“it feels like a hand pressing against my back” – watch a short film exploring bipolar disorder

Directed by Dorothy Allen-Pickard, short film The Mess, captures the highs and lows of an often overlooked form of mental illness.

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Dec 7 2017, 2:44pm

Ellice Stevens suffers from bipolar. What that means is that there are days when she feels really good. She has really high self-esteem. She feels normal. And then it changes.

“When I’m down, it’s about my self worth,” she explains. “It’s asking me who I am, what I’m doing, what I’m doing with my life. Just telling me that I’m shit. Just, fucking, shit.”

She’ll find herself sat in her room for weeks at a time, between piles of clothes and rubbish; orange juice cartons, orange peel, sweet wrappers, wine bottles, crisp packets. She’s still getting to grips with how it manifests and admits there aren’t really any stock phrases you can use. But, god, isn’t it important to talk about? Especially when there are over 2 million people diagnosed with the disorder in the UK alone.

“I think it’s really important,” says filmmaker Dorothy Allen-Pickard who has recreated the claustrophobia of Ellice’s room for her new short, The Mess, inspired by a piece of text from the performer. “What particularly interested me was the challenge of trying to find a visual language that explores the specificities of bipolar as something that’s distinct from depression and other mental illnesses. There’s great potential to use the film medium to explore mental illness, because you can create visual metaphors and layer dialogue over music, which helps to create a sense of someone’s mental state.”

Antoine Marinot

For those visual metaphors, Dorothy was able to get quite experimental, shooting parts of the film underwater and in super slow motion with the mega cinematographer, Ruben Woodin-Dechamps. It allowed Ellice to express herself in ways she hadn’t previously felt able: “I was diagnosed with depression and was on medication for five years,” she describes. “I felt like I became very good about talking about it and letting people in. I had a language that made me feel like I owned it. Then I found out I’d been misdiagnosed, and I suddenly felt like I couldn’t talk about it because I didn’t understand it. This project was definitely about Dorothy and I coming together to create a space in which I could find a language and gain ownership over it again.”

What advice would she give other young people who are struggling to gain ownership? “Just remember you’re normal!” she replies. “It might feel like you’re constantly up against people who are using your age as a way to make you feel illegitimate in what you’re going through. Try not to listen to that and just try to enjoy the good things. When you’re really low or really high and you feel like you lose control, don’t forget that you’re not alone. Other people are going through it too.”