Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Smile Files

In Bipolar, Dancing, Exercise, Hoopnotica, Hula-Hoops, The Smile Files on April 28, 2011 at 4:03 am

Smiling Marissa.

Left untreated bipolar is the sickness of extremes. There’s left, right or up, down and never the twain shall meet.

Try conceiving the stickiness of a scorching summer when you’re knee-deep in snow and your fingertips are so numb they feel like they’re going to fall off. It’s hard, isn’t it? The mere thought of running around in a tank top, shorts and flip-flops makes you shudder. It seems impossible that the hardened ground beneath your feet was once carpeted with grass and flowers.

That is what being depressed can feel like. When I struggle to do something as simple as brushing my teeth it seems inconceivable to me that yesterday, or last week, or last month, I was giggling with my friends in an exercise class or munching popcorn at the cinema.

So I’ve decided that the next time I feel low – and I will, I can’t pretend that it won’t happen – I’m going to be prepared. I’m going to be armed with a series of thoughts and activities that make me smile. I’m going to store away in my mind a file of happy, positive thoughts that I can cling to when I feel like shit.

Stay with me here. I’m not just being a hippy-trippy tree-hugger. And I know that I sound like the bipolar version of Julie Andrews singing My Favourite Things in The Sound of Music. But hey, Maria was on to something. When I’m facedown in my pillow thinking that I’m an insult to the human race I need something to remind me that my life isn’t that bad. Yes, I have a roof over my head, a job, a car and I am physically in good health. These are all blessings that I am thankful for. But I’m talking about the simple things, the everyday things that bring me joy – little reminders that I need to focus on when my world seems black.

That’s why I’m creating The Smile Files. It’s cheesy, I know but every couple of weeks I’m going to list something that brings me joy, something that I can pull out and appreciate when I wish I’d never been born.

It can be anything – the sound of birds singing, a beautiful sunset or dancing in my kitchen to Eighties music while singing into a wooden spoon. (Yes, I have done that many, many times.) It can be an activity, a film or a book. Whatever it is it means something to me.

These are just suggestions – a list of things that make me smile that I want to share with you. Feel free to add to it. We begin with…


Gabriella Redding, Hoopnotica CEO

Yes, those round plastic toys that we used to play with when we were kids. Within the last year I have rediscovered the joy of hula-hoops thanks to the ladies behind Hoopnotica, an exercise firm based in Venice, California where I live.

I believe in supporting my local community so every year, whenever I’m in town, I try to attend the Abbot Kinney Festival. Named after the founder of Venice, it features the arts, crafts, businesses, food and people that make up the eclectic personality of the area.

Needless to say when I saw a group of women at a stall twirling around in hula-hoops I was intrigued. They weren’t just spinning them around their waists. They were throwing them in the air, swirling them on their arms, around their shoulders, shaking them on their hips. Their movements seemed effortless and graceful. When the CEO Gabriella Redding told me that she had lost 70lbs (5st) doing it – vain cow that I am – I was sold. I bought myself an instructional Hoopnotica DVD, a hula-hoop and went on to spend hours dancing with my new black-and-pink striped toy.

Sure I’ve got sweaty, I’ve burned calories and wowed my friends with the different tricks that I’ve learned. What I didn’t expect was to have so much fun.

I challenge anyone to step inside a hula-hoop, spin it around his or her waist and not smile. It’s impossible.

Whether you can keep it up for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, can twirl it from your right hand to your left or pick it up, watch it fall down and do the whole darn thing all over again, you are going to smile.

And it becomes something more than exercise. It becomes something joyful. For me it reminds me of being a little girl again. I put my iPod on and hoop my heart out while Madonna, Mary J Blige, Biggie Smalls or The Rolling Stones play in the background.

Hoopnotica reminds me to have fun and that the simplest things can bring me joy – even if that’s a colourful plastic tube.

M x


The latest celebrity trend?

In Bipolar, Celebrities on April 24, 2011 at 4:12 am

When Catherine Zeta-Jones recently announced that she had bipolar disorder I was worried. Not about her, for me. While I admire her bravery and honesty in confronting this issue publicly – from a totally selfish perspective – it was the classic case of bad timing.

The last thing I want anyone to think is that I’m jumping on the bandwagon, that I’ve launched The Moody Cow because a series of celebrities have either announced that they have bipolar or have been diagnosed as such by armchair psychiatrists and gossip columnists alike.

Let’s make things clear: I don’t do trends. Never have. And I’m not going to start now at the age of 35. If I were so inclined I’d sooner buy myself a Louis Vuitton bag than tell the world I have a mental illness. This blog was conceived weeks before Zeta-Jones’s health problems came to light.

On the surface, however, the “bipolar” label seems to be THE latest thing to have in the world of celebrity. Like adopting black babies from Africa and getting a colonic before the Academy Awards it seems that everyone has to have a touch of madness to be cool. (I’m being facetious, of course.)

Nevertheless, for the past few years “bipolar” has become the latest buzzword in showbiz media. Celebrities who have publicly admitted to having the disorder include the actors Stephen Fry and Mel Gibson, singer Sinead O’Connor as well as Brit pop star Kerry Katona. Let’s not forget Disney actress Demi Lovato whose revelation came on the heels of the Zeta-Jones announcement.

Then there are those celebrities who are going through a personal or professional crisis and are acting erratically. They could just be behaving badly or purposefully trying to break free of the cookie-cutter image managers and agents want them to fit into. But we have to label them with something. So Britney Spears and Charlie Sheen have both been shoved under the bipolar umbrella.

I’m not belittling any of the celebrities that I have mentioned. (In fact I admire all of them for being so upfront.) But I am concerned that some members of the public will become cynical. I don’t want the term “bipolar” to be likened to “sex addiction” where just the mere mention of the term makes people roll their eyes and think it is just an excuse for bad behaviour. It is not.

Bipolar disorder is a real illness that affects millions of people worldwide. According to an 11-nation study published by the Archives of General Psychiatry in March 2011, 2.4 percent of people around the world have been diagnosed as having bipolar at some point in their lifetime. The US has the highest lifetime rate of the disorder at 4.4 percent. Meanwhile the National Health Service (NHS) website reports that in the UK, one person in 100 is diagnosed with the condition. So there are many people with this condition walking among us.

There is nothing sexy about bipolar. There is nothing trendy about being immobilised by your moods. Depression for me is like Mike Tyson – it can knock me out with one punch. It leaves me groggy and listless. There have been mornings when I’ve had to negotiate with myself to brush my teeth let alone have a shower. At my worst there have been weekends where I haven’t had a wash, combed my hair or left my house I’ve been so depressed. I don’t go out and see friends. If the phone rings I don’t answer it preferring to roll over in my bed and bury my head beneath the sheets.

Conversely being manic is an exhilarating experience of having fire running through my veins. I’ve never snorted cocaine but I don’t think I could work longer, talk faster or have more powerful orgasms if I took that drug such is the intensity of my natural highs. Then I crash and more often than not cringe when I realise how I’ve run amok over the last x amount of days.

For 80 percent of the time I’m stable and the only thing that reminds me that I have bipolar is the medication I have to take every morning and every night. Other than that if I get enough sleep, exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet and don’t drink in excess, I’m fine.

But it’s that remaining 20 percent that makes me want to warn those who read about bipolar in the news and rush to dismiss it as a celebrity fad. It’s not like hair extensions or Botox, fake boobs or the latest diet. You can’t be bipolar one day or suddenly decide you’re not the next. It’s serious. It’s real. And if you’re suicidal it can be deadly.

Bipolar is no respecter of persons – whether you’re an Oscar-winning actress or a shopkeeper. It’s a great leveller.

So, while I’m glad that more celebrities are opening up about their private battle with the disorder and attempting to divorce it from shame, I don’t want anyone to think people who say they have it are slavishly trying to follow the latest trend. Trust me, if they had a choice, they’d invest in a designer handbag instead. It’s a hell of a lot more fun.

M x

Coming out…

In Bipolar, Uncategorized on April 18, 2011 at 1:04 am


My name is Marissa Charles and I have bipolar disorder.

There. I’ve said it. After much worry and anxiety. After thinking, and rethinking, overanalysing and losing many jobs that I have yet to apply for and sending men that I have yet to date running for the hills, I, Marissa Charles, am coming out.

Hello world. I have bipolar.

Back in the bad old days – before bipolar became a sexy term tainted with celebrity – back when it was known as manic depression, it was my family secret.

My mum has manic depression. But, not only was it an unspoken reality that we didn’t really discuss in public, at home it was referred to as being “sick.” My mum would say: “When I was sick” or “before I was sick.” If she were manic or angry, it would become: “When I was mad.”

My mum was diagnosed in 1981 when I was five. So I have lived with this illness for 30 years, although I only became an official club member in the last days of my 20s. And now, five years on, I’m declaring it to the world.

Why has it taken me so long? Because deep down I know that madness scares people. It is the plight that dare not speak its name.

Tell people you have diabetes and they might say: “Oh really?” Tell them you have cancer and they may throw their arms around you and say: “I’m so sorry,” before reassuring you that cancer can be beaten and that their aunt, dad or mum beat it and survived.

But tell them you have a mental illness and…silence. Crickets chirp. They shift uncomfortably. Then, finally, they say: “I didn’t know… But you seem so…OK.” (They mean “normal” but can’t bring themselves to say it.) One fears that they start seeing you in a different way, as though you have the word “bipolar” tattooed on your forehead.

Little did they know there was someone mad walking among them. She wasn’t walking the streets with matted hair, talking to herself, smelling like garbage and wearing holey clothes. She was holding down a job, paying her bills, driving a car and well – you can say it, go on – she was, is, normal.

So, just to clarify, to make absolutely clear that I am finally stripped of all fear and shame: I, Marissa Charles, have bipolar.

And? And I’m doing just fine. Thank you.

M x