Touched with Fire: Paul Dalio's movie on living with bipolar disorder
February 16, 2016
Inspired by his own struggle with the illness, Paul Dalio has written and directed a masterpiece of a film exploring the romance of two poets with bipolar disorder. Dalio’s debut, titled Touched with Fire, is not merely an artistic expression.
It’s a call for social change, challenging the audience to question how people who are bipolar are currently viewed and treated.
“There’s a beauty to it“
Dalio’s own aha moment came from reading Kay Redfield Jamison’s 1996 book, the title of which Dalio decided to give to his own film. The book explained why so many of the greatest artistic minds in the history were bipolar.
“You go from thinking you’re a genetic defect to maybe thinking it’s a gift. You go from thinking that I’m going to just get by in life to maybe I can do something meaningful in life with this. There’s a beauty to it,” Paul Dalio explained to The Huffington Post.
Yet as Dalio has moved from feeling ashamed of being bipolar – the stage in life depicted by the female lead (Katie Holmes) – he has also gone beyond romanticizing his condition in the way Luke Kirby’s character in the film does.
To thrive with bipolar, Dalio has had to both stop treating it as a burden and demonizing its treatment in fear that it will rob him of his creativity.
“Imagine missing the feeling of sadness“
Dalio understands too well from first-hand experience why so many people with bipolar disorder become to shun their prescribed pills.
Dalio recounts his experience when he resolved to live on medications to spare his family of the pain of losing him to suicide.
“If you could imagine feeling nothing – feeling numb – imagine missing feeling sad. It’s the only thing worse than pain. Imagine a relative of yours dies who you love so much, and you can’t even feel it – which is what happened to me – because of the medication,” he recalls.
“And this is why people can’t fathom why so many people go off the medication and fall into the one in four suicide statistic. Or, they can’t fathom that these people who are by nature meant to feel life deeply are meant to give up life and just witness it happen while they wait for death,” Dalio explained during a David Lynch Foundation-hosted screening of the film (see video below).
From surviving with bipolar to thriving with bipolar
Luckily, working for the David Lynch Foundation shooting videos, Dalio was introduced to another person with bipolar disorder who told him that through meditation, he had spent the last 20 years happy for “80 percent of the time.”
“When you’re bipolar, you don’t take that word, happy, lightly,” Dalio explained to The Huffington Post. “You don’t lie or bullshit about that word. That guy meant it! I couldn’t believe. That’s when I started meditating without fail, twice a day.”
And this proved to be a game-changer for Paul Dalio. (In fact, the positive impact of TM on Dalio were so remarkable that it inspired his doctor Norman Rosenthal’s research and writing on how meditation affects the bipolar.)
“TM is the difference between surviving with bipolar and thriving with bipolar. Between getting by and really flourishing,” he told at the screening of Touched with Fire.
He elaborated: “I genuinely do not think you can thrive with bipolar and the gifts that come with bipolar [without meditation], because any other way is going to be the medication which settles you down by wrangling in your emotions and filtering up all your senses and sensitivity. And suddenly you are getting by and that’s all you have.”
With Transcendental Meditation, however, Dalio feels the mechanics are turned around. And in a sustainable manner.
“Meditation is known for [allowing you] to settle down and to also heighten your sensitivity, heighten your emotions. This allows you to drop the medication,” Dalio confirmed.
“I am below the minimum of recommended dose [of medication], because I’m one of the few people who meditates this religiously, and at the same time I have been patient. I genuinely feel rich, deep emotion that is sustainable, and I am allowed to experience it without getting thrown off.”
Touched with Fire: The humanity’s most beloved sky
Living with the condition requires Dalio to keep close guard of his habits and daily regime.
But with the help of TM, low doses of lithium, early bed-time and no alcohol consumption, Dalio is feeling emotions and finding happiness in his creative work and family life (he is married to a fellow film-maker Kristina Nikolova, and the couple has two sons).
What Dalio has said about his personal experience with meditation beautifully resonates with his intent behind the portrayal of bipolar in Touched with Fire”.
“I wanted for people sitting in the hospital chair to hear how van Gogh conceived the most beloved image of the sky that humanity holds dear because of what he experienced, when he was looking outside his sanatorium window,” he says.
“If van Gogh gave humanity its most beloved sky, this cannot simply be defined as a human defect, human illness, human disorder!”
“If you settle your system down in a way that is natural and healthy, and you don’t need these heavy meds to filter your system and senses, you are actually able to experience so much more of the emotion, while at the same time being stable so they don’t knock you over.
“To me that was the difference between telling someone you are treating that you are going to crush an illness, or telling them that you are going to teach them how to support a gift,” Dalio resumed.
“How The Powerful Film ‘Mania Days’ Hopes To Change The Conversation About Bipolar Disorder,” The Huffington Post
“I’m a bipolar man — and Katie Holmes is playing me in a movie,” New York Post
“Interview with Paul Dalio on “Mania Days” and Katie Holmes,” CRAVE