Who was Marilyn Monroe under the platinum hair? How did Christine Jorgensen find the courage to pursue sex-reassignment surgery in the 1950s? What made Frank Lloyd Wright think his buildings were more important than his clients? They may have been famous personalities, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have characteristics that most of us recognize in our families, friends—and ourselves.
What is the most misunderstood truth about celebrated personalities?
The biggest misconception is that famous people are different from the rest of us—free from the burdens we all face.
What is the most surprising thing you discovered in researching and writing this?
There were so many surprises, big and small. I had no idea that Betty Ford struggled with deep insecurities. That on the day she was married Princess Diana’s waist was the size of an 8-year-old girl’s. That George Gershwin was so restless he poked Kitty Carlisle in the ribs while watching a prizefight in the Bronx. That Fyodor Dostoevsky repeatedly deluded himself into thinking he could win at roulette. That Andy Warhol crammed 600 boxes with everything from unpaid medical bills to pizza crust. That Albert Einstein had temper tantrums as a child. That Howard Hughes turned doorknobs with Kleenex. The list goes on. All incredibly accomplished in their own right; all imperfect.
There are many stories in Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder. Was there one particular tale that resonated more for you than others?
Charles Darwin was a perfectionist, determined to tie up every loose end before publishing his great work, On the Origin of Species. He was a ruminator and worrier—about his research, about his children, about his health. He could be self-doubting and remarkably indecisive, as noted in the wonderful “Marry” and “Not Marry” columns he scribbled out before agreeing to wed his cousin, Emma. (“Marry” included “the charms of music and female chit-chat;” “Not Marry” included the “anxiety and responsibility” of children.) All of these feelings resonate with me, because I’ve experienced every one of them. I also have huge admiration for Darwin the writer, who was able to accomplish all that he did despite terrible nausea, dizziness, headaches, and other ailments. After finishing his book, he wrote to a friend that the work “half killed me.”
What is the single most important suggestion you can make to the person seeking help for any of the disorders you describe?
Do not assume that your worries, obsessions, or mood swings are an immutable part of your personality. Acknowledge the challenges you face and seek help from a trained professional. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Don’t assume no one can understand. Don’t suffer alone. Join a support group, call a friend. Be open to treatment. Be patient. Above all, be kind to yourself.
What is the most important point you want to get across?
During his journey aboard the Beagle, Darwin described how intoxicated he was by the richness of nature—the flowers and forests and butterflies. His reaction to all this, he wrote, was that “the mind is a chaos of delight.” I love that juxtaposition of words. It so aptly describes the human mind, both the delights (we can think, dream, and imagine!) and the chaos (we worry, obsess, and get depressed). Every one of us has or will experience some level of chaos and we must understand it as part of the human condition. Do not judge those with mental health conditions, but accept, support, and help as best you can. Above all, know this: Your mind is capable of trouble and triumph. You may struggle, but you can also soar high.
About THE AUTHOR SPEAKS: Selected authors, in their own words, reveal the story behind the story. Authors are featured thanks to promotional placement by their publishing houses.
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