Watching this morning’s news conference about the suicide of Robin Williams was just sad. I agree with his wife that I hope we will remember his life and work more than his death. Except for one thing.
Depression is an illness. It can be difficult to treat, pernicious in its ability to distort reality and destroy the soul. If you or anyone you love has the symptoms, get help immediately. If you’ve been successfully treated for depression in the past, but the symptoms return, get help immediately. There are hotlines in most major metropolitan areas, numbers you can call if you don’t know where to go–including suicide hotlines. People with a mental illness like depression can feel isolated and alone, but there is always someone out there willing to help.
It seems so sad that Williams, someone who was no stranger to asking for help, didn’t feel like he had that option this time. His brilliance was fueled by a deep despair, and I’m sure celebrity and fame just added to his emotional burdens. I cannot imagine what he was thinking or feeling, but I hope that others out there who might be feeling the same way don’t ever forget that they have friends. Even if those friends are perfect strangers.
Really, Dangerous Minds is getting to be my favorite pop culture blog ever. Among today’s posts was this gem, which just made me laugh out loud.
Normally I don’t think mental illness is anything to laugh at. And I certainly don’t find the deplorable and degrading conditions of insane asylums of the past very amusing. But there’s something about this, well, insane list that you just have to laugh at. If you were to use this list as a proper guide for diagnosing mental illness, we’d all be locked up.
Good thing for Quiet Riot that egregious misspelling wasn’t on that list. Although I suspect they would’ve qualified under one of the other reasons. I’m officially nuts according to this. I’ve engaged in novel reading many times, and what’s more, I intend to do it again. What reasons would get some of y’all locked up in West Virginia’s Hospital for the Insane? Anyone get kicked in the head by a horse? Anyone? Been eating snuff for the last two years? Had any bouts of dropsy? (Here’s a larger image of the list, just in case you want to give it a more thorough examination. I’d insert it into the post, but it’s a bit too large.) I’m sure we could all find something wrong with ourselves.
On a slightly more serious note, I found it a bit disturbing that so many of these “reasons” for commitment to an insane asylum were related women and their bodies. I’m not surprised by it; there’s a long history in psychiatry of trying to attribute any sort of mental problems to simply being biologically female. But it’s a little scary seeing categories like “imaginary female trouble” listed. (I wonder what qualified as “imaginary.”) The level of sexism on display here is pretty breathtaking. And commitment to mental hospitals was regularly done by family members or employers because the lunatic in question somehow didn’t live up to their standards for “normal” behavior.
I’m glad we can look at these kinds of things and have a little chuckle now. Even though it’s still highly stigmatized, mental illness is acknowledged as having real chemical and biological bases. And treatment is better today. Mental hospitals are as clean and safe as any other hospital. There’s proper medication, that actually works for most people. While it is kind of fun to look back on the ignorance of yesteryear, it’s also important to fight the ignorance that still persists today.
Repeat after me: Mentally ill people aren’t “crazy.” They have legitimate medical conditions that will improve with proper medical treatment. The only crazy people are the ones that think they’re normal.
Catherine Zeta-Jones always seemed like a bitch to me, and not in any sort of empowering way. She had a reputation around Hollywood as being a difficult, demanding star. “Difficult” used to be a synonym for “Refuses to be a doormat” when used in conjunction with women in old Hollywood; nowadays, it usually means something involving drugs or money, or both (i.e.: CBS considers Charlie Sheen a very difficult star). She was rumored to be rude to various working folks, both on and off set. Shortly after her wedding to Michael Douglas, she spearheaded a lawsuit and public smear campaign against OK! magazine after they published what she deemed an unflattering, and unofficial, photograph. (To be fair, I don’t know all the details; she may have been totally justified. And smearing a tabloid isn’t exactly unexpected . . . or difficult.) She came across in interviews as vain, superficial, and entitled. It’s a big part of the reason why I generally dismissed this otherwise beautiful and talented woman.
Then it was announced a couple of years ago that Zeta-Jones suffered from Bipolar II, one of the main symptoms of which is radical mood swings. All of a sudden, her capricious behavior in public made perfect sense. She wasn’t a nasty, selfish bitch. Catherine Zeta-Jones was mentally ill. It took a lot of courage for her to come out publicly as suffering a mental illness (she just as easily could’ve claimed she was “exhausted,” or some other euphemism). But she acknowledged her struggle with her own brain and personality with honesty and candor. She first sought treatment after her husband’s much publicized battle with cancer, and recently checked into a residential facility for further treatment. The tabloid press would’ve gotten hold of all this eventually, so kudos to her for making it a non-issue.
Catherine Zeta-Jones won an Oscar for her role as Velma Kelly in 2002’s Chicago. What impressed me most was that she and the other stars all did their own singing and dancing. That’s a pretty big deal for a bunch of actors not exactly known for their singing and dancing skills. But they trained and rehearsed and brought this classic Bob Fosse show to life. “All That Jazz” is the movie’s sexy iconic number. It defines the decadence and passion of the 1920s setting, and helps set the stage for the defiance of Roxy and Velma. It’s a proud song about living life on your own terms, refusing to be limited to tradition or convention: “No, I’m no one’s wife, but oh, I love my life and all that Jazz.” The term “all that jazz” has become a dismissive catch-all phrase for trivial things or details. But this song makes it sound like whatever makes life worth living. There’s certainly nothing trivial about Zeta-Jones’ performance as the murderous Velma. She knows that everything she does matters, that everything could mean the difference between life and death. I’ll let you decide whether I’m referring to the character or the woman. One thing I do know, Catherine Zeta-Jones is not a bitch; she’s a survivor.