Each image tells a story: the story of Magali
It wasn’t until she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder that Argentinian photographer Magali realized that the symptoms of her mental health problem had always been visible – in her work.
When I was a kid I read a lot, wrote stories and drew a little. It was my dream to publish a novel, or a collection of short stories.
And then in 2008, when I was 14, I discovered photography – without realizing that taking photos would become like breathing for me. And in fact, much more, because the bipolar disorder I was diagnosed with in 2017 was still visible in my photographic work.
Four times, I took one photo a day for a whole year. I completed two of these projects, and two remained unfinished. They became a kind of diary and a record of my mood swings, but I only found out after I was diagnosed.
In my last year of high school, in 2011, I had a seizure, triggered because I was so invested in photography that I started to fail my exams. I was also in a toxic relationship and had other issues. But I thought it was an isolated episode. I didn’t know it at the time, but my bipolar disorder had started to manifest itself.
After I finished school I had a kind of gap year, where I started working as a photographer, taking pictures in pubs. I also started my first “365”, but finished it after 222 days because I was not happy with the results.
In 2013, I ended my relationship and started a career in illustration. I became full of energy, slept little, had friends, went dancing and went out with people.
The following year I started my second ‘365’ photo project, which I finished and exhibited later. In addition, I had a lot of work and I exercised a lot. I also started a variety of hobbies, but gave them up pretty quickly because I would lose interest – after spending a lot of money unnecessarily on them.
I guess I was weak at times during those years, but I mostly remember the highs, because I thought that was the “real me”.
I was doing so well in my life that I was even able to afford medieval armor for my next photography project! I also discovered my true passion: teaching photography, and I had my first students.
After two years as an illustrator, I quit because I discovered that drawing was not my thing.
Then 2016 was the year it all started to fall apart. I started my third â365â, but suddenly I started to feel so weak. I was tired all the time and gave up on activities that I enjoyed. It was difficult to get out of bed to take the photo of the day. I even closed my eyes in the middle of teaching, not out of boredom, but because I couldn’t help myself. Some weeks were like this, and then in others I had new energy and ideas. Big ideas – I even thought I could be a photographer for Marvel, or start selling photographs for ridiculous prices.
But then the dips hit a point where it was untenable. And the lowest point for me was when I started having suicidal thoughts. I remember the week I started planning what to âprepareâ for when I was gone.
But when I thought about my pets (my three dogs, my cat, my rabbits and my hamsters) and what would become of them, something clicked my head. It hurt more not to know what their future would be like, than what I felt. It was then that I told my partner what was going on in my head, and he suggested that I see a psychiatrist.
I didn’t want to go, because I thought going there would get me fired with meds. But I couldn’t take it anymore.
I went to a few sessions and was diagnosed with dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder) and prescribed an antidepressant and a mood stabilizer. And I started to live again. I could not believe it. But five months later, I had an episode because I was off my antidepressant for a weekend. I won’t forget that, because I missed the most important day of my biggest show yet. I had withdrawal symptoms and didn’t know it.
“Getting informed and educated is one of the first steps in breaking down the myths around bipolar disorder”
I went to another psychiatrist to get a prescription, but he actually asked a number of questions and then said he thought I had bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder? I did not mean it. But after the diagnosis I got new medication and started to feel changes. I am self taught in a lot of things so I started to read a lot about bipolar.
The more I learned about the disease and how it worked, the less I was afraid of it and the more tools I had, including the right medicine. I learned to differentiate ‘me’ from disorder – that’s why I never say ‘I’m bipolar’, I say ‘I have bipolar disorder’, because that doesn’t define me, it’s just something thing that I live with.
I learned the things that triggered me and was able to avoid or overcome them in therapy. And I noticed that there were so many myths and a lot of stigma around bipolar, so I started to dedicate myself to educating people. I have delivered speeches to institutions or media, and generated content for social media.
Eventually, I achieved stability. I am aware that I could have a relapse at any time, but I am also more confident that I am better prepared.
The curious thing was what my photos showed. After the diagnosis, I saw my work in a different light, and it was amazing how many of my symptoms were present in my projects. How fatigue was so visible, or how hypomania colored my images, with brilliant characters and ideas. I started to compile them into one project, called ‘Symptom’, which you can find on Behance.
I am now at a point in my life where I am the way I want to be. And my childhood dream came trueâ¦ I published my first book. Not short stories, but a compilation of pictures – which are like short stories after all.
I share my experiences and my art with others so that they feel less alone and can learn more about this disorder. It can be long and frightening, of course, but educating yourself and educating others is one of the first steps in breaking down the myths surrounding bipolar disorder and helping everyone diagnosed to have the life they want.
Graeme Orr | MBACP Advisor (Accred) says:
Magali’s story reflects her struggle, and that of others, to get a diagnosis. But by finally receiving this, she gained a better awareness of herself, her triggers, and her symptoms. Slowly she rediscovered herself, her ambition, and was able to use her creativity to reflect her true self, to help and inform others. It is this deep understanding of ourselves and our health that can make all the difference in how we cope with a condition.
To learn more about bipolar or to get in touch with a counselor, visit annuaire-conseil.org.uk