I write a lot about Hollywood. Why? Well, I think it's because I love t.v. shows and movies, or maybe because I have friends and relatives living in L.A. and work in the entertainment industry. Or maybe it started because as a baby, I was exposed to movie projectors and movie theaters because my dad was a projectionist (before the days that all of that stuff was automated). I would sit up in the projectioner's booth with him as he worked, and as I got older I would watch classic old movies (and cheesy ones), that were of course in black and white, with him too. We would also watch Nick-at-Nite and reminisce about what things were like when he was growing up. So naturally, I continued watching movies and t.v. shows as I grew older and then took interest in the people who were on the screen. I tuned into all the entertainment shows like Entertainment Tonight, and now E! News. I read People magazine, US Weekly, Vanity Fair, and anything else that I can get my hands on which talks about celebrities and their life, and have fallen victim to the reality shows that star them too. What is the fascination? More importantly, how does this even relate to bipolar disorder?
Hollywood always seemed like a dazzling place, a place where everyone had these perfect lives, in perfect houses, and showed up to fancy events in fabulous gowns which captivate the world. When they appeared on our t.v. screens, they all played their roles perfectly and left us all hoping for lives just like theirs. Those roles and their pictures in the magazines are like masks. The only give us the illusion that they want us to have. For many years, I wore a mask. I was deeply depressed, hurting inside, confused about the ups and downs, and afraid for anyone to find out. I put on a mask. I walked around with a smile plastered on my face, made a lot of jokes, wore the right clothes, made sure my makeup and hair looked flawless and hid all those bad feelings. Since I didn't know what they were from and couldn't explain them, I didn't want anyone else to know either because if they knew, then I wouldn't be the person with the mask that they had grown to know and love. They might not like me anymore, or might make fun of me and embarrass me. I wasn't ready to take that chance, so I hid behind my mask. I was much prettier that way. The same way those Hollywood stars and starlets hide behind theirs and leave us hypnotized with the perfection and glamour.
What are we so afraid of? We are afraid of what the mask, when removed, will reveal. We are afraid that whatever lies behind the mask is so terrible, it’s going to be enough to hold us back from our dreams and goals, whatever those may be. These masks cover all kinds of secrets and fears, but trying to cover the reality of bipolar disorder with a mask forever is nearly impossible. It always comes out, either when mania strikes or depression cripples us. We have two choices at that point. We can either address it, accept it, embrace it and continue on, or we can deny it, fight it, and carry on in a state of denial with a torn mask. It works the same way in Hollywood. When someone rips off their mask, they either come out with a press release admitting it and become advocates, or they deny and dodge the press or come up with a story that will allow them to continue to hide under a torn mask.
I had the amazing opportunity to meet someone from Hollywood who removed the mask and became an advocate. She became not just any advocate, but an advocate for bipolar disorder. I had the pleasure of meeting Patty Duke this past week and hear her speak about her experience with bipolar disorder. She took off her mask, and even after revealing her true self, continued to do what she had been doing all her life and continued to be successful with it. Ms. Duke kept acting while also becoming an advocate. She used her influence to reach a broader audience in her advocacy for bipolar disorder and showed us that even with her mask off, the same, successful person was still there. We can take off our masks. We are still there!!! While those of us with bipolar may need to take a few pills, or modify our lifestyle a little bit, we are still there! We are still successful and beautiful and perfect in our own imperfect way. We don't need to hide behind that mask anymore. You see, all those perfect pictures they show in the magazines and the lives they show on t.v. shows and in movies are just pictures of masks. In all of those pictures, there is a truth behind it that may not be the same as the picture shows. If you take off the mask though, it doesn't mean that it isn't still beautiful.
Let's take off those masks and stop being afraid. Instead of worrying and spending our energy conforming to the mask we put on, we can spend our time and energy keeping ourselves stable and headed toward success! Who knows, some of us might end up in Hollywood!!