Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Hello y’all! My name is Anne Mills and I am an Editor, Contributor, and newly appointed Blog Writer for Unbound. As this is my first blog post, I wanted to provide a brief introduction about myself and my writing (you can find more about me on the website and through my past submissions).
Maybe this is just the Libra in me, but I think as humans we are constantly trying to make sense of the world around us. Writing allows me to do this.
I was a wallflower when I grew up -- not necessarily quirky, but introverted and quiet. I was never the person to share every thought that came to my head, but I was definitely the one to write them. I kept so many diaries, journals, poems, random quotes -- everything. Retrospectively, I believe this is because my writing was solely for my understanding.
A newly independent adult at 23 years old, I am ever more in the pursuit of understanding. I am anxious. I am often unhappy. I am sometimes lost. Writing, however, has always helped me navigate the difficulties in life and given me the peace and confidence to keep going.
I am going to use my blog posting power (thank you Lashonda!) to do just this: to honestly and genuinely examine my life and the growth and progression of my mental health throughout it. Strap on your seat belts folks, because it is about to be a ride.
Alright, how many of you have ever started a new show on Netflix, realized it was garbage in the first two minutes, yet somehow got hooked into it?
Yes, that is what I succumbed to in the last week.
And the show was... Spinning Out. I don’t mean to brag, but it only took me two days to finish. Which is even more concerning when you factor in my 55 hour work week.
How did this happen you may ask. WELL, I’ll tell you.
This past week was also the same week that I finished watching Parks and Recreation for the --let’s just say the second-- time. I came home from work the next day, already dreading a night without my favorite characters. Half-ready to look for new shows, and half-tempted to just start Parks and Rec from the beginning again, I turned on my TV. Netflix, sensing my post- Ron Swanson depression, immediately started playing the trailer for a Figure Skating drama.
For a little bit of background, I go wild for the Olympics-- to the point that Facebook often suggests videos of Simone Biles’ floor routines for me to watch. I’ve even been known to watch seasons of Dancing with the Stars just because my favorite figure skaters were participating. Beyond that, though, I love fictional sports shows and films that combine the athleticism with unlikely friendships and romance. I am not ashamed to say that I have seen all six Bring it On movies. So what did I say to Netflix’s suggestion? BRING. IT. ON.
From the first few scenes, I sensed that Spinning Out would follow a familiar formula. A once great figure skater, Kat Baker, suffers a traumatic head injury during a competition and for all intensive purposes quits the sport all-together. Her mother, her sister, and everyone around her are no longer interested in her as her dreams are crushed. This will all change, however, when a wise, Russian pairs coach sees her ~potential~ and recruits her to team up with the entitled, yet dreamy Justin Davis. I guessed that Spinning Out would be another shallow depiction of Olympic athletes, and their struggles despite living in a world of affluence. Problematic, but I would still love every minute of it.
This prediction was immediately proven wrong, however, when out of nowhere Kat bites her arm vampire style until it bleeds after a bad skate. She does what?! Not long after, it is revealed that Kat and her mother are living with severe cases of Bipolar Disorder, which becomes a central focus of the show.
Spinning Out succeeds for me in the way that it portrays Bipolar Disorder for what it is-- a disease. All too often, television shows, movies, music, and even books are quick to romanticize mental disorders. People suffering from them are often characterized as simply quirky, misunderstood, and quiet. Somehow, the difficulties of their disorder are completely ignored and instead make them loved, adored, and beautiful. Spinning Out is not afraid to show the ugly side of mental illness, and the consequences that it has on the people around them.
Kat’s mom, Carol, often goes periods without taking medication to make herself feel “invincible”. As a result, we see her experiencing manic episodes where she overly coaches her daughters in the middle of the night, picks her fingers until they bleed, and breaks down into tears in public. As a result, she has very strained relationships with her daughters, and with men. Kat experiences very similar episodes. She forgoes taking her medication to improve her skating and ability to focus, but instead she becomes selfish, dishonest, aggressive, and erratic. She almost ruined her relationship with Justin, her sister, her friends, and ultimately skating.
Kat and Carol’s episodes are not easy to watch, but they are important. Their episodes are devastating, and demonstrate the real toll mental illness can take. Bipolar Disorder is not their strength, it is a hindrance. Both Carol and Kat have to recover from set-backs after they get their Bipolar Disorder under control. It is only after Carol goes to rehab, gets a new job, and regularly goes to therapy that she is able to rebuild her relationships. Similarly, it is only after Kat sticks to her medication regimen that she is able to be honest with the people around her. Spinning Out shows that living with mental illness isn’t beautiful, but second chances are available to those who find support and are able to get the help they need.
Is Spinning Out woke? I would not go that far, but it did surprise me. Not only did it provide genuine and honest depictions of mental illness, it also generates discussions on race, classism, sexual assault, and infertility. It demonstrates that shows can follow formulaic storylines, while also remaining true to reality. Alright Netflix, just announce that there will be a second season already.