Updated: Oct 31
Welcome to Abnormal Pulse.
Abnormal Pulse is an initiative by MZL to publicly discuss and represent the experience of living with mental illness, which in our case, is Bipolar Disorder. There is very little glamour in the lived experience of mental illness, from initial diagnosis, then treatment, to disclosure, i.e., choosing to talk about it. So, why talk - or write - about it at all? It’s quite simple. If you can’t show up for life then you have to ask yourself why because others will ask you why. The truth is uncomfortable, and like many other painful and unsettling truths in life, it’s a truth that others may exploit, misunderstand, or simply disregard. With that awareness in mind, in many ways, this is war. This is war against stigma, war against the stressors, that may be catalysts in mental illness, and it is war against those who try to undermine and discredit this experience.
Time is a precious commodity. Life is time. Mental illness takes a lot from you, but mostly, it takes your time. It’s agony that becomes compounded. First, there's the pain of the illness, then there's the pain of not being able to do anything about it. There seems to be no end to your fight to regain control and composure whilst simultaneously having to give in to the bitter truth that it’s not within your control and you cannot have composure. It chips away at your self-esteem. How can you justify years of dysfunction when you used to be so high-functioning? How can you justify certain behaviors that seem so far away from who you thought you were? How do you tell people you’re not okay when really you should be, you must be, you have to be? When you feel you can’t speak your truth, your voice disappears, every small gesture, word, image, emotion, is amplified – you are touched by an invisible fire – you are burning and exploding within, and the only relief you can find is in hiding, to avoid harm to yourself and others. That is if you are able to do that in time. If you can't hide, which people often can't, then that fire spreads.
It did spread for me and I did eventually find a way to hide. The fire spread into every aspect of my existence, tore apart relationships, opportunities, my ability to stand up and think straight, to feel safe, confident, and capable. And sadly, one episode - one period of crisis - is never enough. The cycle repeats itself. I realised I did need a place to hide, and so, I founded MZL. I'm not saying this is hiding since it's not hidden, but it is protection from the bend or break approach to reintegration. I was doing too much of everything without having any time to process any of it. Suddenly, the walls crashed in on me, yet again, and I was on the floor, delirious, and I needed help. Thankfully, I had prepared. MZL is about defiantly asserting my rights, and therefore, demanding space and time for myself. A lot of it. More than I had ever anticipated. More than I would say I planned to or is sensible to - I don't know. All I know is I'm so proud of myself for sticking to what I believe in because whenever the world has told me its rules, I have looked at them and wondered if I might be able to make better ones for myself.
MZL has enabled me to make art that I believe in with people who believe in me, and who understand and agree with the value of what we are doing. Has it always been safe? No. For the sake of art I took my lived experience and threw it on a stage and created a clash between mimesis and anti-mimesis, begging the question: is my replication of life bringing you closer to catharsis, or is it the art revealing a greater truth about what really occurred in my life? Is it an original approach? Did it or will it change anything? I don’t know. I know it was emotionally draining, and somehow, that didn’t stop me. It has never stopped me. It says a lot about what I’ve been through and the ways in which I like to work. I have heard that distancing tragedy from real life is important for catharsis, as we only derive knowledge and consolation from tragedy when it doesn’t happen to us. That is mimesis. Whilst there is no evidence that sharing negative emotions and experiences is synonymous with healing, it has become clear to me that some will always agree, and some will always disagree – c'est la vie – and if those who you wished could agree, don’t, at the very least the disappointment in this fact is cushioned by the satisfaction in the exposure of certain truths the art was aiming to uncover as a result of its production and presentation. Put simply, an undesirable reaction is still a reaction, which gives us knowledge. That knowledge might be more useful than the desired outcome. I don't want or need my work to be loved, but I will not allow it to be disrespected. The perfect way to do my job as an artist, actor, dramatist, whatever it is, is not for the public to decide. You get my work. If you assign yourself the role of critic or enemy then my only reaction is: thank you, next.
That resilience forms the core of what we do at MZL, and what we're exploring at Abnormal Pulse. In our work, whether it’s the plays, the short films, the social media videos, or now this mental health initiative, there is an overarching desire for social catharsis and support. Like everything we do in the public eye, the intention and value of engaging in this type of work is open to criticism. What are my true intentions? Whatever they may be, some people will admire me for it, and some will feel emotions that are the exact opposite. That is not within my control. I wouldn’t be the first artist who is banned, controversial, or misunderstood. I don’t take any pride in upsetting people, but I can’t manufacture lies to conceal uncomfortable truths because then my artistry relies on appeasement rather than coming from my heart, and I create art because I must – not because I want to. I had no choice. That’s not me being dramatic. Without art, I would not be here today, and it’s a paradoxical relationship because I destroy myself creating my art, but I also live for it. Does it have to be this way? No. Has it been? Yes. In many ways, I suspect that may be a by-product of mental illness.
Is it self-imprisonment or is it exhaustion? It’s both. The question negates the need for distinction, just like there is very little difference in atonement and healing. This leads me also to the concepts of dignity and pride, which are not universal – but people attempt to attribute universal ideals to them – like success, morality, or justice. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not legally binding. Laws are narrow – or confusing, or in some cases, highly contentious. Questioning the humanity of judgment can be fatal. That doesn’t change the need to do it, in fact, I would argue, it’s precisely why we must question the forces, which imposed such absolution. That isn’t easy. Our work, our art, isn't easy. Let’s break down the themes in our art: first, sexual assault, second, politics, social media, and narcotics combined with the third, which is eliminating fear, racial and gender discrimination, as well as prejudice, from the ability of women to tell their truth without fear, and I talk about abortion. All of this has autobiographical information in it and it's all tied to mental health. The themes overlap. It has tremendous personal significance for myself, and those I have worked with as well. That is terrifying. It can be punishing. In extreme cases, it can be debilitating. Hence, the birth of Abnormal Pulse. It's a temperament, it's a space-time continuum, it's where vulnerability can exist, in its raw, pure, unfiltered state - it's where you may accept the parts of you that are scary, challenging, uncomfortable. We acknowledge the limitations of anarchic thought, and there is no excuse for blatant criminality. However, we make room for empathy. Even when it hurts.
And it does hurt. If you make noise, people will hear you. They will react. And once they do, you may not be able to handle it. I made art that revealed deeply personal issues, which are also distressing: sexual violence, substance abuse, mental health, abortion, politics, and the list goes on. I don't like to repeat myself. Idealism has always been strange. Sometimes the solace of contradiction is the only way to maintain sanity. Or insanity. After all, who’s sane, and who’s insane? I didn’t choose this. This was never part of my plan. I didn’t think to myself, exceed academically, work hard, gain credibility for your talent, and then just when you think you'll excel, start suffering from bouts of mental illness that drain you of all energy and ability to function. That makes no sense. No one would choose this. Still, I am not a victim of my past, and I am not a victim of my illness, despite the attempts some people make to characterize me as such since I choose to discuss these things. Social taboos, surely they are appealing only to those who love attention, right? Wrong. I have been living in a way that is considered abnormal by a great majority. That part is not up for questioning. Why else do we have diagnosis and medication and all the rest? Because you must explain why you’re not being normal. I always had to believe for a long time that I was different due to the intensity of my emotions, the way I responded to stimuli, my overexcitabilities, and my imagination. The way I was feeling meant I was strange. When I acted in ways that I could not understand or that went against what I believed was my own nature, I felt completely disconnected from myself, and at the same time being able to engage in perpetual metamorphosis was more authentic than any mould I've ever tried to fit in. You can't control what you feel, and sometimes you can't control how you react. I was coping with emotions that came from unknown sources and at times it wasn’t even coping, it was simply realisation, upon realisation, set on fire by the overwhelming reality that eventually, to make that deeper connection with others, that Aristotelian concept does come true: serve a story separate from you, because pleading your own case only serves a purpose to a certain extent. Are people meant to endlessly empathise with me and thereby others or am I going to speak a truth, which is connected but separate, perhaps greater, than my own? By doing so will I actually be able to preserve some of my sanity? I was always trying to do this, but there's something questionable about artistic actions motivated purely based on self-interest. When you serve someone else's story entirely, the spotlight becomes slightly less harsh, and there's some protection from the nakedness of exposure that stems from telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth not because you are under oath but because you are compelled to.
I knew what the job was when I signed up for a life in the arts. You may disagree, but my relentless drive to accumulate knowledge and excellence proved this much to me and I need to know my job better than anyone else in order to do it. And truth be told, my approach hasn't changed: I am now devoted to the pursuit of self-knowledge. Self-obsession is encouraged in this field. I have been a degenerate of sorts. I don’t claim to be an angel. However, the pulse that I’ve had for a long time now, has been anything but comforting. You learn to hide your pain because sometimes people are happy that you are enduring it. Other times, they just don't understand. There’s something really satisfying about watching someone else suffer. It can make us feel less alone. Of course, that's only true as long as there is nothing perverse or sadistic about it. I’ve been called brave, but I don’t call it bravery; I call it survival. I am doing all of this to stay alive. There’s distress in that statement. Perhaps despair, and maybe even pretension. Like always, you decide. I know my truth, and I’ve decided to be public about this. If this is how I’m going to live, if this is what I must live with, if society can make me feel this way, then I will accept it, and I will live it out loud. I won’t be the first to do it, and sadly I won’t be the last. So, go ahead, judge this. There is no known cure for Bipolar Disorder. That means, at Abnormal Pulse, we are attempting to cure the incurable. We are making up for lost time. We are angry, and not hiding it. The war within is very much the war outside, and there will be no surrendering. That's just not an option.
Is that Abnormal? I just felt my Pulse pulsating, and it’s still there, it’s still there, it’s still there, there, there, there, beat, beat, beat. Till the day I die.