Ampersand

What “Call Me Crazy’” told me about myself

In light of actress, director and screenwriter Anne Heche’s death, her 2001 memoir “Call Me Crazy” remains an unfortunate token of today’s mental health conversation.

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It’s too late for me to tell Anne Heche that I love her. I love anyone like her, really. Sometimes that means I love myself.

In her book “Call Me Crazy,” Heche describes the precipice of her “insanity” at the time. After her breakup with Ellen Degeneres in 2001, she took ecstasy and sped off to Las Vegas. The exact motivations of this trip and its aftermath are lost between the PR message delivered by her team (she was driving to a music festival when she became overcome by heat exhaustion) and her recollection (she took the pill in order to join a spaceship’s excursion to heaven in pursuit of love). Whatever the reason, she was found days later nearly nude muttering nonsense at a suburban home. She blames Celestia, her alternate personality, for the bulk of her intense episodes but admits to a certain extent that Celestia’s existence was a requisite in surviving the world of abuse that she was raised in.

She also recalled a moment when filming “Donnie Brasco” where holes began appearing on her hands and feet — stigmata. The hallucinations would lead her to believe that she was the next vessel for immaculate conception. In the time since this book was published, Heche remained relatively silent. Then, on August 5, 2022, she drove her car into a home in Mar Vista, Los Angeles. She was topless when pulled out of the fiery wreck 45 minutes later. These are the kinds of experiences that don’t fit along with the acceptable aesthetic of mental health issues.

In “Call Me Crazy,” Heche doesn’t sound ashamed of her abnormal disposition. I can identify with that, I’ve commonly embraced my mental health issues and I use them as a sort of inspiration for my work. Now, however, one of us is dead.

I appreciated the common decency offered by the entertainment media industry following her death. It was one of the first times I noticed real progress in the movement to destigmatize mental health issues. Still, nobody wanted to talk about it. That is how it goes with mental health in my own experience. Even your most supportive confidantes struggle to say anything (please say anything) when faced by the system of “logic” that guides their loved ones.

In my queer baby era, I was excited to find out that Portia de Rossi was gay. A new season of “Arrested Development” had dropped, and I reveled in my “developments” about her. My research led me to a YouTube video detailing the love life of her wife Ellen DeGeneres (2013 was a difficult time for representation). It was there when I first heard the name Anne Heche and the last time I would until her death.

In “Call Me Crazy,” Heche describes her journey in “getting the crazy out.” It haunted me the most out of everything I learned about her. I’ve spent years wondering when it will end — when I have finally done enough, achieved enough, and reached a level of security in life to protect me from myself. I shared the impression that you could someday be okay. This ending to Heche’s life serves as a stark reminder that okay doesn’t exist. It makes me wonder whether the craziness is only able to be staved off for as long as my daughter really needs me and that my life is just a wave of emotion that I’ll float on until it all becomes too much.

Having hopefully frontloaded my trauma into the first quarter of my existence, the fear that some random inconvenience or loss in my life will break me terrifies me daily. I’ve grown more and more weary in the past year having watched the few cultural figures I have who represent more severe mental illness be pummeled by the world.

Most recently there was Gabbie Hanna, a YouTube celebrity whose public mental health crises have been on my radar for years. She danced around her home in her bright red sports bra and matching yoga pants as she unknowingly documented her own delusions in a manic haze. At one point, she was God. A stranger watched, located her home and directed himself there in order to “help.” Posting it all to TikTok, he (under false pretenses) gained entry from the vulnerable Hanna. People advocating for Hanna and railing against the violation weren’t rare, but they were lost in a sea of people more interested in seeing where the show would go. This situation was exemplary of the typical reaction to laugh at mental health crises that are exhibited through erratic behavior.

Everyone railed against the inhumane conservatorship of Britney Spears, but, again, there is little conversation about the help that she does need. Since the walls protecting her sanitized image have come down, we have borne witness to a disappointing truth. Spears is not okay. Because of the trauma she faced being infantilized for decades by her father, Spears refuses to address any mental health issues. The result has been further self-isolation from her loved ones and complete opposition to any meaningful psychiatric help. This is a problem that I have with my own upbringing.

I was somewhat coddled as a result of my painful childhood. For years my quirks would not be addressed, but excused as a result of my poor mental health. Sheltered, too, because my feelings and life were too complicated for my peers. Soon after I fled the nest, I entered into an abusive relationship that further prevented me from gathering life experience through isolation. I don’t know how to be in a healthy relationship, I don’t know how to take care of myself, I don’t know how to manage my life — basic things required to be a functioning adult.

We are vulnerable to parasocial relationships, especially with the internet at our hands, but the worry that we are overstepping has completely inhibited our ability to call a spade a spade. We’re recovering from an era that lasted until the 1967 where lobotomies were handed out to so-called crazed or hysteric women like candy, but there must be some balance between locking up the people that we don’t want to deal with and letting them exist freely without any sense of structure or stability. So far goes the empathy for someone’s hardships that it turns into neglect.

Where does that leave us? Where does that leave me?

As far as I can see, I am doomed to continue suffering from my disease in increasingly public ways until I die. That’s what will happen until mental health issues, and bipolar disorder specifically, aren’t destigmatized. People like us need to be free to admit if our emotions are getting ugly again. Not thrown into a (likely poorly run) psych ward or put on a completely numbing medication. Not everyone has access to those options and it appears as though even those who do are not able to receive proper help.

During the worst time in my life, I faced hospitalization after hospitalization. I was put on medications that would put me to sleep for most of the day and leave me groggy for the rest. I was also the most isolated that I had ever been from my close ones. They didn’t understand and I was afraid of scaring them, but in my haze I never thought that waiting on calls from the hospital caused more anxiety. I was just as afraid to talk about what I knew everyone saw as they were by what they were seeing. Whether you suffer from a mental health issue or you know someone who does, we are all responsible for ending its stigmatization.

My biggest takeaway from “Call Me Crazy” was a selfish one, unfortunately. I don’t want to live and die like Heche, forever fighting my demons. I don’t want my value of life to be based on how different I am than everyone else. Sometimes I want to be told, “You’re being a little crazy.”