by Christine F. Anderson
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Jessie Close is an internationally recognized speaker, author, poet, and advocate for mental health reform. She lives with bipolar disorder in the foothills of the Tobacco Root Mountains outside Bozeman, Montana with her service dog, Snitz, and three other dogs. She is the author of The Warping of Al (Harper & Row, 1990), and she writes a regular blog for Bring Change 2 Mind, an anti-stigma organization that her sister, Glenn, created at Jessie’s request.
Jessie has received awards from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the largest grassroots mental health organization in America, with more than 600,000 members, and Mental Health America, the largest grassroots group of persons living with mental disorders. She also has received the Jed Foundation Award and the McLean Award. Along with her son, Calen, Jessie is a much sought-after inspirational speaker.
At a young age, Jessie Close struggled with symptoms that would transform into severe bipolar disorder in her early twenties, but she wasn’t properly diagnosed until she was fifty. Jessie and her three siblings, including actress Glenn Close, spent many years in a cult called Moral Re-Armament. Jessie passed her childhood in New York, Switzerland, Connecticut, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), and finally Los Angeles, where her life quickly became unmanageable. She was just fifteen years old.
Jessie’s emerging mental illness led her into a life of addictions, five failed marriages, and to the brink of suicide. She fought to raise her children despite her ever-worsening mental conditions and under the strain of damaged romantic relationships. Her sister Glenn and certain members of their family tried to be supportive throughout the ups and downs, and Glenn’s vignettes in Resilience provide an alternate perspective on Jessie’s life as it began to spiral out of control. Jessie was devastated to discover that her mental illness had been passed on to her son Calen, but getting him help at long last helped Jessie to heal as well. Eleven years later, Jessie is a productive member of society and a supportive daughter, mother, sister, and grandmother.
In Resilience, Jessie dives into the dark and dangerous shadows of mental illness without shying away from its horror and turmoil. With New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize finalist Pete Earley as ghostwriter, she tells of finally discovering the treatment she needs and, with the encouragement of her sister and others, the emotional fortitude to bring herself back from the edge.
Jessie’s is a story that needs to be told. I appreciate the fact that she spares the reader nothing in terms of the details of her highs and lows. She lays her soul bare for readers to both relate to and understand. She is unflinching in her honesty and helps outsiders understand mental illness and its devastating impact.
However, take this book with one caveat. Jessie comes from a privileged, wealthy background and has a high profile, wealthy sister. It seems at points in the book when people without resources (like myself; I also have bipolar disorder) would truly struggle, Jessie picks up the phone and calls her family and they throw money at her problems (buy her a coffee house, pay for her radio station, send her child to private schools, send her child to private mental health facilities, rescue her, bail her out). Whereas often people with bipolar disorder find themselves in a pickle for walking out on jobs. Jessie always had the financial cushion of her grandmother, sister, parents, etc.
This is not a reality for most of us, and it makes this tale a little less relatable for the middle class and poor with mental illness. The author comes across as spoiled as times, though I believe that she owns that impression. That being said, I highly recommend reading her journey: it is quite an eye-opener and at times I was moved.
Check out KRL’s Mental Health section for more mental health related articles, and watch for more from Christine.
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