2.28.2011

Madness

Crazy. Nutty. Wacko. Psycho. Freaky. Cuckoo.

I'm probably a hypocrite. I've used the words before, frequently to label myself. Usually in a self-deprecating way. But the last thing someone who's ill needs is to be belittled or insulted or, for that matter, labeled.

Anyone who uses these labels keeps the stigma of mental illness alive. I'm as guilty as the next person. I'm not pointing fingers. I'm reminding. I'm raising that red flag of awareness. Would you tease a cancer victim for being sick? Of course not. So why should this be any different?

I've heard and/or read each of those six negative, harmful words above in the last few days, all uttered to describe one person and his erratic, out-of-control behavior: actor Charlie Sheen.

He's gone on rants, often nonsensical and seemingly delusional. He claims he's cured himself of addiction. He brags about women. He bemoans how people are out to get him. His paranoia leads him to declare war on others. He insists he's fine and that everyone else is messed up.

I don't even know whether he has mental illness. But people who are well do not behave in this manner. And I've seen enough of the paranoia, the claimed invincibility, the addiction denials, the hypersexuality (one of his best pals these days is a porn star)...if he isn't exhibiting a raging case of bipolar disorder, then he should win an Oscar because he's putting on a damn convincing performance.

Someone says he's crazy or nutso or loco or you-fill-in-the-blank. I just keep thinking ... how sad. Others see him as a punch line. I keep thinking how this must be affecting his kids. Those behind the scenes at TMZ.com must be thinking they hit the mother lode. My gut clenches as I read the headlines and wonder how long before he physically hurts himself or someone else.

I'm no expert. But I have enough personal experience to say that when you're sick enough that you can't see that what you're doing and saying is hurtful and cruel and destructive, someone is going to have to intervene and help protect you from yourself. I hope he gets the help he needs. Before it's too late. If it isn't already.

"There is a particular kind of pain, elation, loneliness, and terror involved in this kind of madness. When you're high it's tremendous. The ideas and feelings are fast and frequent like shooting stars, and you follow them until you find better and brighter ones. Shyness goes, the right words and gestures are suddenly there, the power to captivate others a felt certainty. There are interests found in uninteresting people. Sensuality is pervasive and the desire to seduce and be seduced irresistible. Feelings of ease, intensity, power, well-being, financial omnipotence, and euphoria pervade one's marrow. But, somewhere, this changes. The fast ideas are far too fast, and there are far too many; overwhelming confusion replaces clarity. Memory goes. Humor and absorption on friends' faces are replaced by fear and concern. Everything previously moving with the grain is now against--you are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and enmeshed totally in the blackest caves of the mind. You never knew those caves were there. It will never end, for madness carves its own reality."
— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

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