Girl Talk Career Blog

May 22, 2010

Too Much Honesty is a Career-Killer

Authors should save story-telling for their storybooks and keep their private lives to themselves. Very recently Robert Munsch, a well-loved American-born Canadian children’s author came forward to tell his story of drug and alcohol addiction to the public. He also admitted to being diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive and in his own words “manic-depressive” (now known as bipolar affective disorder).  Most people probably weren’t surprised about the mental illness diagnosis. It became public knowledge that Munsch had bipolar disorder several years ago. And it’s hardly a surprise that an author suffers from a mental illness.  There’s something about people gifted in the arts, artists, authors, singers, actors, etc, that seems to coincide with a mental illness of some sort. In fact most of the names on publicized lists of famous people throughout history with bipolar disorder and clinical depression tend to be artists in some capacity. Not all of them of course, but a pretty high percentage.

The fact that Munsch is plagued by obsessive-compulsive behaviour and mental illness is just a genetic mishap, hardly his fault. But did he really have to come forward with the additional information about his cocaine use and alcoholism?  I was quite surprised by that admission and I must admit very put off. I love the man. I am a fan of many of his books and yes I’m still a Munsch fan even though I’m well beyond childhood now. Contemporary children’s literature has always appealed to me and Munsch writes some of the best.  Michael Martchenko has worked for decades as an illustrator of Munsch books and his cartoon-like pics add a distinctive appeal to Munsch’s stories. A brilliant combination.

Now Munsch has truly coloured my impression of him a very grim, grey sort of shade. I was fine with him coming forward to talk about his “manic-depression“. That seems to be a celebrity trend over the past 10 years or so. Consider for instance Ron Ellis, former NHL hockey player who admitted to attending Homewood Institute in Guelph, Ontario for people with mental disorders and addictions, and Margret Trudeau, widow of the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau, former Prime Minister of Canada. More and more people are coming out of the mental illness closet to disclose this very personal aspect of themselves and in a way it is quite admirable. If successful, attractive people can be dogged with bipolar or schizophrenia, yet live successful lives in the very public eye well that offers quite a ray of hope for ordinary people also afflicted with the disorder, and most likely their families too. 

It takes guts to admit to having a mental disease. Most of us still feel uncomfortable around people who have a mental illness. We don’t treat it like it’s a physical disease such as cancer or diabetes even though having a mental illness is every bit as debilitating as a disease of the body. Yet still people with mental illness are often persecuted and the stigma affects every aspect of their lives, hence the reason they usually keep their silence on the matter. And that is where Munsch should have left his disclose to the public about his private life.  Very good of him to come forward and reveal his mental illness but very questionable about the drug use.

He writes kids’ books. He visits schools and local theatres to tell his children’s stories to groups of very young children. And now everyone knows he is a recovering cocaine addict and alcoholic. Do I judge him for that? Yes I guess I do. He operates within a children’s sphere and coming forward with an admission of that nature was highly questionable on his part.

He stated that his mental illness caused him to develop a cocaine habit. Rubbish. It’s a lifestyle and a personal choice. How does a person get access to illicit drugs? Perhaps they go looking for them. Why does a person try an illicit drug at all?  Curiosity?  Depression?  Maybe.  But what about after that first exposure in terms of repeating the behaviour? One experiment and a mentally ill person is hooked?  Highly doubtful. In order to develop a habit it is a fact that a person has to repeat the behaviour to develop the addiction and become dependent upon the chemical. Whose choice is that?

Are mentally ill people more likely to develop addictions?  Hard to say. The vast majority of people who attend AA every year are not known to have a mental illness. Same with people who attend CA (cocaine anonymous) or NA (narcotics anonymous) or GA (gambling anonymous). If mentally ill people frequently experienced long term drug and alcohol addictions I do believe the percentage of these people in AA and other similar groups would be considerably higher. Mental illness is a lot more common in people than you might think.

One thing I cannot abide is a person who uses their personal problems, whether they are emotional or mental in nature to defend anti-social or highly irresponsible behaviour.  It’s just wrong. It’s side-stepping the issue of personal responsibility for one’s own actions and decisions. I have a friend who has bipolar affective disorder.  For a time she got caught up in cocaine use herself. I asked her straight out if she felt her illness contributed to her drug use and she snorted. “It was a personal choice and I was stupid to do it. If I blamed my illness on all my shortcomings I’d never leave the house again,” was her very honest answer. I believe her.

However let’s give Munsch the benefit of the addictive doubt here and agree with him that it is his illness that drove him into addiction.  Did he have to tell the world about it?  Isn’t that also a choice? More than anything else I wish Robert Munsch hadn’t told us about his addictions. I wish the only thing I knew about one of my favourite children’s authors is that he has bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I wish the only thing I knew was that he is a great author and loves kids and is doing the best he can to tackle his mental illness. I wish I didn’t have to know how much he has burdened his family and friends with his addictions.  But all the story-writing in the world can’t re-write his public persona now.

1 Comment »

  1. just goes to show that the dreaded four letter word: [make that five!] viz:, drugs can be beneficial as a lot of psychiatric drugs have the finesse of a sledge hammer.

    Comment by almostvoid — May 26, 2010 @ 10:18 am | Reply

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