Saturday, March 28, 2015

Resilience: Two Sisters, Mental Illness, A Trust Fun and Quite the Ride

Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness is a memoir written by Jessie Close with journalist/advocate Pete Earley, plus a few 'chime in' chapters written by Jessie's actress sister, Glenn Close.  

So let's start with family history.  It's a good place to start and we learn that the Close sisters come from a line of those who were rich, famous and colorful -- ancestors with names like E.F. Hutton and C.W. Post.  Not to mention great-uncle Seymour who thought he was a German spy then took hostages at gunpoint and had his chauffeur drive them home.  

Close describes a happy childhood living on her grandparents' estate in Greenwich while her father remained in Manhattan for his surgery residency.  Happy, until her parents joined the Moral Re-Armament or MRA, a religious cult.  From there, the family began to fracture.  First, it was just the parents who left and MRA nannies raised the children,  but then the family moved to MRA-run estates in New York, then Switzerland, and finally Jessie -- the designated problem child-- joined her parents in Africa.  She describes a lonely, chaotic childhood marred by anxiety and abandonment. 

From here I'll avoid plot spoilers and just tell you that what follows is a story of sex (and more sex), drugs, alcohol, as well as some rock & roll with much of the compulsive energy being explained by either mania or depression.  There are five marriages and three children, countless houses, cars, and dogs,  and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder along the way.  Jessie eventually lands in a place where she is more comfortable, balanced, and in control of her emotions and behavior. 

Psychic peace, in this case, comes at a price.  Recovery is not a smooth road for Jessie and in giving up her mood swings, my sense was that Jessie lost a part of herself.  So if you worried that this would be a placating story of how psychiatry is all good, rest assured that the author has her share of rare adverse reactions to psychotropic medications, not to mention a struggle with medication-induced weight gain which she minimizes.  In the end, she finds solace in her own company -- something she seemed to find unbearable before -- and decides that she needs to forsake romantic relationships.  These tradeoffs are those a person will  make only when their pain is unbearable.  

The bottom line on the memoir: two thumbs up.  The book is a quick read as Jessie Close pulls you on to her roller coaster ride of a life with severe, unremitting mood swings.   


Unknown said...

Thanks for the recommendation. This will have to go on my reading list. When I'm on my medication or riding the crest of a wave in my personal life, sometimes it's hard to ever remember that I was ill or had bad days, weeks, and months. I start to tell myself that my mood disorder isn't something that needs to be managed. But it doesn't take much to make the bottom drop out.

It's remarkable to me how similar "all of us" are. "a lonely, chaotic childhood marred by anxiety and abandonment." Check.

I am healthier than I have been in years, but at almost 33, sometimes I feel like I've lost the best of my life to anxiety and depression. I can find myself wondering if I'd have been different if I'd not had the childhood I did.

Still, I'm hoping I can still lead a satisfying and productive life where I can love and be loved. Stories like this give me a little hope that I can get there yet.

EastCoaster said...

Plus, there's the bit about dealing with her son Calen's psychotic illness.

I was actually thinking about this book when you did your post on voluntary and involuntary hospitalizations.

Calen was hospitalized at McLean even though Jessie lived out west. I think that it was at the Pavilion which is a private self-pay facility. Discreet. They take no insurance. Around 8 years ago I heard that it was $40,000 cash per week. And a patient would be there for some weeks. My impression has been that rich people (and I mean rich, not UMC) with the money to self finance their care can voluntarily admit themselves.

(Please don't think that I'm trying to minimize the Close family suffering. Although it was handy when Glenn was able to call Ted Kennedy to expedite a passport for Jessie's ex-husband.)