This week I watched Silver Linings Playbook and I thought it was an excellent movie. I enjoyed it because I found it to be a genuine, profound film, but I also deeply empathized with some of the struggles the main character faces throughout the story.
I was moved by Pat Solitano’s character, played by Bradley Cooper, who lived most of his life as undiagnosed bipolar. When he learns that his wife is having an affair, it triggers a manic attack which lands him in prison along with a restraining order from his wife. Pat moves home with his parents in Philadelphia after spending eight months in a state institution following his diagnosis.
The movie illustrates Pat’s struggle as he learns how to live with his condition, and his quest to reunite with his wife. Upon his initial diagnosis, Pat refuses to take the medication he’s been prescribed, saying he doesn’t like the way if affects his mind and body. In one scene, over dinner with friends, Pat describes it as making his mind “foggy” and his body “sluggish”. I wanted to jump out of my seat and shout, “Yes, I know exactly what you mean!” Thankfully, I stopped myself, and most likely avoided adequately embarrassing myself. Accepting that you are bound to medication for the rest of your life is a difficult thing to grasp.
Another scene further along in the movie really resonated with me. Pat’s father (played by one of my favorites, Robert de Niro) has an emotional dialogue with his son. He expresses that he didn’t know how to handle Pat’s problem in his childhood. He is torn by the feeling that he didn’t do something to help Pat early on.
Living with an illness for most of your life without being aware of it, and then suddenly being diagnosed is overwhelming. I know first-hand. Knowing deep inside of you that something is wrong, but not knowing what, is both frustrating and alienating. Finally having an answer is an immense relief, but it is also sobering. I couldn’t stop myself from crying during this scene. I thought of my own parents and remembered the worry and grief in their faces while they watched me suffer in sickness as a child. They didn’t know what to do, and didn’t have an answer. That must be heart-wrenching for a parent.
In another scene, Pat sees his brother for the first time after coming home. His brother is obviously disturbed by what has happened to Pat, but he doesn’t know how to express it. Instead, he boasts about his own life and accomplishments, and by the end of the conversation, he is in tears and staring into his brother’s eyes. This reminded me of a conversation I recently had with my own brother. About two weeks after I returned home, he casually asked me, “So, this FMF thing..is your life really different now?” It was an honest question. But it was a moment of realization for me–that sometimes even the people closest to you, don’t fully understand what it’s like to live with a chronic illness. I have sporadic moments when I realize that my life has completely changed. It has been a slow wave of realization for me.
What endeared me to Pat’s character is his determination to overcome his illness through positive thinking. Immediately after my diagnosis, I charged into a proactive role to fight my illness. It’s a constant battle. I have found that as life bears down on you each day, this ideology becomes increasingly difficult to maintain. External factors come into play, and the challenges unfold. As the lovely Parisa Khosravi, a CNN executive, once told me, “Life just keeps handing it to you.” The mental battle of staying positive while living with an illness, either physical or mental, is exhausting.
By the movie’s end, Pat does not get the one thing he is desperately fighting and hoping for; to reunite with his wife. The movie does not have a picturesque ending. But Pat does eventually reach a point in his journey where he gains stability in his life and accepts who he is with his illness. That’s the point I hope to reach someday. That’s what I’ll keep fighting for.