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Vivien Leigh: When I get totally depressed and I’m really run down,
I’m like a thing, an amoeba, at the bottom of the sea. I stop everything then and
only my friends can pull me up.
(Vivien Leigh to David Lewin, 1960)
Bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depressive disorder)
is characterized by experience of one or more manic episodes as well as periods of depression.
The illness involves extreme mood swings - from overly "high" and/or irritable to
sad and hopeless, and then back again.
Severe changes in energy and behavior go along with these changes in mood. The periods
of highs and lows are called episodes of mania and depression.
Different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through, the symptoms
of bipolar disorder are severe. They can result in damaged relationships, poor
job or school performance, and even suicide.
Symptoms: periods of mania can be characterized by increased energy, euphoria, restlessness, insomnia, racing thoughts, grandiose thinking, impulsiveness, anxiety, irritability or hostility (occasionally), and, in severe cases, delusions and hallucinations; bipolar depression include prolonged sadness, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, hopelessness, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, uncontrollable crying, and thoughts of death or suicide.
Why people have bipolar disorder: some studies suggest it can be genetic.
In the US 5.7 million people have bipolar disorder.
Historical figures/celebrities with bipolar disorder: Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra, Kurt Cobain, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Mel Gibson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, and Vivien Leigh...
Laurence Olivier (from his autobiography): ... her [Vivien's] disease was called manic depression and that meant - a possibly permanent cyclical to-and-fro between the depths of depression and wild, uncontrollable mania.
Despite the belief that Vivien Leigh "got" bipolar disorder after her miscarriage in 1940, Vivien had shown some signs of strange behaviors years before the miscarriage. Additionally, this disorder is known to have some genetic factors.
A schoolmate of Vivien's: We didn't know it then, but then how could we? It was there, though. Vivien would get along fine for a few weeks, a few months - be perfectly normal and friendly and involved in her activities. Then, suddenly, a complete turnaround. Sometimes it would last only a few hours, other times a day or more. But when it happened, we'd see a completely different girl - moody, silent, petulant, rude, often hysterical. None of us understand it, not even the schoolmistresses. At first we credited it to longing for her family - they were living out in India, you know. But as we got to know her better, we realized that she was quite happy to be at school and didn't seem to miss her family at all. Knowing what we know today about these things, one would definitely have to say that Vivien was a disturbed young girl, disturbed in some way that she had no control over. Had she been a child today, someone undoubtedly would have taken more serious notice and sent her to a doctor to be examined. Who knows what he would have discovered - a chemical imbalance, a genetic defect? It's impossible to say, I don't know if there's a name for what Vivien suffered from. But she definitely suffered from some mental peculiarity that on occasion put her severely out of sorts... It was frightening when it happened, almost on the order of a dual personality.
John Russell Taylor (Vivien's biographer): When a bout of mania was coming upon her, Vivien's first action, entirely unconscious, was to start systematically taking off all of her jewelry - rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, everything - and laying down on a table. She would start compulsively cleaning something, anything.
Vivien Leigh: I cannot let well enough alone. I get restless. I have to be doing different things. I am very impatient person and headstrong. If I've made up my mind to do something, I can't be persuaded out of it.
Trader Faukner (actor and friend about Vivien Leigh): If you upset her, she could be a scorpion, but it was part of her personality. She could be dangerous. She could be very, very dangerous, but also she could be very sweet, very charming, and very warming.
Pat Quinn: Viv could be the sweetest, nicer person at the convent. No one had such a charming personality. But at times she could strike out at you, seemingly without provocation. At those times, she'd retreat into one of her darkest moods and would stay there for a long time. She adored her cat but would shoo her away. I'd go and get milk for the cat to keep her from starving. Viv frightened me. She was like a female Dr. Jekyll and a Mrs. Hyde. Then, like a spring flower bursting open, she'd emerge the next day like the dearest, most gracious and effervescent personality you could ever imagine.
John Russell Taylor (Vivien's biographer about her 1960s): Her manic fits were more physically violent than ever, and in them she was quite capable of destroying every object within reach and severely lacerating anyone who tried to restrain her.
Bipolar disorder was little understood at that time. A mood stabilizer Lithium was not yet in use, and the only treatment Vivien Leigh received was shock therapy, which was not then administered with the same level of care as today. There were burns on Vivien's temples at times from her shock treatments. Vivien's illness, physical and mental, began to strain her marriage. Unfortunately, bipolar disorder is also associated with substance use. Vivien was drinking heavily at times, culminating in a breakdown during the filming of Elephant Walk (she was replaced by Elizabeth Taylor).
In spite of her illnesses, she continued to work in a handful of films and on stage, winning a second Oscar for her performance in A Streetcar Named Desire. Laurence Olivier divorced her in 1960 to marry an actress Joan Plowright.
Laurence Olivier (from his autobiography): Throughout her possession by that uncannily evil monster, manic depression, with its deadly ever-tightening spirals, she retained her own individual canniness – an ability to disguise her true mental condition from almost all except me, for whom she could hardly be expected to take the trouble.