Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Charlie Sheen Dilemma

We've all been watching Charlie Sheen going through what seems to be a full-on bi-polar manic episode in the news - whether we want to or not.  (Full disclosure: I'm not his shrink, so I have no right to officially diagnose him, and am not claiming to - just taking an educated guess.)

from the Santa Monica NAMI walk in Oct 2010 offers much help & support to
those with mental illness and their loved ones.
I do have a beloved niece who's bi-polar, and many of the behaviors he's exhibiting: the expressions of feeling great, the hyper-activity, the weird nonsensical rhyming (Vatican assassins, anyone?) the long rambling sentences that almost sound logical... they're all too painfully familiar.  My family has been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

Even a layperson can conclude that, at least right now, this bright, talented man is many sandwiches short of a picnic (or in Charlie's case, several hookers short of a brothel.  Then again, maybe in his case...)

What many people don't realize is how limited the options a family has when somebody they love "goes Charlie Sheen."  You can't  "have somebody locked up" involuntarily unless they are an imminent physical danger to themselves or another person - and then, only temporarily.

"Somebody should stop him" is something I've heard.  How?  Football tackle?  Tranquilizer darts?  I would wager that every member of his family, his friends, lawyers and agents have, at one time or another, tried to "talk him down" but somebody who is manic isn't listening to anything but that voice in their head.

According to the letter from Warner Bros:  
 At the outset, let us state the obvious.  Your client has been engaged in dangerously self-destructive conduct and appears to be very ill.  For months before the suspension of production, Mr. Sheen's erratic behavior escalated while his condition deteriorated.  His declining condition undermined the production in numerous and significant ways.  Now, the entire world knows Mr. Sheen's condition from his alarming outbursts over just the last few weeks.  Warner Bros., CBS, and Chuck Lorre have done everything within their powers to get Mr. Sheen the help he so badly and obviously needs - entreating his family and representatives; visiting him at home; offering to rearrange production schedules to accommodate his treatment; and even making an airplane available to take him to a rehabilitation clinic before he reneged on his commitment to enter such a facility.
My beautiful, courageous bi-polar niece is struggling on the best she can, without insurance coverage (she's already consumed her lifetime cap), and certainly without an airplane standing by to take her to a top-notch treatment facility.  She'd have boarded one in a minute, she is battling this thing so desperately hard.

But even if there is all that available, if money is not an object, even if everyone in the family is saying, "Dude, you need help," there is only so much anyone outside the mentally ill person can do.  Sometimes they simply refuse to get help - and you can't make them.  You can beg, plead, reason with them, make ultimatums, bargains - but in the end, a person who has distorted thinking may or may not accept that there is anything wrong with him or her.  Sadly, my OCPD ex-b-f did not.

Usually, the illness is at least partially concealed in public, except in the most egregious of circumstances.  People outside the family don't normally see how, well, crazy, it can get in the home.  I'm not just talking about Bi-Polar Disorder, but Narcissism, Borderline, and yes, Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. 

Mind you, it's not all tiger blood, machetes and Crazy Rules.  Sometimes the symptoms are just - a little bit bad.  Quirky.  Kind of like a roller coaster; not every hill is the hugundous drop.  Sometimes there are long periods of time when life feels... relatively normal, and everyone hopes whatever was happening in the brain of the unstable person has finally sorted itself out.

Then there's another big drop, and you realize, buckle your seatbelts and pull down the safety bar, here we go again. 

Self-medicating, whether it's with cocaine, alcohol, Ecstacy, or other drugs, doesn't help - but it's important to understand, the drugs aren't usually causing the mental illness.  Sometimes they do, indeed, help the person feel and act more normally.  Other times, they exacerbate the problem and the erratic behavior. 

Mental illness may be partially caused by chemical or hormonal imbalances in the brain, and prescribed medications often help.  But adjusting the dosages, so that the person feels functional and isn't a virtual zombie or sleeping twenty hours a day, and there aren't horrific side effects, is a big challenge to medical professionals.  Certain drugs work beautifully for some people, and have zero effect on others, or over time, the beneficial effects wear off.  Needless to say, it's no fun to the mentally ill person who feels like a guinea pig, either.

If you don't have mental illness in your family (that you know of,) don't get too smug about your good genes, because often it occurs later in life.  What you can do to help, now: 
  • Be kind to everyone you can, especially if you know a friend or loved one is dealing with mental illness in the family.
  • Ask said friend or loved one what you can do to help.  Maybe you can't "make someone well," but maybe you could help with transportation issues for their school-age kids, or help them with homework, or gather and organize papers for their tax return...
  • I won't ask you not to laugh at the Charlie Sheens out there - when somebody is out in public proclaiming, "I'm an F-18, baby," you gotta laugh.  I laughed.  But when you're done laughing, be aware of how awful it is for the family and friends who are dealing with this behind closed doors.  Trust me, it's not all charm and hilarity.
  • Support NAMI and other programs, laws, and state and federal budgets that offer funding, education and support for the mentally ill.  In the 1980's the USA closed many facilities to treat the mentally ill - budget reasons, you know.  So, guess where many end up - in jail, at costs far exceeding those of the original facilities.  We've been penny-wise and pound-foolish.
  • Be aware of the stigma about mental illness, and work to speak more respectfully and mindfully about it.  People are well-aware that society thinks less of those with mental illness, and so, they hesitate to get treatment when symptoms are only beginning (and could most effectively be treated.)

I'm hoping that the one bright side to Charlie Sheen's public meltdown and weird pronouncements in so many recorded venues is, when he comes down, he will realize he really was "out there" and commit himself to a real, long-term treatment facility.

Even if he is a "rock star from Mars."

Your thoughts?