Amanda Bynes is talented, and on the mend. She made it in Hollywood, and Hollywood is a rough town with an infinite number of filters to weed out the wannabe’s. Hollywood’s the place that calls out for product, though “pass” is the default button of choice. Everybody’s a genius until it comes time to sign the paper and pass the money. Then it’s a different story. Given all the activity out there, the lunches, the dinners, the parties and get-togethers, it’s amazing how few projects ever get to a theater or a flat screen TV. It’s amazing how few actors can make a living. Because it’s a tough town, tough room, and to break through the noise, to get past the tundra, to watch one’s name roll up the credits as the music plays, when the lights come up, when the crowds stretch and pick up their coats, is nothing short of a miracle – a miracle unlikely to happen at all if the person in question doesn’t have talent.
But Amanda Bynes has talent, and unfortunately she also has troubles. She’s 27, and she’s already been through one career, the career of the childhood star, and found herself standing somewhere in the middle of the “what next transition” when things spun out of control. She appeared in a courtroom wearing a strange wig and displayed an odd affect. Rumors and reports made the rounds. She was drunk, she was drugged out, she was dangerous, she was one more Hollywood person who got too much too soon and couldn’t handle getting older in a young person’s town. Maybe she’d seen the future and had fallen apart, given a future where the work might be regular, but less highly paid. Maybe her ego, which had been nurtured in the warm waters of long distance adulation, was incapable of venturing forth into lands populated by those less willing to get the star ready for her close-up.
All child stars have difficulties, from Jackie Cooper to Judy Garland, not to mention the horror stories from the Fifties (Rusty Hammer – suicide; Jay North – psychotic breaks,), not to mention the “Different Strokes” kids or Danny Partridge or Marcia Brady’s considerable, self-disclosed difficulties. One gets the impression that children, no matter how talented, aren’t sufficiently wired or insulated to endure all the good stress of stardom. To this day it’s difficult to watch clips of Michael Jackson when he was ten years old on the Ed Sullivan Show. He was brilliant, shining, charismatic, more a star than a boy, and then to think how the King of Pop ended up at 50, under covers, slurring his words, drugged, wasted, unable to sleep, unable to function, until he drifted away under whatever theory of malfeasance or negligence or wrongdoing.
So, then, it comes as good news to learn that Amanda Bynes is on the mend. She’s left the rehab hospital, has returned home, upbeat and positive about the future, healthy and getting healthier each day.
Amanda Bynes hospitalization allowed for a “time out” from the pressures and the ingestion of whatever anesthetic she’d chosen to self-medicate. Rehab is for mental illness, addictions and addicts where they can receive treatment. It’s for those who’ve fallen off the rails, because life’s storms have knocked them off their stroke, or because they’ve partied too hard for too long and have found themselves constitutionally incapable of leaving a party, any party, on time. But with the case of Amanda Bynes, the story runs a little deeper than the standard “drank too much,” “drugged too much” story line. In her case it appears that her problems are, in some ways, more serious than, though as treatable as addiction.
It appears from reports concerning her discharge that Amanda Bynes suffers from a mental illness that’s gotten top shelf billing in recent years. Once known as manic depression, now known as bipolar disorder, once stigmatized and kept hidden, the disease is marked with wild ups and devastating downs, impelling those so affected to flights of fancy and energized undertakings, only then to drop them like stones in devastating depressions that can drive an otherwise physically healthy person to a dark bedroom for days, weeks, months at a time.
On first impression Ms. Bynes’s appearance in court with the wig and nonascertainable competence to communicate gave the appearance of one more spoiled Hollywood casualty, over indulged, trading on her celebrity as some kind of defense against the authority of the court and the impertinence of the quotidian slog, i.e., day-to-day life. This writer judged her prematurely and was wrong. Anybody who judged her prematurely was wrong, especially since every person other than her treating physicians were in no position to know the existence and extent of some underlying pathology.
Almost thirty years ago a gifted psychiatrist wrote a book tracking the many forms of mental illness and incidents of suicide that plague the gifted and their families. The evidence showed that poets, musicians, writers, actors and visual artists are more likely to suffer from various forms of mental illness than the general population. Bipolar disorder (manic depression) appears to be the main culprit, followed by unipolar depression, and the consequences of both – alcoholism, drug dependency, antisocial behavior, imprisonment and/or suicide.
One hesitates to feed into the notion of the tortured artist, bleeding on his cloud, above it all, but demanding all. One hesitates to say that because artists are “special” and particularly prone to certain forms of mental disease, they should be indulged and allowed to get away with bad behavior consequent to their disease. And yet the data supports that artists are particularly vulnerable to mental illness, even that mental illness, itself, might be part and parcel of the creative process – the other worldly thing that happened when Handel penned the Messiah (bi-polar), when Hemingway wrote a story (depression, alcoholism, suicide), when Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby (bi-polar, alcoholism). Perhaps exchanging the word “different” for “special” will temper some of the stigma still attached to the notion of mental illness.
Advances in medicine and pharmacology have made depression an eminently treatable disease. Anti-depressants don’t always work, and perhaps they have been over-prescribed, but they have worked in a sufficient number of cases, and they have saved numerous lives. So, good luck and best wishes to Amanda Bynes. The stigma of mental illness is made more pale as she reenters the world, either to go to school or whatever else she decides. When a celebrity like Amanda Bynes lives out the sad drama others will live out in private, away from the questioning eyes of the public, the light celebrity brings to an issue such as this can be a great help in breaking down some of the assumptions, barriers, prejudices that stand between those saddled with an all but invisible and very misunderstood disease and those who’ve yet to appreciate the medical nature of the problem. Amanda Bynes is on the mend, and everyone’s better because of it.
By Michael Hogan