Monday, December 13, 2010


As a child, I often wondered what attracted me to the arts. I remember filling pages upon pages of sketchbooks in the comfort of my solitude (well, alone my bedroom). I was often teased for listening to classical music starting at the age of 12 but didn't really care. Other times, I would beg my parents to take me to theatrical plays. It was evident that my wandering mind could not be tamed by TV or video games. Instead, I would conjure up some sort of script or variety show which my siblings to bring to life. And yes, I have been called WEIRD more times that I can count.

One task I always find difficult is trying to turn my mind OFF. To this day, I still have this intense need to create at ALL times (sewing, painting, directing, drawing, designing (interior/graphic/textile), the list goes on). Some may view creativity as a blessing but trust me, it can be a curse. If I sit for too long, I feel like I am a failure...unproductive. As soon as I saw a genetic link between mental illness and my family, I began to understand why my own mind would not rest.

While researching for a documentary, I have yet to finish, I discovered how many artists are haunted by the same genetic link to mental illness. I understand their need to release pain/creativity through various forms of art. As soon as my brother became ill and fear of the unknown was looming, I turned to art & design to make my mind calm again. You can see/hear the result here. David Bowie (one of my idols) has stated that there is a strong link to mental illness within his family. The following are a few facts to support this claim:

“David’s mother, Peggy, a former cinema usher, was more colorful. According to several reliable witnesses and institutional records, there was more than a streak of mental instability in her family. Bowie’s Aunt Una suffered from clinical depression and schizophrenia, underwent electric shock treatment and died in her late 30s. A second aunt, Vivienne, suffered a schizophrenic attack, and a third, Nora, was lobotomized in an effort to cure what her mother described as ‘bad nerves’.

Unfortunately, the family “condition”, as it was known, was again at work. In his mid-20s, Terry, David's half brother, was diagnosed as a manic depressive and schizophrenic, and was eventually institutionalized. One snowy morning in January 1985, he climbed over the wall of a psychiatric hospital in Surrey and walked to the nearby station, where he lay down on the track directly in the path of the oncoming London express train.

Terry was 47. David didn’t attend the funeral but sent a wreath of roses and a card which read: “You’ve seen more things than we could imagine but all these moments will be lost, like tears washed away by the rain. God bless you - David.”

Eight years later Bowie admitted: “It scared me. I felt my own mind was in question. I often wondered how near the line I was going - how far I should push myself.” Ziggy and the other characters, he explained, had been “alternative egos”, a form of madness through which he had meant to preserve his sanity. David Bowie never crossed the divide into mental illness. But he shared a number of the quirks shown by his maternal family. He would suddenly burst into tears, for example, and was said to have had a particularly active imagination. One family friend told me that, as a four or five-year-old, David had phoned to summon the local ambulance one night, and successfully persuaded the operator that he was “dying”.

That Bowie was conscious of his heritage seems obvious from the number of songs he wrote touching on lunacy or schizophrenia. Of the Oh! You Pretty Things lyrics, Bowie said: “I hadn’t been to an analyst - my parents went, my brothers and sisters and my aunts and uncles and cousins, they did that. They ended up in a much worse state. I thought I’d write my problems out.”

I am in no way trying to comparing my artistic talents to that of Bowie but think it is interesting how creativity may be genetically linked to mental illness. When it comes to the illness, I guess I will always wonder why statistics chose my brother instead of me. If I could take even part of this from him, I would.

Monday, December 6, 2010

NAMI's Monthly Stigma Buster alerted me of the following:

Fox Television's Emmy-winning musical comedy, Glee, stepped into stigma for its November 16 episode, entitled "The Substitute", which mocked and trivialized bipolar disorder--and included imaginary violence as humor.

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow, as substitute teacher Holly Holliday, played Mary Todd Lincoln- wife of Abraham Lincoln- as part of a history lesson. In the video link (above), the short scene begins at the 39:10 minute mark. The transcript and dialogue reads:
Holly Holliday is standing at the front of class room dressed in 19th century clothing, lecturing to a high school class.

Holly Holliday: Mary Todd Lincoln in the house! My husband was probably gay and I'm bipolar, which makes me yell things like [pointing to a teapot], 'That teapot is spreading lies about me! Or, that can't be my baby because I don't love it! [throws imaginary baby over shoulder]
Mr. Schuester knocks on the door and asks Holly Holliday to speak with him for a moment.
Holly Holliday: Guys, practice your bipolar rants. See, history can be fun!

Please contact Fox TV and the director of the episode to express disappointment with the scene. Mental illness is not a joke. Would the show have included a scene that played AIDS or cancer for laughs?

Glee has enormous power to influence young people who constitute much of the show's audience-and for whom suicide is the third-leading cause of death. Ask the show to make amends by producing episodes that deal with mental illness accurately and compassionately and include themes of recovery.

Fox TV: Email address for comments on shows
Ryan Murphy (Glee creator, director, writer): 
Ryan Murphy Productions 
5555 Melrose Ave 
Chevalier Bldg. 
Los Angeles, CA 90038 
Phone: 323-956-5000 
Fax: 323-862-2121

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


What should one think of a doctor who opts to treat his patients in front of America instead of in the privacy of his office? I wonder how a doctor could throw ethics and confidentiality out the window in order to increase ratings. Of course, I am talking about the now famous, Dr. Drew Pinsky.

I first heard about Dr. Drew while watching MTV's "Loveline" (the show began in 1983 but still airs on radio). Back in the 90's Dr. Drew used his expertise to answer questions from America's youth. These questions usually centered around relationships, sexuality, drug addiction, etc. I found the show to be interesting because complete strangers would divulge their personal issues for everyone to hear. I guess you could say it was the beginning of reality TV for me. However, it wasn't until "Celebrity Rehab" hit the air waves that I really began to pay attention.

"Celebrity Rehab" began around the time my brother was being immersed into a sea of his own psychiatrists, case managers, nurses, doctors, therapists, etc. I found myself watching because part of me wondered what it must be like for my brother to work on his own recovery one on one with a psychiatrist. But, the other part of me couldn't stop questioning Dr. Drew's motives for the show. Was he exploiting these celebrities to increase his own celebrity? Or was he really trying to show America that it was OK to seek treatment? Stigma is one of the main reasons why individuals will avoid treatment. The media has done a very good job of exploiting mental illness so it is only natural to deny that you may need professional help. In a way, I was glad that finally, someone was showing America first hand, that mental health should never be viewed as black and white. You can't just slap on a band aid and hope for the best. There are far too many layers for a doctor to pull away in order to deal with the root of a mental health issue.

The problem with our society is that we view mental illness as a weakness or flaw when in fact it takes lots of courage, many years of treatment and a deep personal discovery in order to reach recovery. At times, some of these real life situations are a matter of life and death. But it is good for those who are "unaware" to understand the severity of these cases. This will inspire understanding and empathy.

Dr. Drew recently said in an interview that people question his motives since the show falls under the category of "reality TV". In hind sight, he thinks he should have styled the show as a documentary. Maybe then, the "stigma" surrounding reality TV wouldn't cloud judgment or cause people to question his motives. These are small yet necessary steps towards acceptance. The more we discuss these issues the better we will become at combating exploitative media. Freedom of speech needs to be used as a tool to educate, not as a tool for the media to shove fear and horror down our throats. Just another reason why I won't watch the news. Always consumed with the negative. We must surround ourselves with positivity in order to inspire positivity.