Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Frances Farmer's Revenge

Sometimes I wish I could just lapse into a psychotic episode and be done with it.

I get so goddamn tired of trying to maintain a veneer of normalcy. It's exhausting, and I don't know who it's supposed to benefit. Me? Probably. Is it of any actual benefit? Probably. Fake it until you make it - does that apply to matters of the mind?

I don't look dangerously disordered, I don't even think I have much of a glazed look going on at the moment and I don't volunteer information about myself particularly readily so it's not like I come across all overwrought and/or catatonic, it's not like people come away from an encounter with me shaking their head and doing that raising of the eyebrows and whistling in disbelief combination and saying "wow she is reeeeeeeeeally messed up" or words to that effect.

The thing with depression is that on paper there is no actual problem. What this means for me is that it doesn't feel legitimate. If you have a broken arm you don't have to explain what is wrong with it, nor are you expected to mend it by sheer force of will, but break something inside your mind and it's a vastly different story.

I just get so tired.

There was a guy once who wrote me a message on a pink post-it, it said 'Wonderland: Free stay in a big bed', and sometimes when I'm scratching at my scalp in a destructive manner or clenching my fists and jaw I get to thinking that a free stay in a psychiatric institution could be a kind of wonderland too.

Sometimes I envy the people I see muttering to themselves on public transport. I envy their unhinged intensity and their wild feral stares and I envy them for stepping over some invisible threshold that cuts them adrift from their moorings. I don't mutter to myself in public as a habit; the few times I have I've caught myself and then laughed, because this is the way sane people with full control of their faculties behave, right? What I want to know, though, is what it would be like if I didn't catch myself. What would happen if I let myself just flat-out fall apart?

It's telling that when I drift and dream it's not about getting better, it's about having the guts to do something that would land me in a locked ward where real help may be available. This will never happen though. As long as I am paying my rent and keeping the lights on and buying newspapers and wearing pants in public and maintaining just a slight semblance of sanity by continuing to give attention to responsibility, my depression will not be acknowleged. And mostly, really, this is okay. Mostly I really do just want to be left the fuck alone. it's just that, to be depressed is to feel like you really are in the loneliest and most forgotten place on earth, and sometimes it would be a comfort to feel just that little bit less forgotten.

In Canberra I saw how easy it is to fall through the cracks. If you're not tearing the flesh off your forearms with your fingernails you're not sick enough to be sectioned, basically, and are of no consequence to anyone in the system.

I had a psychologist say to me "Well, you managed to make it to this appointment so you can't be doing that badly".

Really, you have to be acutely unwell. Visuals help.

I have no real idea what 'getting help' for depression actually means. How do you learn to not listen to your own mind? Alcoholics can stay away from alcohol, and I'm not saying they have it easy, not by any stretch, but if you're depressed it's really not as easy as removing yourself from any situation where your mind is present. How do you learn to stay away from your mind?

There's therapy, but I don't much like talking about how I feel, and besides, it's near on impossible to put into words what is really just a relentless grinding dread that rumbles and lurches and makes the world dark, or, worse: grey.

And the psychiatrists and psychologists; they ask such tedious and carefully weighted questions, they exhaust me with their foolishness.

There is no space available where you can just say whatever the fuck you want, without fear of being tied down or even just being reduced to a series of shorthand psych notes on a clipboard accompanied by a barely perceptible, repeatedly raised eyebrow.

I want more than anything to be able to say "Here is the truth. My truth. Stand well back."

I would like to be able to have a conversation where I can say that I want to die, at the times when I do want to die, and I would like to be able to feel safe saying it. There is no space for a conversation like this, it frightens people. I understand this. I imagine it's an unsettling thing to hear, and I don't like to frighten my relatives and loved ones. I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of comments like that myself, ideally, but fuckit. Die Harder. Life is basically a long series of uncomfortable encounters and without them phrases such as 'You really put your foot in it', or 'Well that went down like a lead balloon' or 'O no you DINANT' would be null and void and the world would be worse for it.

Still, you get to feeling like such a burden as it is that when people say things like "you know you can talk to me about anything" you know they mean well but you also know they would recoil and rear back upon being given a glimpse inside your mind and seeing what equates to a series of burnt black stumps in a burnt out forest. You don't want to inflict that on people.

Being depressed has never sucked me so deep into my own needs that I become overly rude, at least not in a way that is out of keeping with my general character and sometimes I think that this may be part of my problem.

I tend to think that I have no right to put my shit on people, so I don't, and then I feel like no one in the world understands me and entirely overlook the fact that maybe they would if I gave them even a small window into the wasteland inside my head. Maybe this is why I sometimes admire the mentally collapsed maniacs I see on trains and buses. They very clearly have a way of thinking and of being that is intolerable to the world, and, confronted by the limits of the world's ability to tolerate them and their mental conditions they have, in any number of ways, stepped over the 'fuck you' threshold and into the realm of the raving and the raw and, in many ways, the real.

Ok. Because I am far more comfortable discussing celebrities than I am discussing myself, let's look at Frances Farmer shall we? If nothing else, celebrities are a useful lens through which to view our own lives and times. It's like looking at yourself by way of looking at someone better-looking, if you will.

So Frances Farmer. In modern terms, she was a B or C grade movie star - maybe a Megan Fox or a Mischa Barton or a Rachel Bilson or, to break it down; any girl-star who leaves the wildly popular, zeitgeist-tapping TV show that made her famous and fails over a period of a few years to maintain or recreate any of the electric magnetism that sparkled and crackled and fizzed in the atmosphere around them for those four or five years when they were at the height of their hot Hollywood it-girl powers - but then for reasons that are never entirely clear, other than that it's just the nature of the game, burns out entirely but keeps sputtering on anyway, somewhere in the middle distance. Blake Lively and Leighton Meester and Anna-Lynne McCord all have this to look forward to in their not too distant futures. Michelle Williams is the exception here, obviously, and she stands apart for the simple fact that she can act, as in really fucking act, whereas Katie Holmes can't and never could.

Farmer started going off the rails and gaining a reputation as being 'difficult', which, when applied to male actors, seems to connote passion and intensity and artistic integrity but when applied to women carries a distinct hint of judgement pertaining to what impossibly demanding and dead-set bitches women are.

She was arrested by Santa Monica police for drunk-driving and got into a heated exchange with a cop before being dragged off to jail. By the time she was re-arrested for violation of parole, Farmer had dislocated a hairdresser's jaw, got into a late-night bar brawl, and streaked topless down Sunset Strip. She signed 'cocksucker' as her occupation at the Hollywood police station.

At her hearing she threw an inkwell at the judge. She knocked down a policeman and bruised another. She ran to a phone booth where she tried to call her attorney, but was subdued by police. They physically carried her away as she shouted "HAVE YOU EVER HAD A BROKEN HEART?"

I am absolutely certain that I'm not alone in finding these episodes, strung together into a sequence so as to resemble something of a rampage, infinitely appealing. It's bad behaviour at it's best, by which of course I mean it's worst.

Women are not supposed to behave in this way, especially not in public. Britney did, and look what happened to her. Three years later she's still under her father's conservatorship, and he's just some Louisiana drunk who was absent for most of her 'childhood' and is now not only on her payroll but actually in charge of said payroll and pretty much every other aspect of her life as well. Including what snacks are on her backstage rider. No Cheetos for you. I'll be looking at what happened to Britney at a later date. In a sequel. It's Britney, bitch, she deserves her own post.

Anyway, the disintegrating life of a famous and glamorous person  is fundamentally different to your average person's ungluing, and it seems a mistake to take too much from it. Their unraveling involves excess and eccentric behaviour and the notion of the mad woman as spectacle, as well as and on top of insanity - and the way it plays out in the public eye and seems to unspool almost in slow motion gives it an unrealistic, made-for-TV-like quality that does not seem to elicit much empathy. It's entertaining though, which is ultimately what celebrities are for, and a woman on fire provides great visuals.

For Farmer, other episodes, like attending a party where her presence is expected but then disappearing upstairs to the master bathroom and spending the evening having a bubble bath were common enough to barely be commented on. Still, it all led to Farmer's increasingly long stays in psychiatric wards, and shock therapy, and eventually a full frontal lobotomy.

As you'd expect, having a chunk of her brain excised calmed her down pretty conclusively. The lobotomy shorted-out all her wiring and effectively left her a ruined, burned-out beauty - lights on, nobody home - and ultimately what she gained from it was a top ranking in the historic Cult of the Crazy Woman. She also got a name-check in the Nirvana song 'Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge Upon Seattle', and later lent her name to Cobain and Courtney Love's daughter Frances Bean, which is a neat touch because Love is this era's quintessential 'difficult' woman and one who continues to rage and rail and overdose and appall with what can only be described as absloute aplomb.

So, this has been my truth. Stand well back, sure, but try not to turn away.

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