Being Bipolar & Learning to Live

Author: Ben Davis

I have Bipolar Type II. Receiving that diagnosis changed my mental health trajectory for the better. Although it’s a big part of who I am, it’s not all of who I am. I am more than my diagnosis, and so are you.

While I recognize that my story is uniquely mine, there are parts of it that I feel will resonate in the hearts of others. I firmly believe that the only real currency we have in this world is the relationships we have with other people. So, if my story can make this life a little less isolating for another human, I feel a responsibility to share it.

Like many, my twenties were spent wondering who I was. Was I the gregarious artist boldly chasing his dreams with many meaningful relationships? Was I the insecure shut-in with racing thoughts who never slept and projected his anxieties on his friends? Ever asking myself these questions, I felt like a different person every few months. Parsing between these two versions of myself was a nightmare. I was compelled to start therapy in search of an answer, but I was terrified by the thought of going and finding out something was really wrong. So, I avoided it altogether. I ignored the “who I am question” and poured my life into the only thing I could control: my career as a screenwriter and director. If I didn’t know who I was, maybe I could create it.

I drank whiskey and wrote… and drank whiskey and wrote. I stopped dating and didn’t even think about the gym. Beneath my workaholism, I feared that the emotional tax of being in any kind of relationship with me was too much to handle. Surely the people in my life had reached their limit many years and identity crises ago, so I sealed myself off from friends and family. Between blurry nights and cigarette smoke, I somehow managed to write a pilot for a sci-fi show. I uploaded the script to the Black List, a website Hollywood uses to discover emerging literary talent. I was sure it would get ripped to shreds, but to my surprise, it became the highest rated pilot on the entire site.

I moved from Dallas to LA, signed with a manager, and within three months of moving I was meeting with executives at Bad Robot, Warner Brothers, Amblin, and sitting across from filmmakers I had literally dreamed of meeting since childhood. I’m thankful to have even been in those meetings and have those opportunities, but even in dreams, ecstasy wears off.

Moving across the country is kind of like college in that you start forming new friendships and you can hide the parts you don’t like about yourself and be someone new. My new friends would only know me as a confident writer and not the insecure version of myself I felt I too often shared — that guy would stay in Texas. That charade made it almost two years until screenwriting, the thing I hid my identity in, led to countless rejections (surprise, surprise). In March of 2018 I met with a powerful Hollywood producer at Warner Brothers and we put together a pitch. I spent weeks parking under the WB water tower, pinching myself, and thinking this would be the one I’d land, but it was rejected too. When I got that call I wondered, “Would I be any happier if I did get it?” The answer was no, and I flipped shit. The peak of my quarter-life crisis arrived.

I was now faced with the fact that my career couldn’t save me from myself. Filmmaking is a beautiful thing and no one should feel sorry for the amazing dream-come-true moments I’ve experienced, but no matter what your dream is, realizing your idol is just an idol is quite a thing. I moved back to Texas that April and tried everything to feel better. I went back to church, tried to fall in love, and got on every dating app imaginable. None of that worked. I drank a lot, picked up smoking again, and wrote some very dark, very broody Hemmingway-shit.

Nope. Nope. Nope. Nothing worked. No matter where I went, or who or what I tried to use to escape my identity crisis, I was plagued with the same problem I had before I ever left Texas in the first place: I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know which version of myself to trust.

I had done everything but therapy, and unfortunately, growing up in a culture of southern toxic masculinity and evangelical eye-rolling made therapy hard to stomach. As a side note, it’s so absurd and harmful to insinuate that mental health struggles are a result of lack of faith, so, don’t do that to people. Okay, sorry, that’s a different conversation. Back on track: at the time, and in my fragile state, I was even more afraid than ever a diagnosis would shatter me.

You can see where this is going. After dragging one of my best friends through another teary-eyed, booze filled “who I am?!” rant at 2 AM, he very calmly said, “This conversation hasn’t changed in six years. You need to go to therapy. That’s the only answer I have for you.” In the moment, his candor made me feel abandoned and uncared for, but he was right. Thanks to him I decided to try the only thing I hadn’t and went to therapy. A month into therapy, my therapist recommended a psychiatrist to me and I landed with what I had always feared: a diagnosis. Bipolar Type II. But, y’know how I mentioned being terrified the diagnosis would break me? That didn’t happen. I actually felt relieved. I felt like I finally knew what was at the center of this identity crisis and I had actionable ways to treat it. I wasn’t one version of myself or the other, I was both and that was okay.

It took a while to get there, but I guess the answer to “what are you most proud of in your mental health journey?” is simply getting to the point where I could START my mental health journey. Walking into a therapist’s office as a twenty-nine-year-old adult and admitting I couldn’t help myself was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it also finally gave me permission to rest in who I am and stop looking elsewhere for it.

While eureka moments do happen, life hasn’t been roses since starting therapy. Therapy kick your ass, you’re better for it, but it definitely kicks your ass and much to my chagrin, life is not a movie. Living with Bipolar II has brought new challenges and moments of work, patience, and angst. However, the awareness of my diagnosis, prescribed medication, constant love from friends and family, and the patient work of my therapist has allowed me to live a life where I’m no longer afraid of myself. Instead of using writing as a place of control and escape, it’s become a true form of expression. Instead of running from myself, my energy is now spent on understanding myself, unpacking past trauma, and learning to love the person who was scared to deal with those things in the first place. Hopefully, since relationship with others really is the only currency I think we have, all those things help me love others better too. I’m proud that I started my mental health journey at all. Leaning into it has allowed me to find forgiveness and rest in myself and had opened me up to embracing life instead of running from it.

I have Bipolar Type II. Receiving that diagnosis changed my mental health trajectory for the better. Although it’s a big part of who I am, it’s not all of who I am. I am more than my diagnosis, and so are you.


Blogger Bio

personal storyBen Davis

Ben Davis is a screenwriter and director working in film, TV, and advertising. Ben has worked with major Hollywood studios and is currently developing film projects with Gidden Media, The Gotham Group, and others. He has directed commercials for Playstation, Netflix, Sinclair Oil, Metro by T-Mobile, and more. He also works with the creative supergroup SECRET POWERS to develop video game trailers and marketing. Diagnosed with Bipolar Type II, Ben looks to bring his firsthand experience with mental health into whatever creative project he tackles. He’s represented by Verve Talent Agency and managed by REJ Entertainment.

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