Sure, when the videos of Charlie Sheen first started popping up on YouTube, i watched a couple with the same slack-jawed astonishment as the rest of the world.  But it didn’t take long before i was squirming.

i’ve been there.  i have heard virtually the exact same words from my sister, T, as she rolled off on a manic phase.  On more than a dozen occasions.  It’s unpleasant.

From her initial meltdown at age 26, through her 50th birthday party last August, i’ve had those conversations.  They are difficult.  Perhaps difficult as an interviewer, but FAR more difficult if the person is your sister. 

Mr. Sheen is clearly dealing with mental illness.  And listening to the commentary in the media?  It is even more clear to me that at least in the U.S., we are woefully lacking in understanding about what this means.  i see it in my own family – my Mom* and i are the only two who have some appreciation that T is not “doing it on purpose just to be mean”. 

At the gym last Monday, i was stuck on an elliptical machine with a broken television – couldn’t change the channel from Fox News**, some mid-day talking heads program.  Closed captioned for the hearing impaired and gym-bound.

The topic:  Mental Illness.  They discussed the seeming constant stream of celebrities encountering melt-downs.  Stating “Six percent of the population is afflicted with some form of mental illness…”, one of the cutesy blondes went on to say “So why does it seem that Hollywood has more than it’s fair share of the mentally ill?” as she laughed…

The segment went on to cover the pressures on celebrities that might cause more breakdowns – the stress of fame, perils of having a lot of money.  Blah, fucking blah, blah, blah.  At no point did these idiots mention that perhaps it seems that way because boneheaded media wonks are always watching and ‘reporting’ on celebrity meltdowns? 

It wasn’t until i was tossing and turning in bed, and happened to catch late night talk show host Craig Ferguson’s opening monologue the same night, that i was able to get my head around it. 

Laughing at the mentally ill.  Watching their antics as a form of entertainment.  You’d think we’ve come a bit further than in the past couple of hundred years.  Apparently not. 

i’m just a bit thankful that we’ve been able to process my sister’s condition in relative obscurity.


* Mom was a psych nurse for about 16 years.  She always said she felt at home on the Psych Ward.  i’m pretty sure she wasn’t kidding….

** Regarding this topic?  Fox News is no worse than any of the others…

56 thoughts on “Bedlam

  1. The line between insanity and genius is very thin. Cutesy blondes and chat show hosts can only function in front of an audience, while those with an IQ above a showgirls waist usually produce an inner light that shines brightest when the hour is darkest.

    Personally, I cannae give a second thought to rich celebs or blowjob queens. I will however defend anyone who doesn’t fit the norm and stands alone. As for watching TV… I’ll leave that to the ‘really intelligent’ amongst us.

    • agree that i should make more effort to tune out that crap. and defending the broken? perhaps i could steop it up a bit in that regard… have i mentioned that i’m really glad you’re back?

  2. Craig Ferguson seems like a lovely man – wish we had more of him.

    I usually avoid the news on celebrity culture when I can but frequently these train wrecks of human beings are thrust into our faces. I read one comment that said “car wrecks slow down to watch Charlie Sheen”. I thought it was funny which I hope doesn’t make me a bad person in your eyes – because you matter to me.

    I didn’t like to watch Brittany, or Mel, Michael Jackson or any of them fall apart before our eyes… but unlike people like T, celebrities have options long before they hit a crisis so it’s sometimes difficult for people that have no options to feel sympathy for those for whom the world is at their beckon call.

    I have a basic compassion for Charlie Sheen, like I do for anyone, but I don’t feel any extra sympathy for him. He’s exploited his life of privilige with little regard for people around him including his children. His family suffers at his self-indulgence and his arrogance… and now he’s considered and may well be mentally ill.

    I agree that he is a tragic figure vs a comic one – but it’s hard for people to feel an equal amount of sympathy for both the abused and the abuser… but you’re a better person than I am.

    I would like to emphasize though that I am in complete agreement with the bloodthirsty mockery of media we have that passes as news. They are frequently simply a match on gasoline. And then they shame, shame the fire.

    • He’s a class act – and a recovered alcoholic, so perhaps that’s why ht’s got a bit more gentle approach to it.

      and no, laughing about a clever comment doesn’t make us ‘bad’… i think that ‘basic compassion’ is what’s missing from most folks. certainly from the media folk who continue to shine klieg lights on the ‘meltdown du jour’.

      the self-indulgence and arrogance? may be part of the illness. although there are plenty of celebs and others who have more than their fair share without the disease to blame. my primary rant, though, is with the celeb/entertainment ‘industry’. i’m done with it….

  3. I found Sheen’s mental meltdown being used as a form of entertainment disturbing. It’s like rubber-necking at a car accident, until you find out that a family member was involved. It’s pretty obvious that the man has a problem, having seen this same behavior before with people I’ve known.

    • i think if you’ve seen it, you can more easily recognize it for what it is. at first, i looked – but my gut reaction, that ‘squirm and look away’ soon took over.

  4. I think it’s nearly impossible for people to fully understand mental illness unless they have either experienced it with someone close to them, or worked at a psych ward. My brother was in psychosis for two years before comitting suicide, and those two years were so horrible that I wouldn’t wish them to my worst enemy. I haven’t seen the videos of Mr Sheen and I will not watch them, but if he is indeed bi-polar or otherwise mentally unstable, I think he is being brutally abused by the media and someone should step in. The thing that most people misuderstand about mental illness is the patient’s incapacity to think/talk/act rationally — it is not an act and it is not something they are able to switch on or off, just like a person with cancer is unable to cure their disease with power of thought.

    • So sorry for your loss. Even when you know the cause – and that there was nothing you could do to change the outcome – it must still be a horrible experience.

      The toughest thing with my sister, T? She’s brilliant, and articulate, and even when she’s on a manic run? She’s compelling in her discourse – even when it doesn’t make sense. It appears rational – which is why (i think) it’s hard for others to see that she can’t help it…

      very much appreciate your point of view – and again, so very sorry for the loss of your brother.

  5. Well, I guess there IS a good thing about living in blissful ignorance. See, there isn’t a TV out in my garden, and I get my exercise by walking Ruby out in the woods without an iPhone, Droid, Blackberry, Laptop, iPod, MP3 player or anything except the birds talking in my ears. We get up at 4:30 in the morning and so I don’t stay up late watching late night tv but if I did I guess I’d have to watch Ferguson more. I was aware that something was going on with Mr. Sheen but I haven’t actually watched any of the interviews. And if Fox news was the only channel I could see I’m afraid I’d have to go yank the plug of that set out of the wall.

    Oh, and I didn’t watch the Oscars — it seemed pointless since I hadn’t actually seen a single one of the movies that was nominated for the awards. Not one. So I didn’t lose that three hours out of my life.

    Now, I have to go walk Ruby and see if I can’t work off some of the blueberry pancakes I made for breakfast.

    I don’t have an extra penny to look through the peephole. Poor Charlie. I hope he gets back on his meds soon. Alcohol poisoning is an ugly thing to see.

    • you are on the right track! disconnection is the key…. although i like to maintain some degree of ‘situational awareness’ just to have a pulse check on the state of mind of the collective population.

      the television at the gym? communal, or i’d have turned it off… or punched it.

    • i was also struck by his ability to deliver a strong message, gently. without directly calling those of us who watched through the peep hole “evil”, and even managing to make the entire bit a little “light”. he’s a good human – and a funny man.

    • He did. Along with other celeb drunken wrecks – like Lindsay Lohan, Mel Gibson and “The Hoff”… His open acknowledgement of his status as a recovered alcoholic is certainly part of that…

    • It was a toss off comment by the reporter on-air personality, with no reference or context. In the U.S., the National Institute of Mental Health has a link here. 26% is the highly inclusive number – including depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, etc.

  6. I love Craig Ferguson.
    He does have a spectacular way way about him doesn’t he?
    As for Charlie Sheen, I feel sorry for his kids …. ALL of them.
    His twin boys aren’t old enough yet, but his girls with Denise Richards are.
    Witnessing a mental breakdown is difficult enough without having the media turn it into a “penny circus”.
    Myself, I don’t care much for what happens in celebs lives …. I have enough shit of my own to deal with.
    Most days MY life would make “penny circus” fodder!

    On another note, can I just say that it is absolutely WONDERFUL to see Jimmy back! =)
    *snoopy dancing*

    • he’s a honey, isn’t he? i was referring to both Mr. Ferguson AND Mr. Bastard! No matter who’s watching, it’s rough on the family. As well as the individual embroiled in the brain-chemistry misfire…

  7. And why does Hollywood have such a collection of people who have “meltdowns”? Because it is that mental fragility which allows some people to be great entertainers. Being able to hold a crowd in your hand needs a disconnect. An ability to know what the audience wants and an ability to adjust your own performance at the same time while knowing that you can fall flat on your face with one misplaced word. Genius is indeed just one step from madness. The crime is that we suck our entertainers dry. Artists, writers, dancers, singers, dramatic actors, comedians; all are judged on what they give us. None is ever asked about the cost to their own psyche.

    Then there are those whose illness happens out of the public gaze. Still misunderstood and yet without the compensations of celebrity.

    As a society, we are a collection of unfeeling fucks!

    • although i have no access to any statistics to support this, i agree that there certainly seems to be a higher percentage of those with some degree of “fragility” amongst the creatives – i sure as hell see it with my local theatre troupe…

      we certainly are a collection of unfeeling fucks. but you, sir, continue to remind me that there is a world full of delightful humans if one keeps looking!

  8. I’m so glad you wrote this post! I’ve been squirming like a jellyfish who swallowed a fire cracker during these shows. My husband played a you tube video of a Charlie Sheen interview, and Adam, who isn’t always the King of Compassion, even said, “Why are they playing this?” The guy has an illness.

    People with bipolar illness tend to be bright and creative, which lead them to artistic fields like acting. My grandmother was an artist, and was bipolar. If anyone video taped her and laughed at her during a manic episode, I would have kicked their butts out the window. Sheesh.

    • you’re a pro, so i truly appreciate your comment (and the follow up post at your blog). my sister? she carries one of the most remarkable intellects i’ve ever known. she’s creative and brilliant in her field – the fact that she’s got a PhD, and is established as the Dean of Graduate Research at a top university? While managing a degree of mental illness that would land many on full-time disability? Further testament to her brain-power… i guess i’m really proud of her. not for just what she’s accomplished, but for what she’s had to manage to get there…

  9. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think there is A LOT of mental illness walking around each and every one of us on a daily basis. We just handle them in varying degrees of recognition.

    • i think you’re right – and it just ebbs and flows. sometimes we don’t see it, sometimes we do. but learning to recognize it, and perhaps coach and support folks who are wrangling with it, might not be a bad plan.

  10. Thank you for this post Daisy Fae. I don’t have bipolar disorder but I do have recurrent major depression. Sprinkled with anxiety. And social phobia. I don’t have a television – I find much of what is on it too disturbing. Thank you again, people talking frankly and with understanding and compassion about mental illness helps decrease the stigma attached to it. Slowly, to be sure, but it really is less taboo than it used to be. X

    • Sending a big ol’ hug to you halfway around the world, Synchy! i’ve had my own moments – occasionally wondering if i’m going to blossom into full blown bipolar. But so far? i’ve been lucky, it seems.

      It’s genetic. My sister got it through my father. i watch my children rather closely… and i wonder and wait. i have close friends who battle clinical depression… and i know… i KNOW it’s not a choice. it’s not something they can just turn off by changing attitude.

      here’s hoping you have a collection of supportive friends around you. i know you’ve got one for sure!

  11. Thank you sweetheart! I do have some very special friends – including that gorgeous one of whom you speak! And a fine psychologist – it took a long time to find her but I’m glad I persisted in doing the rounds until I did. X

  12. You know Daisy i had this exact conversation the other day, i said it’s not funny to watch a guy who’s mentally ill lose his shit on t.v., but in this country were we lose IQ points everytime we hit the pisser we don’t seem to care, it’s like we say fuck compassion and empathy let’s all laugh and point, Ferguson is right, it’s also why though we may like to think we are the world’s greatest country we are basically the laughingstock of the first world, a bad joke and a crumbling empire.

    • it just makes me sad… and yes, that whole ‘leaders of the free world’ shit makes me crazy. as if our empire couldn’t crumble… they truly believe that even though every other empire since the beginning of time has declined, we will be different… i hope you can come to live with me in my bunker in Idaho when i bug out.

  13. its so difficult to battle the stereo typing of mental illness for amusement.
    it hurts all families, my own included.
    i think most forget the famous are people too and no its not for media attention, he’s sick GET HELP FOR HIM ~ media star or no

    • it just seems to be getting worse – the more he rants, the more coverage. i need to talk to my sister… suspect she’s seeing it, and feeling the ‘love’.

    • brain chemistry and electricity are kinda important factors in our behavior. took several hundred years before post-partum was accepted as ‘real’. maybe there’ll be progress with mental illness one of these days. but i’m not optimistic.

  14. I will watch this Charlie Sheen shit go down and I will do it with pride. Yes, he’s obviously mentally ill. I agree. But it’s the first time a celebrity has ever made sense to me. Also, this is the first time I’ve ever paid attention to any celebrity gossip in about fifteen years particularly because – although I don’t have the same extreme manic arrogance about myself, nor any mental illness that I know of – but he kind of talks like me.

  15. I saw a bit of one of his interviews, and my first thought was “Amway.” Remember Amway? My parents got involved with that crap back when I was a kid. They went to several meetings and tried to get into selling their shitty products. They’d come home all hopped up on catch phrases with illusions that they were going to make tons of money. Fortunately, it only lasted for a few months. They weren’t morons. They were just temporarily sucked into the pyramid scheme of it. (And there’s nothing wrong with pyramid schemes if you’re near the top or you’re the one starting them, but I digress).

    Looks to me that Charlie’s definitely been pre-programmed by some sales fruit loop with the full lexicon of commercialized crapolla, and now he’s ready to start his own gig. From my perspective, it’s one step away from starting your own religion – which might be more lucrative. Maybe he should hand out with Donald Trump for a while.

    • oh, yes… i remember Amway. and many, many other multi-level marketing (pyramid) schemes. i think you’re right, though. his next career might be as a spiritual icon. doubt it would pay $2M/episode, though…

  16. the whole Charlie Sheen thing is ridiculous…if he wasn’t a celebrity he’d be on the street or living in a hostel or most probably dead…..and yet he is exalted….

    • or, optimistically, he and his family would have the opportunity to get a handle on the illness, get treatment, and try to maintain some dignity for him along the way…

  17. Hi Daise — I’ve been on blog holiday.

    Yeah, I have nothing pithy or funny to say about Charlie. We shoudn’t be watching. Bathing in the bathtub of celebrity culture is a guilty pleasure at best and pretty much an obscene pursuit at worst… My tiny contribution to the morass is to try to get the attendant to change the channel at the laundromat to something reasonable while I’m there, like guys paying for other guys’ abandoned ministorage units, or cheetahs v. gazelles…

    • oh, the ministorage thing… that breaks my heart, right there with ‘hoarders’, which is overtly making fun of the mentally ill… good to see you back in my comment box! and that’s TOTALLY a euphemism!

    • if 20-30% of the population has some form of mental illness, you’d think more people would understand it. i think perhaps depression is the biggest, and that looks a lot different than mania.

  18. I too thought Charlie Sheen is bipolar, based on my own experiences. Most peoples’ attitudes to mental illness are medieval. It is terrifying. Someone needs to take him by the hand and get him urgent help. Someone other than him needs to take responsibility for him. We need to stop watching and laughing because it is a tragedy. I truly think other people will never get it, unless they have a mental illness or have close family with it. That is why I am afraid to talk about my family, because of the way people misunderstand and dismiss mental illness. It is bizarre. The brain is an organ too. My only explanation is the old religious split of body and soul, and people think somehow that our thoughts are not influenced by our physical bodies. Medieval.

    • if you’ve seen it, you know what it is when it pops up again… i’ve found on occasion that someone will mention a family member with ‘issues’ to me. a gentle bit of sharing vague references to my own experiences, and sometimes they surprise me with similar tales. i think it’s far more common han many realize, and it sometimes helps folks feel less alone to know we all have someone, somewhere fighting this fight…

      it’s my hope that perhaps the man can get help, and perhaps go a bit public with his troubles. who would be a better educator, after this round of public awareness?

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