Amanda Bynes’ mom, Lynn, was in the news late last week, blaming her daughter’s odd behavior on pot and insisting that there’s “no mental illness whatsoever.”
“Odd Behavior” Is an Understatement
By odd behavior, we’re talking about bizarre tweets and unflattering selfies as well as that time she accidentally drenched her dog in gasoline. Her propensity for candy-colored wigs, the cheek piercings and other questionable fashion choices have led to her being compared to Lindsay Lohan. Then there’ve been her legal problems: getting arrested for throwing a bong out a window and driving on a suspended license.
In May of last year, Bynes was hospitalized for severe mental illness and “schizophrenic tendencies.” The following September, she was moved to a Malibu rehab facility where sources claimed she was receiving “specialized psychological help.” Now, according to her mom, “[Amanda Bynes] has never been diagnosed as schizophrenic or bipolar.”
The marijuana was to blame.
Unjust Media Portrayals
Look, I understand a mom’s rush to defend her daughter. When the media diagnoses a celebrity as “crazy,” it’s rarely out of concern. More often, it’s because they’re making fun of the person. In April, just before her hospitalization, Gawker called Bynes “funny in a crazy sort of way” and proceeded to try and figure her out her behavior (but not seriously).
Women, in particular, are prone to be painted as “crazy.” Headlines about Bynes were not unlike those I remember being written about Amy Winehouse and Brittany Murphy just before their deaths, most of which—I’ve discovered upon writing this article—no longer exist. We all remember Amy Whinehouse being called crazy and bizarre as well as being ridiculed for her suffering performances and wasting body. Yet go to TMZ and those headlines are gone. Not long before her sudden death in 2013, Murphy was spoofed on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update.” That clip, too, has since been scrubbed from the internet. Guess it’s not so funny when they die.
There’s a Fine Line
Sometimes erratic behavior is the result of mental illness; sometimes, it’s alcohol or substance abuse. It’s hard to say. According to experts, it’s difficult if not impossible to get an accurate diagnosis of a mental illness when the person is also abusing alcohol or drugs.
Before I got sober in 2007, I struggled for years to figure out what was wrong. I suffered from erratic mood swings, trouble sleeping, intense depression and behavior that would definitely be labeled as “crazy”—desperate attempts to make myself feel better, including crazy spending sprees, risky sexual behavior and out-of-control drinking (which is, by the way, considered a symptom of some mental illnesses). During this time, I was diagnosed and medicated for bipolar disorder. For a while, I went with the diagnosis. But the medication didn’t help; in fact, it lowered my tolerance for alcohol, which only made my drinking worse. I became more and more desperate.
It wasn’t until something like two years after the initial diagnosis that I finally got honest about my drinking and accepted help. When I stopped drinking, my symptoms also stopped. Almost immediately, my mind began to clear. Life, including my feelings, became more and more manageable. A year or two sober, it became clear to the medical professionals I was working with as well as to myself that I wasn’t bipolar. Turns out I’m just your garden variety drunk.
I don’t know if Amanda Bynes is an addict or an alcoholic or if she has a mental illness or if it’s all of the above. But I do know that pointing our collective fingers at a train wreck does little to avert disaster. In fact, I’d argue that it makes the situation worse. An addict loves attention, even when it’s negative. Having to defending ourselves and create rationalizations only emboldens our denial. When it comes to mental illness, substance abuse and the two co-occurring, denial can be an incredibly complicated issue.
Compassion for Bynes
It’s frightening to admit you feel out of control. Symptoms such as depression and anxiety can be overwhelming. You feel helpless and hopeless and so you ignore the problem and hope it goes away. You feel ashamed. It took years for me to admit how dependent I was on alcohol and how much something as seemingly benign as alcohol affected my life. In my case, I preferred to think I was bipolar and take medication than admit I was an alcoholic.
Amanda Bynes might not know what’s wrong—nor might her lawyers, her doctors or her mom. According to Lynn, Bynes has “never had a history of abusing alcohol or hard drugs.” In interviews, Amanda herself has claimed she doesn’t drink and that she’s allergic to alcohol (eh yeah, me, too, Amanda—me, too). And so her mom blames it on pot. But dude, marijuana doesn’t make you behave erratically. It certainly can’t earn you a DUI.
I say we leave it to the professionals.
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