Mark Hunter Confronts His Unborn Ghost

Chimaira frontman shares his struggle with bipolar disorder in new movie.

Posted Oct 10, 2018

“In this present darkness

I fall upon broken knees

Crawl through weight depression

Haunted by an unborn ghost”

— From “This Present Darkness” by Chimaira

October 10 is World Mental Health Day, an opportunity to bring awareness not only to the pain and suffering of those with mental illness, but also how we can break down the barriers that interfere with people getting mental health care.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that mental illness is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. Mental illnesses such as mood, anxiety, and substance dependence disorders are common, often chronic and can drastically interfere with one’s ability to work, maintain relationships, and engage in basic life functioning. The WHO suggests that because of the damage that mental illness can inflict on one’s life as well as the lack of access to adequate care, by 2030 mental illness will be the leading cause of disability worldwide.

People often do not seek treatment because mental illness often carries a significant stigma. Individuals who struggle with mental illness are often blamed for their condition, and even considered dangerous to others despite no evidence of violence. This stigma is not merely perpetuated by laypeople – even health care professionals are often unfamiliar with and hostile towards people suffering from mental illness.

One of the best ways to reduce stigma is when people share their struggle with mental illness so that others can become familiar with and aware of how mental illness is experienced. To that end, Mark Hunter, photographer and lead singer of the band Chimaira (along with award-winning director Nick Cavalier) has released the documentary Down Again (2018), in which he shares his struggle with bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder marked both by manic episodes — in which people experience elevated and irritable mood, often engaging in impulsive and harmful behavior — as well as depressive episodes in which individuals experience sadness, loss of pleasure, as well as low energy and difficulty concentrating.

Photo by Lauren Dupont
Mark Hunter
Source: Photo by Lauren Dupont

Hunter explained when he first recognized that he struggled with mood instability.

“I remember having extreme anxiety as a child. There were days my mom thought I was trying to skip school. I'd vomit in the morning but was fine in the afternoon,” Hunter told me. “In my teens, I started to become extremely moody. There were days I'd blow a gasket over minor things.”

As time went on, Hunter became more aware of having distinct manic and depressive episodes. “I think mania puts me in a place where I can work and I’m extremely focused, but I also sweat profusely and can’t turn my ideas off. My mania seems to get me in trouble. I make careless decisions because I think I am invincible. A good example would be buying a $4,000 computer when you have no money to do such a thing. But I feel like if I spend the money now, it will come back later. I am always wrong,” Hunter explained. “Depression for me are the days in bed when I can’t move. I focus on all of my failures — why I suck.… Emptiness …being on pause. Like unable to think clearly or focus on much of anything — blank and then overwhelming fear.”

Hunter would often try to manage his mood with alcohol, which exacerbated rather than soothed the situation, ultimately resulting in a suicide attempt. “The ways that hurt always seem to be centered around substances. I was at my worst when I drank heavily. I was pouring gas onto a fire,” he described. “I drank myself to a point of incoherence and also tried to take a bunch of aspirin. Next thing I knew I was in a hospital with my mom looking over me asking me, ‘What the hell?’”

In retrospect, Hunter feels that there were many issues that interfered with his getting proper care. He described how the stigma of mental illness manifested in his own social network, with people either minimizing or catastrophizing his condition.

“Sometimes family or friends refuse to believe mental health is a thing,” he explained. “They think it’s some sort of state of being that is controllable. Or their impression is it’s some type of sentence to the room with padded walls.”

But it was not only friends and family who had difficulty understanding Hunter’s struggles – even health professionals did not understand his condition or accurately diagnose him. “I guess one of the most difficult things is that there aren't really answers, and diagnosing mental illness is not an exact science,” Hunter said. “I went misdiagnosed for years and was put on medications that exacerbated my symptoms.”

Hunter explained that his girlfriend is one of the few people who he feels understands and helps him manage when his mood becomes unstable. “When I'm in an episode it helps to have people around me that understand it in the first place,” he described. “Unfortunately, my circle is small. Really, only my girlfriend seems to understand and help me get out.”

As time went on, Hunter recognized that he found comfort in hearing others share their stories of mental health issues. “Ways to cope that are useful would be learning from others who've gone through these types of journeys. I enjoy long-form podcasts like the Joe Rogan Show where you can hear about many "icons" discussing mental health issues,” he said. “Just the other day comedian Nikki Glaser was discussing her suicidal thoughts.

“In many ways, I felt like I was listening to myself talk.”

More, it has helpful for Hunter to focus away from his own issues and serve others. “I enjoy serving humanity. Whether that’s writing music people relate to, taking photographs that mean something to the people I take them for, and sometimes being anonymous and just being nice,” Hunter described. “You can be bipolar and still be a prick. I’m amazed at how much better I feel doing meaningful things for people.”

To that end, Hunter hopes that his documentary serves others by sharing his story, thus reducing the very stigma for others through which he suffered. And Hunter encourages others to get involved in supporting people with mental illness in whatever way they can.

“I guess talking about it though in film and having more people come out and remove the stigma could help.…It is nice to have people, even if superficial at times, care,” Hunter said. “If all someone can say is ‘thoughts and prayers’ then so be it. But I think people tend to stare at the car crash. Only a few are brave enough to jump in and save lives.”

“Just knowing you’re not alone and have friends that deal with things really does help.”

Watch Down Again here.