There are so many people who are afraid of showing their true selves to the world, for fear of never being accepted. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, people all around the world worry about showing up as the ‘perfect’ version of themselves. Molly Naylor (along with illustrator Lizzy Stewart) has adapted her original play Lights, Planets, People! into a beautiful graphic novel to give us an inside look at the perfection we all strive for in life.
Maggie Hill is a rarity in her field — she’s a female astronomer working on a mission to send a spacecraft to find habitable exoplanets, aptly named ELPIS (after the Greek goddess of hope). But she’s hiding a dark secret that her colleagues aren’t even aware of: she has bipolar disorder. Maggie tries to balance her disorder by pretending to be sick at work, or being so emotionally unavailable that her former partner, Jane, leaves her.
When asked to give lectures to encourage more women to join STEM, she starts getting panic attacks. As a scientist, she searches for a solution which lands her in the therapist’s office.
Despite Maggie’s best efforts to find a solution for her panic attacks, the therapist leads her down a path to talk about her work and personal life. She reveals that she’s currently single because a lot of people can’t handle her disorder, nor can she do typical couple things like eating out or having dinner parties. It gets to the point where she feels having a partner would dilute her, and hates the idea of someone else ‘completing’ her (I agree, screw Jerry McGuire). In the end, Maggie confesses that she isn’t in a relationship because she believes she ends up hurting other people.
The deeper the therapist tries to dig into Maggie’s personal life, asking her for details, the more she bats the questions away. Instead of answering. Maggie locks onto an idea of incorporating videos in her Powerpoint to help her push through her panic attacks. But when she’s about to give her lecture, she runs into technical issues and is unable to show her presentation. Without any tech support, she dives into her talk, opening the floor up for questions.
Naylor and Stewart do an amazing job of relaying the experience of having bipolar disorder. Stewart’s illustrations of Maggie being slowly swallowed by a pool of water as her mood dips low are perfect. It got so bad for Maggie that she even missed the launch of ELPIS, telling her colleagues she had appendicitis. I also really loved how you can clearly see the mood split within Maggie when she’s irritated at the question about ELPIS, a mission she’s worked on her whole career only to have it fail.
It’s fascinating to see the highs and lows of someone with bipolar disorder — seeing them super excited to the point where they don’t need sleep, then crashing where all they can do is rest until they feel better. The perfection and usefulness Maggie strives for is really a mask so she doesn’t have to think about her bipolar disorder. It makes sense that her spacecraft is called hope because in a way, she wants to reach out into the world to see if anyone can accept her as she is.
Lights, Planets, People! is a beautifully illustrated narrative about how we can still accept ourselves, even when we’re imperfect. Naylor and Stewart capture the balance of having bipolar disorder, demonstrated by the colorful happy times versus the subdued anxiety-ridden lows. In a world where we’re constantly searching for concrete answers, we have to realize it’s a lot like sending our hope into space and believing we’ll find others who can accept us fully.