“I’m a filmmaker, husband of my NYU film school classmate, father of two children and bipolar. Of these labels, the one I’m certain stands out in your mind is bipolar – and not in a good way.”
Being bipolar is not something that new PatientsLikeMe member Paul has ever tried to hide. On the contrary, he sees it as a gift that has fueled his creativity. Paul has written, directed, edited and scored a feature-film debut inspired by his experiences with bipolar disorder. Touched with Fire, starring Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby, opens tomorrow, February 12, 2016, in select theaters.
Paul received his diagnosis at age 24 when he thought a manic episode was a divine revelation. What happened after that illuminated the path his life would take.
“I was thrown into a hospital, pumped full of drugs and came down only to be told that I wasn’t experiencing anything divine; I just triggered a lifelong illness that would swing me from psychotic manias to suicidal depressions with progressive intensity until I would most likely fall into the 1-in-4 suicide statistic – unless I took my meds, which made me feel no emotion.”
Refusing to accept what every medical text seemed to tell him – that is, if he stayed on meds, he could live a “reasonably normal life,” he discovered Kay Jamison’s book, Touched with Fire. It’s the first medical text that connects bipolar and artistic genius, profiling some of the greatest artists in history, including Vincent Van Gogh, Lord Byron and Virginia Woolf.
“For the first time, I heard words, shining right through every medical book’s thick printed clinical ink, describing something I could be proud to be. I was like, Yeah, that’s what I am. I’m ‘touched with fire.’”
Just as it would be destructive for him to deny “all four seasons of the bipolar fire,” he says that “it would be unwise for a doctor to deny that on those manic summer nights, when we look out our hospital windows, we can see the stars pulsing spirals of fire across the sky, as God lifts the veil and unfolds the entire universe before our eyes.”
If doctors and patients partnered better and trusted one another, Paul asks, “How much more receptive would a patient be to treatment if the patient was told that the treatment was to nurture a gift they had, instead of terminate a disease they had?”
He often references a quote by Vincent Van Gogh, who conceived the beloved “Starry Night” painting while gazing out a sanitarium window:
“What am I in the eyes of most people? – a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person – somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then – even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.”
And so, like a true artist, Paul is using his gift – that fire – to change the way people think of bipolar disorder and to encourage others “touched with fire” to harness the power of their gift.
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