The Bipolar Bum

Backpacking and Bipolar II. Taking Manic Depression on tour.

#WorldBipolarDay – Goya, Isolation and Despair

#WorldBipolarDay #Bipolar #ManicDepression #Mania #Depression #Goya #MentalIllness #MentalHealth


Never intended for public consumption.

Never intended for public consumption. Goya’s Black Dog


FIrstly – I hope everyone has a great day and I hope that awareness of every shade of Bipolar is really boosted by our efforts today.


Today is Van Gogh’s birthday, which I’m sure you’ve been told through various articles, blogs and other platforms.  Rather than repeating this I’d like to venture a little further back in history and explore the possibility of Bipolar (Or unipolar depression) in another incredible artist; Francisco Goya, who was also born this day in 1746.

Goya enjoyed an incredibly successful career painting for the Spanish Court.  He was incredibly popular, despite some holding the opinion that much of his work was subversive and satyrical.  His portraits of royalty became known primarily for the absense of flattery.  This was an extremely confident, popular and talented professional.

With the culmination of a plethora of stressors including witnessing the barbaric torture and mutilation of spaniards by Napoleon’s forces, surviving two near fatal illnesses (One of which left the artist almost completely deaf) and seeing the abuses inflicted on common people by the Spanish Inquisition – Goya’s faith in humanity was reportedly completely shattered.


At the age of 72 Goya moved into a villa on the outskirts of Madrid and began painting what are now known as the Pinturas Negras (Black Paintings).  He worked these pieces directly onto the walls of his house.  Quite obviously – they were never intended for public viewing.  He never wrote about them and no critics were invited to view the pieces.  This is the earliest and best example in Western Art History of the artist working purely for his own, mysterious purposes.  Catharsis stands out to me as a strong possibility.


All of these paintings communicate a haunting terror and sense of EXTREME isolation.  With the Dog above, we don’t know if it is hiding, half buried, in quicksand or anything else.  In another Black Painting two men Fight With Cudgels and are also seemingly rendered immobile by quicksand or mud.  The artist had a phobia of his growing insanity and disillusionment with humanity in general.  Since knowingly trying to take on depression in a conscious manner, these paintings have had their propensity for a deep impact renewed for me.  They scream out about isolation, loneliness and utter hopelessness.  This all coming from a master of his craft.  Someone who would have been considered a world leader even in his day.  This guy had been at the top of the mountain.


There is a stronger case to be made for unipolar depression (clinical depression) than for bipolar in the case of Goya and of this I am acutely aware.  The reason I followed through with this article regardless comes down to how palpable the black dog’s pressence (literally in one case) is in these final works of his life.  Mental Illness isn’t a “first world problem” or a sign of western self indulgence.  It is and has always been the silent traitor in a tortured minority’s minds.


We can draw the comparisson between Goya and anyone else who has endured depression and serious mental illness whilst being outwardly ‘on top of the world’.  Mental illness is the secret that one in four of us keep, even if unknowingly.


Get the message out today that it doesn’t have to be.  If you slightly suspect yourself or anyone you are close to of a mental illness, PARTICULARLY Bipolar II (See above description) then have them do the Black Dog Institute’s Bipolar Self Test (Again, linked above).  Have them take the result seriously.  Impress upon them that the results of that test should be taken seriously.



Suicide is the leading cause of death in Australia among young adults.  The statistics surrounding this alone ought to be enough to swat mental health stigma.  Sadly it isn’t and we need to give that final push to break through.


If you can make one person engage fully with their illness and achieve a self-diagnosis today then you have done something inherently good today.  One person each, we’d make one hell of a dint!


All the best,



The Black Paintings were transferred to canvas and are held in the Museo Del Prado, Madrid.


One comment on “#WorldBipolarDay – Goya, Isolation and Despair

  1. Cal

    “Mental Illness isn’t a “first world problem” or a sign of western self indulgence.  It is and has always been the silent traitor in a tortured minority’s minds.”

    Yes. So much yes. I remember coming across accounts of suspected anorexia in teenage girls (novices and young nuns) in convents in one of my medieval history subjects at uni, and realising that mental health has always been an issue for society, but people had very few coping mechanisms (personal or societal) other than religion, for dealing with it.


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