Mar 02

Jessie Close: Memoir About Bipolar Disorder

You would have thought that after Glenn starred in Fatal Attraction, our family would have had a serious discussion about mental illness. Even Glenn didn’t see the connection between the crazed Alex Forrester character she’d portrayed and me. Jessie Close, Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness

Many familiar with actress Glenn Close may already know she’s had an active role in helping to eradicate mental health stigma and that both her younger sister Jessie Close and her nephew Calen, Jessie’s son, have spoken openly about their own mental health issues.

In this PSA for their organization Bring Change 2 Mind, Calen, who has schizophrenia, is front and center. Glenn and Calen’s mom are also featured:

Recently Jessie, assisted by both Pete Earley and Glenn, wrote a memoir, Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness, which reveals that a diagnosis of bipolar disorder with psychotic features was a long time in coming for her. 50-ish when she began to learn about her condition, Jessie had already experienced five failed marriages and a history of drug/alcohol addictions. And her son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

From an excerpt Early provides on his website, we learn that Jessie had actually been haunted by voices since her teens. She refers to the voices as “the Creature”—and they often told her to kill herself.

Was there anything significant from Jessie’s childhood that may have affected her mental health? Possibly. Kirkus Reviews describes a history of parental abandonment and family cult involvement:

…(H)er story quickly escalates into a harrowing ride for readers unaccustomed to the ups and downs of someone living with a mental disorder. When her parents joined the Moral Re-Armament [a cult] in the 1950s, Close’s childhood became chaotic, with frequent moves, one of which led the family to Switzerland and another to the Belgian Congo, where her father was physician to President Mobutu. By 15, she’d moved back to America to live with her grandmother and instantly began experimenting with sex, drugs and alcohol, three things Close would continue to abuse for the next three decades.

Selected Book Reviews

Publishers Weekly: “Close’s story alternates with brief corroborative vignettes written by her sister in a belabored and grim memoir that will nonetheless reach its intended audience thanks to the author’s famous sister and their shared nonprofit group geared toward mental health, Bring Change 2 Mind.”

Keith Herrell, Bookpage: “With a title like Resilience, it’s a foregone conclusion that the book will end on a hopeful note—in Close’s words, ‘a new chapter in my life, one of sobriety, hope and purpose.’ With her sister’s encouragement, Close is telling her story to the world in hopes of removing the stigma from mental illness. It’s a story well worth reading.”

Sharon Peters, USA Today: “Keep plugging through it. She has lived a life that even at her worst was spellbinding, and it’s a definitely-worth-the-read memoir.”

Jun 11

“Fatal Attraction”: Another Look At Alex’s Mental Health

When actress Glenn Close participated last week in the White House Conference on Mental Health Awareness she stated to CBS News that her portrayal of Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction (1987) would be different today as a result of her own increased awareness. “I would read that script totally differently.”

Even the two psychiatrists she consulted back then about the role, though, failed to mention that Alex seemed mentally ill.

Close can now see that her character’s depiction has contributed to stigma regarding mental illness, which seems to bother her a great deal. “Most people with mental illness are not violent.”

For a reminder of Fatal Attraction, here’s its trailer:

Since the film, “fatal attraction” has become synonymous with terrorizing and stalking someone, while the term “bunny boiler” has come to indicate, as defined by the Free Dictionary, “a woman who is considered to be emotionally unstable and likely to be dangerously vengeful.” (Due, of course, to what Alex does to the pet bunny.)

Many movie viewers, including scholars, have diagnosed Alex with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Jeremy Clyman, M.A., points out in Psychology Today, though, that the persistent notion that Alex has BPD is highly problematic:

…(B)ecause Glenn played a crazed stalker much more than she played a nuanced, plausible sufferer of BPD. So when people say, ‘You want to know what BPD individuals look like – go watch Fatal Attraction,’ harm is being perpetuated. It’s a sad state of affairs because BPD is a poorly understood diagnosis to begin with and individuals with this label suffer enough stigmas… we don’t need a misguided, over-dramatized prototype of BPD floating around the zeitgeist.

What are the actual characteristics of borderline personality disorder? NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) lists some of the hallmarks. Someone with at least several of these traits might have BPD:

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment by friends and family.
  • Unstable personal relationships that alternate between idealization (“I’m so in love!”) and devaluation (“I hate her”). This is also sometimes known as “splitting.”
  • Distorted and unstable self-image, which affects moods, values, opinions, goals and relationships.
  • Impulsive behaviors that can have dangerous outcomes, such as excessive spending, unsafe sex, reckless driving, or misuse or overuse of substances.
  • Self-harming behavior including suicidal threats or attempts.
  • Periods of intense depressed mood, irritability or anxiety lasting a few hours to a few days.
  • Chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness.
  • Inappropriate, intense or uncontrollable anger—often followed by shame and guilt.
  • Dissociative feelings—disconnecting from your thoughts or sense of identity or “out of body” type of feelings—and stress-related paranoid thoughts. Severe cases of stress can also lead to brief psychotic episodes.

Treatment can include therapy, medication, and support and help for one’s loved ones. The positive news, according to NAMI: “Recent research based on long-term studies of people with BPD suggests that the overwhelming majority of people will experience significant and long-lasting periods of symptom remission in their lifetime.”

Regarding Alex’s diagnosis, others have focused more on her probable erotomania, a condition involving delusions that the object of one’s love interest returns the feelings.

But many viewers have never had a need to clinically diagnose Alex Forrest at all. As described by Desson Howe in The Washington PostClose’s portrayal of the out-of-control stalker was that of a “she-wacko” who “becomes the female equivalent of the vengeance-crazed Robert Mitchum in ‘Cape Fear’ or the robotic Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘The Terminator’.” A dramatic character who terrifies Michael Douglas’s character and family and thus we moviegoers in the process.

Related to her stellar performance, Howe went on to predict a slew of more “she-wacko” scripts for Close. Who knew she’d not only not go on to represent all kinds of screen “she-wackos” but would actually become the founder of Bring Change 2 Mind, a campaign against the type of mental illness stigma that has affected some of her own family members.

Feb 29

Bring Change 2 Mind: Combating Mental Health Stigma

Writing yesterday about the film Albert Nobbs, starring Glenn Close, reminded me of an important organization that she co-founded, Bring Change 2 Mind, that aims to combat stigma against mental illness.

From the Bring Change 2 Mind website, an explanation of mental health stigma: “Stigma is broadly defined as a collection of adverse and unfair beliefs. The stigma around mental health most often leads to the inaccurate and hurtful objectification of people as dangerous and incompetent.  The shame and isolation associated with stigma prevent people from seeking the help necessary to live healthy and full lives.”

Shown below is a moving PSA shot at Grand Central Station in 2009 on behalf of this organization’s efforts. It was created with the assistance of director Ron Howard and involves many volunteers representing various mental health issues. Among those featured are Close, her sister Jessie–who suffers from bipolar disorder–and their kids.

Apparently, Jessie wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder until the age of 47. During the process of seeking help for her then-teenage son, Calen, she finally learned what had been going on with her own brain chemistry much of her life. It turned out that her son, by the way, suffers from schizoaffective disorder, which is a type of mood disorder that also involves some loss of contact with reality. (Source: “On the Couch…With Jessie Close,” Dr. Deborah Serani.)

Below is a chilling second PSA:

Men often face the challenges of mental health stigma and thus are part of a targeted Bring Change 2 Mind campaign called #StrongerThanStigma. The website states that featured are four “inspirational male figures from professional sports leagues, television, and the music industry who have each made mental health advocacy a part of their platform.”

They are Brandon Marshall, pro footballer; Ben Scrivens, pro hockey goalie; Michael Angelakos, lead singer of Passion Pit; and Wayne Brady, actor and comedian. “Each man either lives with a mental health diagnosis or has chosen to serve as an empathetic advocate, and shares his story and encourages men to start the conversation and end the stigma.”

Feb 28

“Albert Nobbs” Raises Interesting Issues About Gender and Class

As the film Albert Nobbs only played in my area for about a minute before breezing merrily along, I haven’t yet had the chance to see it. So, for now, I’ll have to settle for reading about it.

Albert Nobbs has received two significant Women Film Critics Circle Awards. One is for the film itself, “for best exemplifying a woman’s place in history or society, and a courageous search for identity.” Its material comes from a 1982 theatrical adaptation of a novella (1918) by George Moore, an Irish writer.

The other award is for the film’s main star, Glenn Close, who had also been involved in the play, and who fought long and hard to bring this story to the screen. She won “Courage in Acting,” which is for “taking on unconventional roles that radically redefine the images of women on screen.”

In scanning the reviews, it sure wasn’t hard to find puns of a certain ilk. Keep in mind that we know early on that both Albert Nobbs and newfound friend Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) are women pretending to be men in order to have work and income. Peter Debruge, Variety:

Too bad the film is such a drag.

This frequent play on words speaks to both the women-wearing-men’s-clothing aspect and the idea that many viewers find the film to be slow and boring. Could that be due, at least in part, to what’s involved in having to characterize the effects of such lifelong repression? David Edelstein, New York Magazine, about Close’s Albert:

She’s the personification of fear—the fear of being seen through, seen for what she is.

Another frequent theme of Albert Nobbs: that the movie is ultimately unsatisfying in its answers—or lack thereof—to the big questions it raises. As stated by The Opinioness:

Albert Nobbs raises so many thought-provoking questions. Why is the male gender the more “desirable” gender in society? What does it say about a society where half its population has a mere two options for their lives? How can women take charge of their own lives amidst confining gender norms? And therein lies my problem with the film. It provides no conclusions, the answers remain elusive…

And, Dana Stevens, Slate:

Albert Nobbs is the portrait of a person with an inner life so inaccessible that even he or she no longer knows what’s going on in there…

the rare double drag king bill you could plausibly take your grandmother to. It’s genteel, well-crafted, mostly sexless and frequently dull—a movie that, like its title character, never quite dares to let itself discover what it really wants to be.

Well. I’m still hoping, despite its flaws, that I’ll actually get to see it in the theater someday. I’m also hoping that when I do, I’ll be able to echo the concluding views of The Opinioness:

The tragic story of Albert Nobbs lingered in my memory long after I left the theatre. Its exploration of female friendship, lesbian love, class and poverty, gender roles and a woman’s self-discovery, truly make it a rare gem.