It has been a busy time at work for me. I’ve had a lot on my plate socially as well. This story in Maclean’s by Emma Teitel was trending in social media a few days ago. A family member brought it to my attention. I’m glad she did, there’s plenty in here worth considering.
I’d urge you to read the whole thing, but as an excerpt:
And yet the goodwill displayed toward Williams and his family has been tainted of late by the ill will displayed toward another mentally ill star: 28-year-old actress Amanda Bynes. Robin Williams may have fought depression “openly his whole life,” but he suffered mostly in silence. When he died, it seemed everyone wanted to know how someone so jovial and together on the surface could be so profoundly unhappy. Amanda Bynes seems neither jovial nor together. She is explicitly mentally ill. Yet, despite our promise to Zelda Williams, we don’t appear to care.
Delving into the depths of our celebrity culture is something that I lack the training and time to do. But I often have observed that we have a love/hate relationship with those we put on a pedestal. In some ways we dream that their lives are like the movies they star in. Where everything works out in the end after a heart to heart, the bad guy loses and true love wins out over everything. Yet we also like to comfort ourselves with the foibles of others. Somehow our own faults are lessened when we compare them to supposedly worse indiscretions.
I’ve stayed away from commenting on the fallout from the tragedy of Mr. Williams. For one thing, I didn’t think I could add much to the conversation. For another, it does hit pretty close to home. This article has prompted me to reflect on what’s different between society’s approach to the tragedies of Mr. Williams and Ms. Bynes.
One thing strikes me as distinctive. The tragic suicide of Robin Williams did create a silver lining, small as it was when measured against such loss. I did sense a genuine attempt to reflect on the situation, that there can be tears behind the laughter and that not talking about mental illness and specifically depression can be fatal. But as much as I am hopeful some great good can potentially come from such sorrow, contrasting it with the situation with Ms. Bynes shows me some of the limitations to the potential good. I think many good conversations were had because of the misfortune faced by Mr. Williams and his family and friends. But those conversations, while a very good thing, did not prompt us as a society to confront some of our worse attitudes towards mental illness. Ms. Bynes unfortunately faces the brunt of such things.
Don’t get me wrong. As someone who has experienced many awkward silences from talking about my struggles with my own illness, I am all for conversation. But it is only a necessary step in a long journey. While we may never stop gawking at trainwrecks, perhaps there is enough progress in us to collectively recognize when our participation whether it is in social media or the 24/7 infotainment news cycle that we are making a bad situation worse.
I’ve said this before, I’ll probably and unfortunately be saying this the rest of my life. Mental illness is hell inflicted not only on an individual, but their loved ones as well. One of the worst things about it is the feeling of helplessness that comes with the territory. Your mother/father/sister/brother/son/daughter/friend/cousin/wife/husband is tormented and trapped by a disease, and there isn’t much that you can do. Yes you can help them get medical treatment, but you can’t always force them to take their meds or cooperate with the doctors. It’s physically and emotionally draining and even when successful involves a commitment of years if not decades.
I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
For all the struggles that I have been through, for all that my family and friends have been through to help me, I didn’t have my worst moments, nor the subsequent hard work of recovery in the spotlight of the media. I certainly did not have people publically making fun of my bizarre schizophrenia-caused actions.
I do want to end on a positive note. Back fifteen or so years ago, when I was first diagnosed, I thought my illness was a life sentence. It has slowly, sometimes painfully, gotten better over the past decade and a half. I realize that this may be cold comfort for Ms. Bynes and her family and friends. I wish that I had something better to say than this, but as slowly and agonizing it is that we progress, we still progress.
It gets better