Saturday March 05, 2011
The Meaning of Charlie Sheen
I've ignored the whole debacle up to now. An overpaid TV star says insane, egomaniacal shit and everyone tunes in to cluck their tongues and confirm how awful celebrities are; then we make online mashup jokes: Charlie Sheen and Muammar Gaddafi; Charlie Sheen and New Yorker cartoons. Etc.
It didn't have any meaning for me. The opposite. It showed how meaningless our culture is.
Then I read an article in the New York Times yesterday, “The Disposable Woman,” on Charlie Sheen's long history of domestic abuse. I posted it to Facebook under the title, “Time to stop laughing...” I expected others would chime in on the awfulness of it all.
I didn't expect a friend to suddenly defend Charlie Sheen.
This column is completely and utterly missing the point about Charlie Sheen. He is mentally ill. He has bipolar disorder. It is a disease. Blaming him for his disease is like blaming someone for having a kidney stone.
Anyone who has ever been close to someone with bipolar disorder — especially someone in the midst of an unmitigated, unmedicated manic attack — can watch about 10 seconds of these Sheen interviews and make the diagnosis.
All these journalists are making fools of themselves by failing to recognize what's going on.
There should probably be some kind of law against holding up someone's mental illness for public inspection, condemnation and ridicule, even if it does make for riveting television.
Initially I resisted this line of thought. “Yeah, blame it on 'bipolar disorder.' Like a husband blaming his infidelity on 'sex addiction.' Next.”
But I Googled it anyway. I'd certainly heard of the disorder but I didn't know what it meant. I didn't know, for example, that bipolar disorder type I is what we used to call manic depression. Its symptoms:
- Inflated self-esteem (delusions of grandeur, false beliefs in special abilities)
- Little need for sleep
- Noticeably elevated mood
- Increased energy
- Lack of self-control
- Racing thoughts
- Over-involvement in activities
- Poor temper control
- Reckless behavior
- Binge eating, drinking, and/or drug use
- Impaired judgment
- Sexual promiscuity
So I asked: Has he been diagnosed with it? If so, why is he off his meds?
People with bipolar disorder are notorious for not taking their meds. When they are manic, they feel as high as a kite. They feel invincible.
The exchange made me rethink the little I'd thought about Charlie Sheen up to then. It actually restored meaning to the entire, week-long episode for me. Instead of an ass surrounded by cameras and guffaws, a scenario in which no one comes out clean, we have a mentally ill person surrounded by cameras and guffaws, a scenario in which at least one person comes out clean.