What’s it like to be bipolar? Ever try to describe it? The closest I’ve been able to come is the following … I’ve said that it feels like there are several “me’s” in there … and that the “genuine” me is usually cowering in the corner … because it feels like he’s been violently kidknapped and held hostage by either depression or mania, which I think of as different versions of me … because most of my waking life I AM a depressed or manic version of “me” … I mean, WAY more than I am “normal” me.
I have described this as feeling like the normal me is inside my actual skull, looking out my eye sockets, watching, as either my depressed me or my manic me goes about doing what they do: ruining my life, wrecking jobs, destroying relationships … you know the drill. Every now and then “I” (the normal me) will “wake up” and survey the damage. I’ve described this as feeling like I am waking up on some desert isle, just like in the movies, and wondering, “Where am I? What happened to my job? My relationship? My home? I guess I have to start all over! Crap!”
So, one day I’m taking a trip down nostaliga lane on YouTube. I type in the title of a relatively obscure, minor hit that I had always liked, but hadn’t heard in years, and watched the video. As I watched I was actually hit with an emotional cannonball. It wasn’t really the lyrics that got me — it was the imagery.
So, here’s what I see in there.
There are the several or aspects of this one person. I see the female as the “genuine” self, and the male characters as the “symptoms” of her mental illness. The video opens with one of them trying to reassemble pieces of a shattered mirror (what symptom would this be? what is he reassembling? her psyche? her life?). Then we see the self “putting herself together,” and talking to herself in a mirror, at a makeup table. Hmmmm.
Next is a sequence in which the self-girl is unconscious in the back of a car, between two of her symptoms. She is driven to an entirely unknown and terrifying destination. One of her symptoms carries her out of the car and hands her over to a derelect looking man. Then they literally abandon her there, in a chair in front of a trailer by a campfire. We see her momentarily looking around, confused … and then she is passed out, unconscious, in the chair.
Now we see her frantically running through night-time streets, populated by strangers who are walking towards her, lunging at her; she is terrified, lost, doesn’t know where she is or how she got there. Have our symptoms ever taken us places we didn’t want to be?
Meanwhile, the other symptoms are running and looking for her (are they chasing her? doesn’t it feel sometimes like our symptoms track us down?). One of them is in a derelect room, again trying to assemble the shattered pieces of broken mirror. Our girl runs in breathless from the street, into a devastated room strewn with refuse, and collapses on a bed, exhausted.
Who else feels utterly confused, bewildered and exhausted after a manic cycle? One of her symptoms finds her and strokes her hair. Another assembles broken mirror shards; he sees her reflection in one of the pieces, but her eyes are empty, filled with blinding white light.
I remember the first time that my medications interrupted what had been a lifetime of incredibly predictable cycles of mania and depression, which traditionally had been broken up by only a few days of “in-between.” I literally didn’t know what normal felt like. The new medication routine put me in “normal” for ten straight days — which was extremely confusing and uncomfortable … I didn’t know who I was, I felt incredibly weird, and I actually missed being manic. This sequence in the video totally reminded me of that.
On their own, the lyrics to the song, “Destination Unknown,” can be read as relevant to the subject of mental illness:
Life is so strange, when you don’t know.
How can you tell where you’re going to?
You can’t be sure of any situation.
Something could change, and then you won’t know.
You ask yourself: Where do we go from here?
It seems so all too near.
Just as far beyond as I can see.
I still don’t know what this all means to me.
So you tell yourself: I have nowhere to go!
I don’t know what to do!
And I don’t even know the time of day …
I guess, it doesn’t matter any way.
In the context of the video the words take on a deeper meaning — to me. Sure, I can see where all of this might seem trivial and juvenile to somebody else … and that’s cool. The Missing Persons didn’t write this song, and the video director didn’t plot out each scene, back in 1982, with my 2013 bipolar symptoms in mind. I’d have an entirely different diagnosis if I thought that (schizotypal?)
But I do wonder what the inspiration for the video imagery was? Was it strictly the song lyrics? Or did the subject of mental illness play any part? We’ll never know.
I suppose the point here is that I was able to find some inspiration for meaningful introspection from an unexpected place. And that’s always a nice destination to wind up at. Pretty cool song and video, too, if you don’t mind the weird 1980s fashions and hairdos.