“Kill yourself!” “Kill yourself!”
That’s how the memoir “Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness” begins. The siblings are Jessie and Glenn Close. At first, my heart sank because my own memoir, with the working title, “The Suicide Gene,” is well underway, but relief came when I realized that her story, while in some ways similar, is vastly different.
The mental illness that runs in my family DNA, the kind that made my Uncle fatally shoot himself, a sibling slash both wrists and my wide array of suicide attempts is not the same as Jessie’s strand of genetics.
With me, the voice in my head was always my own. I was depressed and obsessed with the long, beckoning finger of a never-ending nap. When I experienced hallucinations — like writhing tarantulas and little green men in my room — they were drug-induced. Staying up three days on cocaine and alcohol with no food and lots of cigarettes can turn your mind into a Lewis Carroll-type ghetto.
But Jessie’s voice was “The Creature” that had “two burning red eyes” that terrified her. She used drugs and alcohol to silence that voice, but even after four years sober, The Creature remained.
In 2004, on the verge of offing herself at age 50, Jessie had the presence of mind to realize what that would do to her three children. So, Jessie turned to her big sister “Glennie” and confessed that she couldn’t stop thinking of suicide. Glenn’s loving guidance got Jessie admitted to Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital, where she received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder with psychotic features. McLean was familiar to Jessie, because her then-teenage son Calen had already spent two years there. He’d been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
In “Resilience,” Glenn wrote, “Thinking back, I realize that even though Jessie had tried to kill herself twice, and even though she seemed to have no control over her sexuality and gotten herself into an abusive relationship and was doing drugs to cope, in spite of all that, none of us ever thought that she might be suffering from a mental disorder.”
As was the case in my family, nobody spoke of mental illness in the Close households. “You would have thought that after Glenn starred in ‘Fatal Attraction,’ our family would have had a serious discussion about mental illness,” Jessie wrote. “Even Glenn didn’t see the connection between the crazed Alex Forrest character she’d portrayed and me.”
“Resilience” is filled with intriguing stories of closet skeletons like Jessie’s great-uncle Seymour Hyde, who made front-page news in The New York Times on Feb. 1, 1918. The headline read “Insane Lieutenant Kidnaps Four Men.” Hyde, who had inherited millions, had had a nervous breakdown. While pointing a gun, and a hot fireplace poker, Hyde demanded the kidnapped men dance for him until they collapsed. Two of the men managed to escape out a window and fled to police.
I, too, had a family member on a front page, but mine was only an art thief who squirreled away millions of dollars worth of stolen paintings and sculptures. He didn’t point a gun at anybody or threaten branding via fire poker. It’s still a colorful story, but I digress.
Like most people with mental illness, it took several trials of doctor-prescribed med “cocktails” and assorted treatments for Jessie (and me) to get to a good place. In 2009, Jessie turned to Glenn once more. This time it was to help find a way to eliminate the stigma that Jessie struggled with after her release from the mental hospital. Together, Glenn and Jessie formed the 501(c)(3) non-profit, Bring Change 2 Mind (BC2M), to open up a much-needed conversation about mental illness and to fight the stigma associated with it.
BC2M has grown every year. Its Facebook page has nearly 70,000 fans and, because of the Close sisters, people with all types of mental illness have been able to speak openly about it, share their stories and find the help they desperately needed.
Watch this BC2M PSA video:
The NFL’s Brandon Marshall teamed up with BC2M. Check out his video:
Dorri Olds is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.