Triggers: suicide. And this is not so much a review as a re-telling and then my comments. I’ve included his suicide note. Please don’t read further if it’ll hurt too much.
More terminated than interrupted, this documentary was made by the parents of Evan Perry (Dana and Hart), who jumped to his death at age 15. Why? Bipolar … despair. My motive for watching this, is that the rate of suicide in bipolar people is much higher than the average population – I think it’s something people like me need to be aware of.
A nice looking family, with a history of mental illness and suicide, the Perrys seemed incredibly loving and caring. While they talked about his tantrums etc, I wondered how much more abused kids would act out if they weren’t abused (Evan wasn’t). He was challenging, creative, fussy, clever, charming, affectionate and also, according to his mother, could be “the darkest of souls”. He expressed suicidal ideations from about age five, apparently in a matter of fact manner. He started seeing a psychiatrist, who diagnosed depression and started him on Prozac.
“He was just scary,” said the shrink, describing the kid’s obsession with death and murder. “He was the scariest kid I’d ever seen in my life.” He would show his mother how he would kill himself; she photographed his demonstration of hanging, so that she’d be believed when she tried to get help.
The footage is home video, interspersed with interviews.
He loved Dylan, Neil Young, Nirvana and by age nine, was writing incredibly complex, rhyming and morbid songs. Journals, poetry, a play … all sad and all (like Evan in most respects) advanced well beyond his years.
At age 10 he attempted suicide at school. He was still seeing a psychiatrist and still on meds. And off he went to a mental institution, where he was diagnosed with bipolar ii (depressive bipolar). Depacote didn’t work, lithium seemed to help some and he was then sent for milieu therapy. His parents credited it with saving his life during that time.
Evan escaped, broke into a house and landed up in juvenile court. The theory then, was that Evan had been playing games to some extent and needed to be held accountable. He went back to the in patient facility for milieu therapy and things appeared to go well, partly because, “he needed to be a kid again”.
“Bipolar is not just a disorder of mood, it’s a disorder of judgment.”
After three months, he went home. He excelled at school, he made friends, had strong opinions and loved toys and cartoons. “The more happy I get, the more pissed off I’m gonna get later,” he said to a friend, showing good insight into his condition. At age 13, things seemed under control and positive. Because of his younger brother Scott’s suicide, Evan’s father was always fearful. “The pain was so profound,” said Scott’s fiancé, “I was mutilated when he died, half of me was completely dead.” Beatrice Perry (Evan’s grandmother) said “The words don’t exist to tell people how destroyed you have been.”
“A lot of the time he seemed really out of it to me,” said his half brother and under medical supervision, his lithium was decreased and stopped. He claimed not to be suicidal and was believed. “Maybe he got better at masking it,” said his psychologist. His mood dropped and his parents wondered if he ought to go back on lithium and made a psychiatrist’s appointment for the following week.
Before that could happen, one evening Evan acted out, told his mother he hated her and went to his room. His behaviour didn’t seem extreme for a 15 year old though. When his father looked in on him, he said he was doing fine. Shortly after that, he jumped out of his bedroom window, into an air shaft – and died.
He left his reasons for suicide on his laptop screen. His half brother said Evan’s perception of himself was no different to any other 15 year old’s list, but 20 000 times more intense.
things to die for:
1. fear of failing
2. lack of trust in friends
3, working hard for what?
4. never being able to fit in
5. knowing all the bad things are true; being lazy, looser, ugly, untalented, and stupid.
6. what’s the point?
things to live for:
1. potential of being something great
2. love of people i trust
3. the future
4. finding trusting friends
5. sadness brought to family
6. feeling better later
so, 6 things to live for and six things to die for
things i want:
york prep to never know why or how i died
to be forgotten
only family is invited to the funeral
for death to be painless
and finally for everyone to move on and know i am sorry but this is for the best
His psychiatrist said, “in psychiatry, bipolar is our cancer.” Of Evan’s suicide note he said, “it’s crazy, but it’s done so sanely,” and that the hypersanity of it was its insanity.
We have no way of knowing whether his death was painless, but the other four things Evan said he wanted, were not adhered to. When the funeral party reached the graveyard, in the pouring rain, the hole hadn’t been dug, “oh he’s laughing,” said his mom, “you better believe it.” Somebody says firmly, “We’ll do it!” but they don’t.
“When somebody is that deep and far into depression, and in such incredible pain, there’s nothing you can do,” wept Scott’s fiancé, as the camera panned over the place where Evan died.
The end of the documentary takes place 14 months later, harking back to the intro scenes, with the family building a barn at Wellspring (where Evan was for milieu therapy) as a memorial to Evan and to help future patients.
No matter how much I felt for his family, it’s obvious I’d identify more with Evan.
I think Scott’s fiancé was right – there is nothing you can do, in more than a temporary way anyway. If you want fast and dirty insight into the suffering mind of someone with bipolar, imagine knives whirling round in your cranium, slicing your brain to ribbons. Not the physical pain, simply as a metaphor. His half brother was right too, about the sheer intensity of bipolar emotions. Clearly there are very good and very bad sides to that fact.
Behind the inexorable violence of that pain are lives shredded by this fucking disorder. And frankly if anyone tells you bipolar isn’t that bad, either they don’t have it, or they have a very mild version. (Yes I’m jealous.) Undiagnosed, we may have wrecked any number of things, diagnosed, our hearts are often incurably broken.
Why mask the suffering? Who knows. To appear normal perhaps, to avoid stigma, or to avoid worrying and burdening your loved ones. The latter is my reason for saying I’m fine, I rarely try to appear normal, but I totally get why some people do. It isn’t as simple as “I don’t want to worry you,” it’s the burden we sometimes get, from being a burden to you. Having cost our families money and time and caused pain and anguish and a whole host of other issues, we might be guilt stricken and ashamed. I doubt it’s just me after all. The person with bipolar and the people who really, really love them, must pass through grief as sharp as smashed glass. Lots of relationships – and some people – don’t make it through to the other side.
Finding the right meds and therapy can be quick, it can take years and sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. The side effects of the meds can be horrendous and can really fuck with your mind and your quality of life. People frequently take negative attitudes when they find out you’re bipolar and even the kindest of souls sometimes treat you like a moron. Once we think we’ve ruined your lives and our own lives seem fucked beyond redemption, what is there to live for?
The takeaway? Even with a loving family, treatment on tap, good schooling – bipolar can still kill. Also – take your damn meds!
I have no idea whether you’ll find it harrowing or not. I didn’t; it all made horribly logical sense to me. It wasn’t remotely shocking, just realistic. I don’t have a moral standpoint on whether or not the parents should have made the film. I’m rather grateful that they did though.