Capturing the Two Sides of Mental Illness

While browsing the Internet, I came across a short essay with accompanying photos on the website of the online magazine Slate. The story, a photo project called “Dualities,” was conceived of by a photographer who is bipolar and wanted to capture what it was like. For each subject, there were two pictures: the self that person projected to the world and the one they inhabited when they were at home and depressed. The pictures of how they presented themselves to the world were professional, happy and engaged. One guy plays guitar. A teenager holds her field hockey stick. A woman sits cross-legged in a black dress with her hair pinned up, looking as if she is leaving home for work.

In the other pictures, the ones that depict the subjects when they are home and depressed, crouched in sweatpants on the couch and surrounded by blankets. They play video games with the cat or just lie in bed with the covers up to their chin. The setting is the same for each person in the set of pictures – they are taken in the subject’s home, but in the image the person projects to the world, the apartment is tidy. The bed is made. The clothes are washed and ironed. It is fascinating how accurately the pictures show what it is like to live with a mental illness, and how, in many of the pictures, it is a matter of degrees that separate sickness from health. Nevertheless, it is a shift, when we are sick, that seems impossible to recapture.

The accompanying few words relates how the photographer had trouble getting people with bipolar disorder to agree to be photographed for this project. They didn’t want to expose the sickness they had spent perhaps a lifetime wrestling with, one it seems nobody wants to see, and that perhaps they themselves don’t even wish to see made real through these photos.