A limerick by Yehoshua
Beethoven was a German musician,
Whose mind, when in manic condition,
Could write without flaws
To joyous applause
Many works of its own volition.
Another was named Churchill, Winston,
Who was a famous politician
He knew that a war
Would be coming, for sure
Despite his bipolar condition
Abe Lincoln had major depression
Perhaps brought on by the Secession
Not just this, but more,
A great civil war,
Settled the slavery question
Newton discovered gravitation
To scientist’s world wide elation
But in his big crania
He had a big mania
Which drove the calculus of creation
Van Gogh might have known how to paint
Though his brain had a terrible taint
Of madness of mind
Which showed in the kind
Of his paintings, which normal they ain’t
I selected William Styron as my hero of people diagnosed with depression. William Styron wrote “The Confessions of Nat Turner” in 1967. In 1968 the book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for literature. He also wrote “Sophies Choice” which was published in 1979. In 1980 the book received the National Book Award. In 1985 Styron suffered his most serious bout of depression. He wrote “The madness of depression is the antithesis of violence. It is a storm indeed, but a storm of muck. Soon evident are the slowed-down responses, near paralysis, psychic energy throttled back close to zero. Ultimately, the body is affected and feels sapped, drained”. When he recovered he eloquently wrote “I felt myself no longer a husk, but a body with some of the body’s sweet juices stirring again”. His book “Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness” was published in 1990. This book has inspired me greatly. I was able to meet Styron at a book signing in the late 1990’s and I told him that his book was very helpful to me and my own recovery. He clearly appreciated the compliment. It was a very moving experience for me.
Churchill was born into a family with a history of mental illness. Only a man who knew what it was to discern a gleam of hope in a hopeless situation could have given emotional reality to the words of defiance which rallied and roused around the allies during the menacing summer of 1940. Perhaps because of his depression he may have understood that simply conciliating Hitler would not stop the Nazi’s from advancing across Europe. Churchill’s depressive realism helped him to change the course of world history.
It is interesting to read that the Churchill family ‘motto’ is ‘faithful but unfortunate’. Churchill’s wisdom and courage has inspired me to persevere, no matter how difficult and hopeless my situation is. Also his courage has taught me to try to see the benefits of difficult situations and his sense of humour with concern has helped me try to cope with all the horrible things going on in the world.
I don’t know if I have the right to speak about a person as great and profound as Winston Churchill, but when I read his quotes they did mean a lot to me. So even if he is everything I am not, brave, famous, poised, wise, I feel we share something in common – mental illness and the suffering it causes. But he faced his destiny even though it was a time of incredible turmoil and inspired the world with his words. I cannot pay due homage to a man I so admire, but in today’s world where we rely so heavily on pills and gadgets for our inspiration I, for one, cling to this humanity.
Marilyn Monroe continues to be one of Americans most cherished icons to date and a household name all around the world. She was noted for her tenacity, beauty, charm and talent as well as her lifelong suffering with substances, depression and what some now conclude to be as Boarderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Although this diagnosis has been medically acknowledged by mental health professionals for some time now, and in the DSM for the past 50 years, it seems to be gaining greater recognition in society in the last decade. It is a complicated diagnosis because people with BPD can often be, generally, high functioning, able to hold down a job as well as relationships (family, friends, intimate and otherwise) and the ability to draw others in and connect socially/emotionally. Conversely, people who are diagnosed with BPD have extreme difficulty at regulating their emotions, struggle with intense feelings of abandonment and loneliness, at high risk of self harm/suicide, impulsive/aggressive/demanding behaviour and extreme sensitivity, mood swings and emotional dependence on others.
Bringing it back to the lady of the hour, Marilyn Monroe was said to have BPD but her behaviour he was largely associated with Depression which seems to have been the tip of the iceberg in her diagnosis. Although there is no way to scientifically determine and ultimately prove such a diagnosis (as it is just a cluster of symptoms) there do exist some theories which help to explain a lot of the resulting behaviours of people with BPD.
Looking at Monroe’s upbringing, she lived in a fairly tumultuous family situation which lacked basic familial structure and support. Her mother was reported to be negligent, absent and had a series of unstable relationships and left two of her children in the care of neighbours with little explanation to them or Monroe. Monroe herself was in and out of foster care which resulted in developing anxiety, feelings of despair, and tendencies to withdraw socially. Her father was never officially know to her, although Monroe had theories as to who it might have been, she never met him and the question lingered on throughout her life with reported feelings of self blame and abandonment. Additionally, Monroe was sexually abused by a family friends husband and as well by a male cousin. She often used techniques of escapism to help deal with the abuse and was noted as being an impressive storyteller, slipping into fantasy world in order to cope with the abuse. Tragically Monroe died at the young age of 36 years old due to, what some believe, as an overdose on barbiturates. This story is all too common amongst many people who develop BPD, and other mental health illnesses.
All this being said, the purpose of bringing attention to celebrities who have endured, or continue to battle mental health illness, addictions etc is that it helps to shed light on their struggles and brings awareness to the general population because, lets face it, the average person disproportionately cares about famous people’s lives, for the good the bad and the ugly!