “So, what do you want to eat?”
Jeff: “That might be hard right now…”
Lexi: “I know a place, c’mon.”
It’s Lexi’s and Jeff’s official date… They’re going out for dinner.
Strangely, this was probably the scene that I could relate to the least. I did not find it particularly believable, as I don’t think I would ever go out (especially on a date) if I was feeling that low.
That said, when my business partner, Sara, had watched it, she called me immediately. She began to laugh and tell me that the “muesli” line was funny. When I asked why, she went on to remind me of a time a couple of years ago when I was going through a low period and all I’d eat would be spoonsful of dried oats… from the bag.
Lexi: “I could make up for it with intense bouts of productivity.”
I mean… am I right? This is how I winged it at school.
Lexi: “Can I see you tonight? Do you want to have dinner? Go to a movie? Go to a club? I don’t know, I just want to see you.”
Jeff: “Ah, tonight’s kind of tricky. Um, how about Tuesday?”
Lexi: “Tuesday? Tuesday’s a lifetime away. Who knows if we’ll make it to Tuesday?”
Jeff: “It’s tomorrow. I think we have a good chance.”
This pretty much sums up my love life (my life in general, in fact). My enthusiasm levels whilst in the height of hyper-mania can be mistaken for undying love, declared overnight. It is triggering, in the best possible way, when meeting a new person who I click with. It feels like my head is finally on day release from prison and I want to make the most of every second!
I always try to have something to look forward to, so I’m always planning, planning, planning. Earlier on in the episode Lexi so wonderfully states that: “Life is just too interesting to sleep sometimes; do you know what I mean?”
Yes, I do, I’m like a puppy!
Lexi: “I’ve got to clean the bipolar out of this place.”
So simple, so obvious, so wildly accurate. I live by myself, always have, and this was largely down to the fact that if and whenever I had an episode, my parents could come and get me straight away without either burdening housemates or embarrassing me. When in an episode, I do not notice the dismay my flat falls into until that perfect morning comes along and I begin to frantically clean.
Lexi: “Would he have stayed, Jeff, if he had known? If I came clean that time in the supermarket and said, ‘Oh by the way, I’m bipolar. I’m dealing with it. Will you?’”
One day I wish to have this courage…
Lexi: “How would he deal with a damaged psyche? Please come back, don’t come back, please come back, don’t come back… Please come back.”
Whenever I get too close to someone, panic sets in. My two biggest fears when being in a relationship, be it dating, friendship or colleagues would be for someone to: a) think that I’m hard work, and b) think that I am too keen.
Silly really, when I read it in black and white. But that panic sets in and I either overcompensate with affection or distance myself – I know that ‘please come back, don’t come back’ thought cycle.
Lexi: “Something told me this had to stop. Not the illness, that’ll never stop. But, not giving people a chance to make up their own mind about me. To give them at least some cards in the game. Surely, there’s someone out there who will take me for who I am.”
When do you tell someone that you’re dating about being bipolar? I’m genuinely asking because I have no idea. Most recently, becoming an ambassador for Bipolar UK was my push to tell someone… It might have been a bit weird for that information to come out publicly and then for me to be like, “Ta-daa, I’m crazy!”
Giving away some of the cards which you hold so close to your chest and allowing someone to make up their own mind is utterly terrifying, for all the obvious reasons. But, if they do take the news badly (for lack of a better phrase), ultimately, they could never be the person for you. And that realisation would, in itself, be heartbreaking.
Sylvia: “Your supermarket boy? How’s that going, by the way?”
Lexi: “Oh, uh, that didn’t take.”
Sylvia: “Oh, I’m sorry.”
Sylvia: “You really get through them, don’t you?”
Lexi: “I guess it looks like that.”
I always say that I'll be the love of your life for three weeks and, if we get past that, then we’re both in trouble. It’s bad enough being bisexual. It’s hard enough to find someone in this app-fuelled, disconnected, modern society as it is. And for me personally, when things get scary, too close (or too distant), my instinct is to run and hide.
But, alas, the excitement of connecting with a new person happens and then the vicious cycle begins again. Albeit, less so for me now, as I’m learning. I’m learning to not cut and run, I’m learning that relationships in any shape or form aren’t the same, so as much as I’m desperate to follow the ‘colour by numbers’ of other relationships, I now know that isn’t possible. Instead, I just ask myself ‘am I happy?’ – if I am, then why fix what isn’t broken?
And finally, the last scene, when Lexi finally opens up so Sylvia:
Sylvia: “So, why are you telling me now?”
Lexi: “Because you’re more than work. And you should know what you’re dealing with if we’re gonna see each other outside of the office. Which I would like. But I have incredibly low periods. So low that I can barely move. I am impossible to be around. I can barely answer the phone. I’m totally unreliable as a friend, in fact, in some ways I’m the worst friend you could ever have, I don’t check a single box.”
Lexi: “You’re the first person I’ve ever told about this.”
Sylvia: “How does it feel, telling me?”
Lexi: “Like an elephant’s taken one of its feet off my chest.”
Sylvia: “I’m so glad you’ve told me. It explains so much. If anything, not knowing made it a little difficult to connect with you fully, the way I would have wanted.”
Lexi: “You want to get a drink sometime? You want to go to the movies? You want to see people?”
Sylvia: “All of the above. You are the most fun I’ve ever been around. I’m not letting that go.”
Lexi: “Thank you.”
Sylvia: “Thank you.”
Reading this quote always brings a tear to my eye – beautiful, simple writing elevated by the sincerest of performances from Anne Hathaway and Quincy Tyler Bernstine. Never have I been able to put it better to my loved ones.
The one quote I’ll take from it is, “you are the most fun I’ve ever been around. I’m not letting that go.” And after reading this, I too want you to take this away with you.
That’s the double edge sword which is bipolar. I only ever notice the depression, the embarrassing moments, the poor judgement. I never realise that I might be somebody who someone would want to hold onto. But, believe it or not folks, we are, and I’ll keep reminding you, if you keep reminding me.
Thank you to Terri Cheney whose New York Times essay this episode was based on – you have now become a role model to me. Thank you to John Carney, Anne Hathaway and the rest of the creative team for handling this topic in such a delicate way.
Finally, thank you to my loved ones, to all of you who have taken time to watch the episode, to talk and to ask me questions. For making an effort to understand and for loving me anyway; regardless of being too distant or too affectionate and definitely hard work. You allow me to have the most fun with you all.
If you or a loved one are affected by bipolar, visit Counselling Directory for information and support, including how CBT or family therapy could help.
Image credits: Amazon. Modern Love season one is available on Amazon Prime Video.