Dear Amanda Bynes,
First off, I’m not going to pretend I know your situation. You are a 28-year-old from a beautiful, upper-middle class part of California who began acting professionally at the age of 10. I am a 24-year-old from a fairly small town with a surplus of strip malls outside Syracuse, New York. (Confession: I was in a professional play at the age of 10, but then I never did any paid acting again because I was actually really, really bad at it.) You have made millions off your films, television roles, and public appearances, while I am still trying to figure out how to fanangle my way out of student loan debt for a Creative Writing degree that, yes, I regret getting. You have millions of Twitter fans; I just reached 1,000 and practically threw myself a party. All of your troubles are broadcast live for the world to see; I am pretty sure most of my relatives think I write for a magazine called Gloos, and still think I’m dating my high school boyfriend.
We’re different people, like every pair of human beings, but I do relate to you on one thing: I’ve been called “crazy” a hell of a lot.
When I was younger, I was raped and I wound up having incredibly tumultuous teenage years. I was an angry, distressed, anxious and depressed mess of a person, and when you are in high school and everything in your bodily system is freaking out as is, having PTSD isn’t easily handleable. I dealt with things in very unhealthy ways and I take full responsibility for hurting the people I hurt as a result. Sure, I saw a therapist until my junior year, but then spontaneously decided that I would rather do extracurriculars. Indeed, rather than work on my horrible temper, chronic fears, and low self-esteem, I instead “broke up” with the one medical professional who was genuinely interested in helping me at the time.
During high school, I acted in ways that were not conducive to people thinking I was a consistently stable person. I don’t know how long you have been suffering from mental illness issues (bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, according to many sources, though “sources” are certainly not always correct), but I personally went back and forth between being a highly-productive, accomplished kid who always volunteered for projects and held steady part-time jobs to being a self-injurious wreck full of animosity towards everyone around me, and then back again. I still consider myself lucky I managed to maintain a few friendships, but I certainly lost a lot of them given the fact that I seemed–and by many standards was–”crazy.”
In college, two separate traumatic events only magnified my erratic behavior. I drank profound amounts of alcohol each week. I threw fits, cried daily, refused to attend classes because my anxiety took over all of my thoughts and emotions. I would gain several pounds over the course of a few weeks, then drop dozens in a couple of months. I wasn’t shy about the fact that I had an eating disorder; for a while, I laughed at it more than anything even though I was permanently damaging my body with bulimia, which is why it made me so sad when it seemed like you began displaying eating disordered behavior.
It hurts to have friends and peers talk about your problems like you’re just some sob story or, worse, a punchline. When Nick Cannon penned that “open letter” which likely could have gone directly to you (I mean, I get the irony given this piece’s title, but I have zero access to reaching celebrities IRL), I was reminded of the times when I would walk into a room and realize a pair or trio of my friends had been talking about me. Their concern was kind and certainly well-intentioned, and I appreciate it more in retrospect, but god, it really hurt to have people talk about my problems without me even being part of the conversation.
When Ashley Benson posted that photo to Instagram making fun of you, it brought back memories of hearing various people call me a “crazy bitch” or “psycho” behind my back, giggling about how I’d broken down crying in a street or how I had gotten too drunk (which I obviously realize was a choice) and subsequently felt suicidal, blissfully ignoring the fact that when I was sober, I had vividly violent flashbacks of being raped that I wanted to rid my brain of, so sometimes, the alcohol really did “help.” These small jabs really hurt, but your symptoms and issues all happened in a public forum for millions to see, and that’s profoundly terrifying to me given how cruel people can be.
Mental illness has a remarkable stigma because many people consider it to be a lifestyle choice of sorts, as though those who deal with chronic depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and the like simply want attention or notoriety. We are seen as “problematic” in the same way an accident on the freeway is; yes, people may feel sorry for those trapped in the wreckage, but they’re more or less thinking of it as an inconvenience to acknowledge. The label “crazy” is easier than, say, attempting to understand why and how people who suffer from mental illnesses sometimes behave the way we do.
Calling people crazy is also a means by which some turn a tragedy into a source of entertainment. “Bitch is crazy” sure sounds a lot more amusing than “she took an entire bottle of painkillers because she literally could not handle being alive with her thoughts any longer.” Sometimes, I’ve even called myself crazy–that way, I can at least pretend I’m comfortable with everybody else around me thinking it. As I’ve said before, everyone loves a good downfall, and by labeling a woman “crazy” while watching her exhibit various symptoms of severe mental health issues, it becomes some sick, live documentary.
Again, I do not know your personal situation and I would never claim to have any qualified medical knowledge, but I can give a great deal advice on being the “crazy girl.” For one thing, know that there’s hope! There actually is hope, seriously, and I wish I could project that message to everyone who has been in a deep, deep depression full of shame, regret and anguish (I have been in those pits plenty of times).
Do what you need to do in order to get better, provided it is safe. And don’t let people make you feel bad about being who you are. Even as a healthy(ish) person, I know I do weird stuff all the time that seems unnatural to some people, like display weird OCD ticks and repeat affirmations aloud when I feel like I’m going to crack and actively avoid triggers like the plague. If talking about your problems to a therapist makes you feel healthier, do it. If taking medication improves your quality of life, do that too, and don’t let anybody make you feel ashamed of it. In fact, don’t let anybody make you feel bad about dealing with mental illness because it is entirely in your best interest to be healthy, and your wellbeing is what should dictate your choices right now.
Oh, and most of all, know that you’re not alone. There are tons of us out there who have been through similar experiences, and just because the world tells us our mental health issues make us “crazy” doesn’t mean we aren’t worthy of respect–especially from ourselves.