Art Buchwald wrote the following as an introduction to a fantastic article in “Psychology Today” (Nov, 1999) called “Celebrity Meltdown: Famous, Important People Who Have Suffered Depression.”
“I had two depressions, one in 1963 and the other in 1987–the first clinical depression, the second manic depression. One of my major fears during my depression was that I would lose my sense of humor and wind up in advertising. I was hospitalized because I was suicidal, but I wouldn’t have followed through anyway because I was afraid I wouldn’t make the New York Times obituary page. I was fearful that Gen. De Gaulle would die on the same day, and no one would recognize my passing. But I still thought about it constantly.
My wife knew I was in this state, and on a visit to my hospital bed, she surreptitiously placed a photograph of my three children on the nightstand. When I saw it, I realized I would be hurting them more than myself.
In the early ’90s, I went on Larry King Live with Mike Wallace and Kay Jamison to discuss depression. I wasn’t sure I should do it because I didn’t want to become a poster boy for mental health. But I did. As it turned out, the show had the most viewer reaction of any Larry King show.
There were more depressed people in America than anyone guessed. Celebrities can play a role in helping depressed people: When Bill Styron or Mike Wallace admit they struggled with depression, sufferers say, “If they can have one, then I guess so can I.” Styron, for one, is a role model for me.
Mike, Bill and I suffered from depression at the same time; the only difference among the three of us being that Mike and I suffered–and Bill made a million dollars.
All kidding aside, the message is simple. You do get over depressions. More important, you are a better person for having had one. I seemed to wipe out many of my skeletons in a short period of time and discard many fears that had bugged me before. You become more sensitive and kind. In my case it was so.
I agreed to write this introduction because talking about depression seems to help me as much as the people I am talking to. I wouldn’t want another depression in a million years but I have made peace with the two I have had.”
We’re in good company! Here’s just a preliminary list of famous people who have struggled with mental disorders. Even more are found in the same “Psychology Today” article for which Art Buchwald wrote an introduction.
Barbara Bush * Former First Lady
Gamet Coleman * Texas legislator H
Kitty Dukakis * Former First Lady of Massachusetts H
Thomas Eagleton * Lawyer, former U.S. Senator H
Lynn Rivers * U.S. Congresswoman
Sol Wachtler * Judge H
Phil Graham * Owner of the Washington Post
Abble Hoffman * Writer and political activist S
Robert McFarlane * Former National
Security Adviser SA, H
Ilie Natase * Tennis player and politician
Jimmie Piersall * Baseball player and announcer
Muffin Spencer Devlin * Pro golfer H
Bert Yancey * Pro golfer H, SA
Buzz Aldrin * Astronaut, second man to walk on the Moon H
Karl Paul Link * Chemist
Steven Hawking * Physicist, developed the Big Bang creation theory
Salvador Luria * Scientist of bacterial genetics, Nobel Laureate
Francis Ford Coppola * Director of The Godfather
Patty Duke * Actor on The Patty Duke Show SA
Linda Hamilton * Actor from The Terminator movies
Alvin Ailey * Dancer and choreographer
Dick Clark * Host of New Year’s Rockin’ Eve
Drew Barrymore * Movie actor and director SA, H
William Faulkner * “The Sound and the Fury” H
F. Scott Fitzgerald * “The Great Gatsby” H
Ernest Hemingway * “The Old Man and the Sea” H, S
Joseph Conrad * “Heart of Darkness” SA
Eugene O’Neill * “The Iceman Cometh” H, SA
Tennessee Williams * “A Streetcar Named Desire” H
Virginia Woolf * “A Room of One’s Own” H, S
Jules Feiffer * cartoonist for the New Yorker and the Village Voice
Irving Berlin * “White Christmas” and “God Bless America”
Cole Porter * “Anything Goes”
Hector Berlioz * “Symphonie Fantastique”
Kurt Cobain * Former musician for the band Nirvana S
Sting * Formerly of The Police and now a solo performer
Tam Waits * Experimental, progressive musician
Brian Wilson * Former member of the Beach Boys
Axl Rose * Singer for rock band Guns n’ Roses
Ray Charles * Legendary R&B performer
Eric Clapton * Blues-rock musician H
Sheryl Crow * Rock musician
Sarah McLachlan * Pop singer and creator of Lilith Fair
Robert Schumann * German classical composer H, SA
T.S. Eliot * “The Wasteland”
Sylvia Plath * “The Bell Jar” S
Edgar Allen Poe * “The Raven” SA
Anne Sexton * “Live or Die” S
Walt Whitman * “Leaves of Grass” H, S
Vincent Van Gogh * Starry Night, Sunflowers H, S
Michelangelo * Renaissance painter of the Sistine Chapel ceiling and sculptor of David
Edvard Munch * The Scream H
Mark Rothko * Modern, color-block painting pioneer S
In her introduction to “Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament,” psychologist and writer Kay Redfield Jamison writes this:
“‘We of the craft are all crazy’ remarked Lord Byron about himself and his fellow poets. ‘Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched….’ The fiery aspects of thought and feeling that initially compel the artistic voyage–fierce energy, high mood, and quick intelligence; a sense of the visionary and the grand; a restless and feverish temperament–commonly carry with them the capacity for vastly darker moods, grimmer energies, and, occasionally, bouts of “madness.” These opposite moods and energies, often interlaced, can appear to the world as mercurial, intemperate, volatile, brooding, troubled, or stormy. In short, they form the common view of the artistic temperament, and they also form the basis of the manic-depressive temperament. Poetic or artistic genius, when infused with these fitful and inconstant moods, can become a powerful crucible for imagination and experience.”
Her book is a fascinating glimpse into the psyches of some of the world’s most renowned artists and literary figures, and an overview of the biographical and scientific evidence for a relationship between manic depression and artistic creativity (Jamison writes that “recent research strongly suggests that, compared with the general population, writers and artists show a vastly disproportionate rate of manic-depressive or depressive illnesses”).
I always knew that a person had to be without disabilities to work (I’m self-employed) or have health-insurance coverage (I’m on Eric’s company plan). But I was reminded today–while renewing my driver’s license–that you also need to be perfect in order to drive.
“Do you have any physical or mental disabilities that could interfere with your operation of a vehicle?” asked the nice bureaucrat at the MVA station.
I immediately flashed back to the morning I smashed into my neighbor’s Land Cruiser on my way to the outpatient program, that afternoon I drove over the sidewalk because my shaking hands (a panic attack) couldn’t hold the wheel, and that night I was crying so hard (with the kids in the backseat) that I didn’t see the car in front of me slam on its brakes.
“Nope,” I replied to my MVA friend, as confident as ever.
I lie so often regarding my mental illness that I sometimes forget the real story.
I recently fibbed on a job application. Would my prospective employer really let a crazy lady tutor the impressionable young? And I took it a step further. I pleaded with all of my references to lie, too–to “forget about” that recent trip of mine to the psych ward.
“For all you know,” I instructed them, “I’m a perfectly normal, capable person with no mental baggage.” (Ha!)
Regarding my half-truth today, I don’t know how the cops ensure that no panic attack happens on the road. I suppose they could randomly pull over cars for psychiatric evaluations (“Who is the president of the United States?”) like the alcohol testing stations set up on New Year’s Eve. If I start to cry or shake at a red light, a policeman might handcuff me and send me back to the OT (occupational therapy–but having nothing to do with employment) room, where I painted a birdhouse with my fellow inmates as our meds kicked in.
But come on. If I were completely candid, I’d never be allowed out of my house.
Until the government and health-care insurance companies and bureaucracies of every kind swap their discrimination against the mentally ill for a well-informed and nuanced understanding of mental health, I am stuck with no option but to lie, lie, lie.