When I first realized that “Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am” was based on Terri Cheney’s Modern Love essay, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about watching it. I had read Cheney’s Manic and tried to get through The Dark Side of Innocence, and while I don’t fault her, I recognized a large amount of privilege that she had during her recovery process. Getaways, outpatient facilities, long trips–and it was frustrating because most people with bipolar disorder don’t have these resources to help themselves. Some people can’t even go to a licensed therapist. That being said, I still watched it. Anne Hathaway (Lexi) stars in it for goodness sake.
“Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am” is the story of Lexi, a lawyer specializing in Entertainment Law who also happens to have bipolar disorder. This episode focuses on her and a charming, attractive man named Jeff whom she met at the grocery store while she was in a manic episode shopping for peaches. They click (but is it just the mania?), and they schedule a dinner date and go out for coffee. The thing with this story though is that it doesn’t end with the expected “happy ending”. It ends with Jeff not even getting past her front door due to Lexi’s extreme lows that hit her. But remember. I said that there was an unconventional happy ending, so keep reading.
Let’s just pick apart the presence of bipolar disorder in this episode.
What I see with this narrative is evidence that Cheney has rapid-cycling episodes where her moods can essentially change on a dime, sometimes even within a day. This is the face of bipolar that many people are familiar with. It’s a very dramatic and sudden change that is depicted very well in the episode by Hathaway, and it’s hard to ignore. I’m not saying that the other types are more insidious and foreboding, but out of the types, I see this as the thing that people can point out and say, “Wow. That’s really…bipolar.”
But let’s stop there. There are different types of bipolar? Yes, which makes things all the more confusing when it comes to diagnosis. Sometimes it’s hard to trust your judgment on whether you’re manic or hypomanic. The depression is the most obvious part because it exhibits what you associate as sickness, but the mania leads to high levels of productivity, extroversion, and exclamation points–something that can be brushed off as, “They’re no longer depressed; they’re just so happy about that,” or something along those lines. Mania and happy stability have a fine line that not many people can differentiate.
Below is an infographic that I find extremely helpful in describing the different types and episodes of bipolar disorder.
Now, back to the episode.
The episode does show a very realistic side of the illness. Even at the very beginning with the inner monologue. Rapid speech. Meandering speech. It has an edge of frenetic energy. It can be suggested that even in this introduction Lexi is struggling with an episode, but it then jumps into song and dancing. This has been said frequently of the beginning, but it’s quite similar to La La Land. This frenetic, beyond-reality atmosphere whenever Lexi is shown as manic is present in two major instances. To her coworkers and others, she is just extremely productive and effective and fun.
Then the switch flips, and Lexi experiences horrible lows that have been noticed not just by Jeff but by her supervisors and the firm’s HR. Immediately after she returns home from work, her mood plummets. It’s as if the rug beneath her has been yanked from under her and someone gave her a swift kick to the gut. Like those with severe depression or bipolar disorder, she is overwhelmed and overcome by the low. She even forgets about the date that she and Jeff planned for. It results in this:
Understandably, Jeff is flummoxed by the entire appearance and demeanor of Lexi. If you don’t know what is going on with someone mentally and they’re behaving strangely, then you won’t understand them. You’ll be repulsed by them to some extent unless you are very understanding of an individual. But this is a reality of bipolar disorder. The individual becomes so involved in their low that the world is completely shut out and nothing matters. It creates large valleys between them and the people surrounding them. It’s not intentional, though it’s hard to believe when you see the vast change in personality of Lexi in just a few days. Surely, she’s just not interested in him and is trying to scare him away, and he nearly is scared away. He tells her to call him if she’s ever ready to see him again. (I want to add that this is something I appreciate in Jeff. He puts the ball in her court and he signals that he is still interested.)
Still, there is that valley between them now, and I can guarantee you that Lexi is struggling with her treatment of Jeff. That kind of stuff can haunt you. It fuels the low— “What kind of worthless human being lets a man like that slip through her fingers?”
But then, the light.
Very suddenly, the mood swings again. She feels alive again. She feels like the air is new and like the world feels exciting. So she calls Jeff and makes plans for him to come over THAT night. In my mind, it’s her trying to prevent another low from ruining her night with a man she is very interested in. The following scenes show her desperately cleaning her apartment and primping herself so that she can impress. Unfortunately, as she’s getting ready…
I have to give it to Hathaway here. This scene drew me in and I just related with this moment. The point where you feel the change. You feel so good and then you feel the ground you’re standing on shift and crack, and you so desperately want it to not happen. The pleading in this moment is tremendous. I have many times stood in front of a mirror and begged myself to keep it together.
It never works.
Lexi crumbles and cannot leave the bathroom, plummeting into another hole, wanting Jeff to come back and wanting him to leave at the same time. You see Jeff leave, shown hesitating but ultimately deciding that it wasn’t worth it. Not that there’s anything wrong with him feeling this way. Remember, he has NO idea about her mental illness. All of her signals suggest that she isn’t interested or is flaky, even if she is friendly.
We can’t forget about work though. We can assume that Lexi has taken several days off due to her depression. As a result, she is fired from her job.
So where’s this happy ending?
It’s her friend Sylvia.
At long last, after years of not trusting anyone with her secret, Lexi finds that she can trust her friend (and ex-coworker), Sylvia. In an intimate scene, you see them having coffee together as Lexi breaks down crying and opens up about her mental illness.
Anyone with any type of mental illness can understand this moment and why it’s so difficult. You never know if the person you chose to trust is the right person. We fear that we’ll be rejected and spurned. You feel so exposed and that, after pouring your heart out, someone with a bow is going to shoot an arrow straight into your heart.
Here’s the happy ending. Sylvia accepts Lexi. She reassures her that she wants to be friends and that she cares for her. She is a comforting presence to Lexi. This reassurance inspires Lexi to reach out to exes and other individuals who have been hurt by her mental illness. It is the first step to true recovery for her. I suppose upon reflection I don’t mind Terri Cheney’s story. I must remind myself that we are not all the same and that our paths to recovery are also not the same.
This story was touching in the way that you feel love can help with coping with bipolar disorder even if it comes from someone you least expect. It never cures it. Love doesn’t cure cancer. But it does, I repeat, does ease the pain.