Posts Tagged 'shame'

Thank You Henry Rollins for Your Offensive Comments About Depression and Suicide

Unknown(Reprinted from the Huffington Post)

This summer, Punk Rock icon, actor and writer Henry Rollins wrote a controversial opinion piece entitled ‘Fuck Suicide’ for the L.A.Weekly in which he viciously criticized those who commit suicide, including Robin Williams, who killed himself after a long battle with depression. “How in the hell could you possibly do that to your children?” Rollins wrote. “When someone negates their existence, they cancel themselves out in my mind. I have many records, books and films featuring people who have taken their own lives, and I regard them all with a bit of disdain.”

The article was shared 32,000 times on Facebook, and enraged thousands of readers who believed Rollin’s words showed a complete lack of respect for Williams and his grieving family. News outlets including the NY Daily News, Rolling Stone Magazine, Detroit Free Press, Washington Post, The Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald also reported on the backlash. But he wasn’t the only public figure to comment negatively about suicide and those suffering from mental illnesses. The KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons sparked outrage after saying he is “the guy who says ‘Jump’ to those who are suicidal.

Simmons then went on to imply that people with suicidal tendencies were attention seekers. He remarked “Shut the f**k up, have some dignity and jump.”  In response, several radio stations, including Power97 and BobFM in Canada declared that they will no longer play KISS music, as did leading Australian station Triple M – which owns five metropolitan stations across the country. After the fallout, Simmons also deleted his Twitter account to which he previously posted daily. Finally, last week So You Think You Can Dance judge and executive producer Nigel Lythgoe announced on the show that “committing suicide is both stupid and selfish.”

As much as I loathe all of these insensitive and offensive comments I am grateful that they have opened up an international dialog that is rarely that covered in our media and news outlets. However, amid the clamor, I believe that these public figures articulated some very real and strongly held beliefs that those who commit suicide and struggle with mental illness are weak, selfish and lack courage. That they should “pull themselves up by their boot straps” and “just snap out of it.” And that they don’t deserve our sympathy because “they did it to themselves.” I know that these horribly misguided comments are made over dinner tables, during happy hour and into cell phones because I have heard them. Most mental health professionals would agree that suicide is too often a result of mental illness.

There’s no “stupidity” involved when a disabling illness drives a person to take his or her own life.  The shame and stigma stat stem from these commonly held messages can cause a great deal of damage. Bruce Levin, psychologist and author of several books including  Surviving America’s Depression  wrote that people with mental illnesses “do not need positive-thinking or condescending advice, which assumes inaction stems from ignorance, creates only more pain. Instead, people need compassion, love, and various kinds of support.” In todays culture we hold our celebrities as up as role models, emulating their taste in clothes, music, homes, political causes, art, cars, food, reading material, and lifestyles. Their opinions are regarded by many to be the gold standard regardless of how ridiculous, misinformed or irresponsible they may be. These celebrities do not only echo public sentiment, they create it. Just consider Kim Kardashian and her empire.

However, most telling was how these three celebrities chose to respond to the public outcry against their insensitive remarks. Nigel Lithgoe took to Twitter and in three posts refused to apologize. He continued to blame the victims by saying, “I will not even begin to defend my feelings toward suicide. The belief that life is not worth living is wrong. Because a mentally ill person is incapable of judgement does not make the act of suicide any less stupid or selfish.” He also admitted that he has lost two people to suicide and perhaps his experience has impacted his misguided beliefs. It’s not for me to make this assumption. Rock star Gene Simmons has expressed regret in a Facebook message

“I was wrong and in the spur of the moment made remarks that in hindsight were made without regard for those who truly suffer the struggles of depression.” However, it was Henry Rollins’ reaction which surprised me the most. In addition to apologizing he also pledged to educate himself on the topic. After his original article, Rollin’s penned a follow-up titled, “More thoughts on suicide,” in which he took responsibility and thanked the people who sent responses.

“I appreciate them all because they were written with complete sincerity, even if some had only two words, the second being “you.” . . . I said there are some things I obviously don’t get. So I would like to thank you for taking the time to let me know where you’re coming from. None of it was lost upon me.” But then Rollins shared his own struggles with depression. “There have been some truly awful stretches, as I am sure there have been for anyone who deals with depression, that have at times rendered me almost paralytic.” Rollins wrote. It may seem appalling that he would make these derogatory remarks after suffering from depression himself. However, a research paper in the US National Library of Medicine entitled “Stigma as a Barrier to Recovery” noted the stigma may be so pervasive that “persons with mental illness may begin to accept these notions and internalize these stigmatizing attitudes and beliefs that are widely endorsed within society”.

Perhaps this was the case with Rollins but it wouldn’t be fair for me to make that conjecture. Rollins concluded with a message of regret and a commitment to learn from this experience: “I have no love for a fixed position on most things. I am always eager to learn something. I promise that I will dig in and educate myself on this and do my best to evolve. Again, thank you.” To be sure, there are many who believe that these all are just insincere apologies by celebrities who are interested only in protecting their image and endorsements. I do not know if Simmons or Rollins are being genuine. I hope so because people can change. I know it, in fact because I have.

It shames me now to admit that I once held similar misguided opinions about mental illness but this was before I got a Masters degree in counseling, before I worked with students in crisis at Northern Illinois University, Illinois State University and UCLA and before I lived with a decade-long diagnosis of major chronic depression. In other words I got educated, I learned and I changed. The concept that mental illness is a disease which twists reality and affects the way one thinks, perceives and remembers is one that is not often discussed. Blame towards the victim and a lack of understanding is what keeps so many alone with their secrets.

The World Health Organization estimates that one in four people will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives. That is too many people who must bear the stigma and the judgement of the ill-informed. I am proud of the mental health community and media outlets who stood to be counted by taking these public figures to task. As a result damaging misconceptions were exposed and more importantly relevant information about mental illness and suicide was shared with the public at large. The  good news is that a more open conversation about suicide and depression may be on the horizon in this country, as the indie film, “Skeleton Twins,” a movie with suicide and suicide attempts at the core of the story, won big audiences in its debut weekend in movie theaters across the country. It is my hope that more people will get educated, learn and change.

Into The Blue

Blue

Into The Blue
I flip the car visor to apply a slicker of raspberry. I’m so exhausted that I look like phlegm. But phlegm who’s wearing lipstick because everybody knows that lipstick can disguise anything. You never see any of those actors who play sick characters wearing it, not even if they are Angelina Jolie. It’s early and slippery outside, one of those days in Chicago when the fog feels like a permanent guest on the road. I move at a glacial pace. Sometimes one depression hour feels like a dog year.

Me, in another psychiatrists’s office. I keep my eyes to the floor like the guilty one on Law and Order. I am shamed. This is my Roswell 54. I’ve always prided myself on being a “happy, optimistic and motivated person.” I’ve even bragged about it but out of nowhere Depression just crept in through a basement window and I found him sitting there with his feet up on my nice, new mushroom colored couch and he decided to stay.

I took my first 2 pills. They were melon colored and shaped like kites and I felt like a teenaged girl waiting for her boyfriend to change his Facebook status to “In A relationship” because I wanted those meds to work and work fast. They didn’t. I tell no one about the black sinkhole except for Dan, my good and kind husband who guards the secret like it’s a magician’s trick. We both know that crazy and unstable does not get hired, does not get invited to fabulous parties. We both know that all crazy and unstable gets is judged.

Meds are added, taken away, tweaked and tweaked again. There are pretty little yellow pills, rainbow capsules and ones that look like teensy hotdogs. Another one make me feel l’m on a tilt a whirl and I throw up for 24 hours straight. Some work a little, some not. I don’t know. My brain skates the edge of winter-gray and presses at my brain.

1

INTO THE BLUE Arlene Malinowski

And then I just stop. Mail and magazines are left unread. Clothes with zippers and buttons and proper fit sit in the closet. The TV flickers like ghosts in the night. Phone calls roll into voicemail. The bed becomes both my shroud and sanctuary. I look into the mirror of the medicine cabinet. I’ve become invisible-even to myself. I wonder when is it time to find a new doctor? Until one day she says kindly; “I think we should wait to see if this lifts. Your body’s been through a lot. I don’t know what else we should try right now.” Six weeks later she moves away to a city that’s warm and sunny.

How are you? the question comes automatically from the mouths of others. “Fine, I’m just fine” I reply smiling, pink bubbly. A dozen years of acting classes, money well spent. In my soul, I dream about Sylvia Plath and Bell Jarring. I curse my electric oven. And then Dan does the unthinkable and betrays me. I hear him in the other room on the phone, “She’s clinically depressed. It’s bad. We need to get her into see someone now.” I panic, “What are you doing? I was just having a bad moment.” He holds me, “I had to tell someone. I’m scared for you”

My head is spinning lurid purple. “Don’t you understand they’re going to tell everyone!” He doesn’t listen. There are phone calls to brothers and friends and colleagues and I’m in, right away with a guy who is not taking new patients. They say he’s a rockstar but I don’t care. Now the whole family knows. Screw them.

I look around the waiting room. I feel like I’m sitting in the middle of a pharmaceutical Burning Man. The patients rock and mutter and sweat and tremble and stare glassy eyed and get up for cups and cups and cups of water. These are the last chance people and I am one of them. There is a place in your mind that is so far down you don’t see color. That’s where I am.

We wait for 2 hours and when we finally get into his office it looks like a bomb hit it. There is stuff everywhere, it feels like the inside of my brain. He looks nice, like the kind of guy that you should have gone out with in college instead of chasing the bad boys who would make out with you at a party and then dump you for a girl named April- at the same party. I hand him the history that Dan so meticulously kept and I tell him the dark side of calm. “The gnawing at my brain is relentless. I can’t do it anymore. I want go to sleep and never wake up again.”
Dr Last Chance leans in, connects with me my eyes and says in a low quiet voice;

“I know you’re in pain but you need to know that we have lots of options to try.” and then starts naming off lists of drugs and drug combinations. When we are leaving I throw my arms around him and hug him hard and he hugs me back.

Hope is a great gift- maybe the best of all gifts and that’s what he gave me. I slowly start to come out of it. Depression like mine doesn’t just go away, it leaves quietly and surreptitiously like the honey colored light at dusk but word about my break down spreads quickly and at full tilt. I am humiliated beet red but the most unexpected things happen. A funny card shows up in the mailbox. A hand reaches out. The kind opportunity to teach a class if I felt up to it is offered. And people whisper to me “Me too! I have it too” and I wonder “why didn’t I know this about you? Why didn’t we know this about each other? It would have made everything so much easier.” But these timid, tentative and big-hearted acts of care surround me. I swallow my fear and I recognize that loosening the shame and releasing the secret into the blue- saves me.

NOTE: My one-woman show  “A Little Bit Not Normal”  A serious comedy about depression-  Spring 2014.  This Blog, the show, talkback sessions, community writing workshops, articles in Huff Po, publications & the book- is part of my initiative to become part of the national conversation around mental  Illness.  Kickstarter will be launched later this year.  I hope you’ll join me- because its 1 in 4 of us suffer sometime in our lives- and much of that time it is in silence.