We’re Self-Involved, People

Back when I was in counseling (which feels like yesterday, but was about four years ago), I would go to my counselor each week with something to talk about. Generally the theme revolved around the dialogue in my own head and the self-talk I had that was overwhelmingly negative. This went on for several weeks and then one day, my therapist very bluntly said to me, “Jen, do you ever volunteer?”

I was so taken aback, I couldn’t understand the purpose of her question.

“Um, no. I don’t really. I’m involved in a few service organizations, but nothing really substantial,” I replied.

“Well, I was just wondering about how important some of these issues might seem to you if you had something to compare them to. Don’t get me wrong, the stuff your dealing with is crap, but I wonder how it would look if you had to feed people who couldn’t afford to feed themselves.”

It felt like a slap in the face. I wasn’t really angry, but I also wasn’t happy with the comment either. Was she implying that I was selfish or self-involved? Did she think I was just a whiny brat from the suburbs?

I don’t think she thought any of those things. In fact, I know she was fond of me. I was fortunate to have a therapist that would say what needed to be said and over the next week, when I caught myself being upset about something going on in my head, some slight I perceived from a friend or stranger, or something else that caused some emotional turmoil for me, I thought about what she said.

I wondered how bad my life really was. I had become so good at romanticizing how pathetically depressing my life was from my point of view, I had almost blotted out all the other things that could make my life worse. I had forgotten that I had a job, I was enrolled in a good school, I could afford to eat, I had health insurance, and I had friends. How bad was my life, really?

Becoming a counselor has allowed me to do many things that fulfill who I am and the needs I have. Some of those needs are the desire to help others, the desire to make a difference in someone’s life, and the desire to further my education. Those are all the rosy, do-gooder reasons I became a counselor. Another one, I realize in retrospect, is that I need to be reminded that I have a wonderful life. I have spent the majority of my life looking through a lens of grim reality, instead of understanding it’s positivity and optimism that are really how we stay happy. No amount of complaining about our lives or preparing for catastrophe makes us happy. Catastrophes can and do happen to the best and the worst of us. We can sit and worry all day about it, or we can be happy in the meantime and understand that life is pretty good.

I can be self-involved. I don’t wake up and look in the mirror and go, “Darn, I’m the most beautiful person in the world,” because it’s not narcissism. It’s just me, sitting all up in my head, thinking about my life, my problems, my future, my relationship, my career, and my ambitions. I exhaust myself over-analyzing every interaction I have and think I will have. I think about the motives of others all the time. I am constantly questioning reality. It’s exhausting and I find it doesn’t solve anything! It makes me an awesome counselor when I put that energy toward assisting others in their lives, but when I do it, it’s just a bad case of not knowing when good is enough.

While I wouldn’t classify myself or any of my clients who are working on their mental health as “selfish,” I would almost across the board say that we’re all  a little too self-absorbed. We have to get out of our skulls and into the moment. We have to join with our communities and our friends and help them work on their lives. It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s a common thread I have found in my work on myself and with my clients. We’re all just too self-involved.

The Case Files: Marilyn Monroe

Right before I took my little staycation, a friend pointed out something quite obvious to me about The Case Files posts. I hadn’t written about Marilyn Monroe yet! Well, the time has come to examine someone who has always fascinated me, as I’m sure she has for many of you.

I’m not going to give you a biography of Marilyn, because that’s been done at least 21 times according to her Wikipedia page. What I am going to do is highlight some stuff that I think should be fleshed out because it’s well-known Monroe had mental health issues, but I found little information about her mental health besides brief mentions related to her purported drug use and rocky relationships and affairs. I will touch on some issues that I believe led up to her untimely death and explain her likely addiction and mental instability.


Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jean Mortensen Baker on June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles. From the start, it seems Marilyn was in for a bumpy ride. She was born illegitimately to her mother, Gladys Baker. There are several different reports about Monroe’s father, but suffice to say whomever is was, he was not interested in claiming parentage of the future starlet. Gladys became mentally unstable shortly after Marilyn’s birth and was institutionalized for paranoid schizophrenia. Marilyn’s grandmother had also been placed in the same psychiatric hospital years earlier.

Marilyn & mom at the beach

She was placed in her first foster home by her own mother until she was seven. Her mother showed up and attempted to reclaim her daughter and when Monroe’s foster family refused, her mother locked herself in the house and emerged with Marilyn stuffed in her foster father’s military duffel bag. Marilyn’s foster mother got her out of the bag and dragged her back into the house. Months later, Marilyn’s mother bought a house and she went to live with her until her mother continued to deteriorate mentally “screaming and laughing,” until she was removed and re-institutionalized.

From this point on, Marilyn ricocheted in and out of foster care and the care of her mother’s best friend. She was sexually assaulted on several different occasions by the men and boys she lived with. She finally released herself from foster care when she married one of her neighbors, James Dougherty at the age of 16 (he was 21).


Marilyn was married three times. The first marriage to Dougherty was already mentioned. Marilyn said she was bored and Dougherty said stardom lured her away. The takeaway is that Marilyn’s behavior was already recorded as being unstable – she tried to commit suicide once in the relationship and threatened (according to Dougherty) to jump off the Santa Monica Pier. By 18, she had already had two suicide attempts. In her autobiography she stated the following:

“My marriage didn’t make me sad, but it didn’t make me happy either. My husband and I hardly spoke to each other. This wasn’t because we were angry. We had nothing to say. I was dying of boredom.”

Next on the list was Joe DiMaggio, who was arguably the most significant relationship of Marilyn’s life. They had a volatile relationship from all accounts, considering the first time they divorced was nine months after their elopement on Marilyn’s grounds that she had suffered mental cruelty from DiMaggio. They rekindled their relationship after her marriage to Arthur Miller ended and Monroe was admitted to a psychiatric clinic, where Joe basically rescued her. From there, she continued to deteriorate and DiMaggio became increasingly concerned for her well-being and the people she was involved with. He quit his job and proposed marriage to her on August 1, 1962. She was found dead on August 5. DiMaggio claimed her body and had roses delivered to her crypt three times a week for 20 years.

After her first go-around with DiMaggio, she married playwright Arthur Miller. This was during McCarthyism and Miller was accused of being a communist. Marilyn stuck by his side, converted to Judaism, and lived a relatively calm existence with Miller, until their marriage dissolved after 5 years of marriage. It’s speculated Marilyn had an affair with her Some Like It Hot co-star Tony Curtis during the marriage and became pregnant (and had a miscarriage).

Of course, there have been several rumors and speculation over the years about her relations with John and Robert Kennedy, along with a host of other men she co-starred with over the years. She also dated a Hollywood agent named Johnny Hyde who was responsible for much of her early stardom. Hyde died at age 55 while dating Marilyn, which precipitated her third suicide attempt.


Marilyn Monroe was a student of herself and was under the care of psychiatric treatment for the bulk of her life. A notorious perfectionist, she displayed behaviors over the course of her life that indicated a severe self-loathing. She was also incredibly introspective based on some of her journal writings released in the past few years. She was also aware she had many demons and regularly wondered how good it was for her to sit and stew over what was going on inside her own head.

“For someone like me its wrong to go through thorough self analisis—I do it enough in thought generalities enough.

Its not to much fun to know yourself to well or think you do—everyone needs a little conciet to carry them through & past the falls.”

Add onto that a known family history of mental illness and Marilyn was terrified she was going crazy for the majority of her life. Much of her time spent in psychoanalysis was likely intended to stave off some of what she felt was an inevitable loss of self-control.

The Case File

Part of Marilyn Monroe’s beauty was its tragedy. There’s something incredibly romantic about someone so beautiful both internally and externally, who just doesn’t see what everyone else sees. Unfortunately, we are usually a product of the way we are raised and the messages we receive from our caregivers. Marilyn learned from an early age she wasn’t worth keeping. Even at her birth, she was abandoned by her father – who still remains a mystery. Shortly after that, her mother left her in unsteady hands. She was tossed through the system and the only time she was deemed “worth keeping” was because she had been found attractive by her caretakers and sexually abused. Marilyn learned she had nothing to give the world except her body, something she had little control over.

From her journal entries and her professed feelings about her relationships, she also had the irrational belief that others were responsible for making her feel a certain way. This is common in people who are depressed because they feel they truly have no control over their emotions. Marilyn often projected her own issues on her partners, one of them being a fear of infidelity, of which her own is well-documented. Many of Monroe’s extramarital affairs are paralleled with her reported feelings of abandonment in her relationships. It’s clear she had an incredibly externalized locus of control.

For each suicide attempt, Monroe had a trigger. These triggers were all hits to her self-worth. Since Monroe was incapable of loving herself and was convinced there was something wrong with her mind, she relied on the affirmations of others (likely the reason she sought a career in the public eye, she thought a career in film would heal her need to be adored and deemed lovable) to dictate her worthiness. When the foundation on which she relied on this feedback cracked, she did as well. Whenever we rely on others wholeheartedly for our worth, it is always an unsteady foundation because the only thing we can truly change and control is how we feel about ourselves.

It’s no surprise Marilyn had problems with substances, or at least a heavy reliance on sleeping pills. She had trauma in her background (which made it difficult for her to sleep) and from what we know about addiction, we use substances to distract us from emotional pain, which Monroe certainly was not short on.

Lastly, it’s unfortunate that Marilyn Monroe’s mental state was so poorly handled over the course of her lifetime. It’s well-known that psychoanalysis and many of the therapeutic interventions used during her time were ill-conceived and implemented. Being an exceptional therapist is much like being and exceptional doctor (or actor, or poet, or baseball player, etc). Part of it is knowledge and education and part of it is that innate “thing” some of us have. Many of the therapists Marilyn saw may have had the “thing” but there was so little education and knowledge in the field of psychology and psychotherapy at that time. When someone is that fragile, they can be swayed easily and it seems like she was pushed around for a long time with little awareness of how horribly she was processing everything.

In the end, she was a lovely person and it’s a shame she didn’t know it herself.

Sources (1, 2, 3, 4)

My ACA Post for the week: There’s a Reason Why We Have Clichés

The Case Files: Jon Hamm

Last night I was dreading writing this post, mostly because I had no idea who it would be about. I know of plenty of famous or well-known people who have struggled with things like bipolar disorder or some sort of personality disorder (likely because they need people to understand why they behave a certain way), but outside of those, celebrities are rarely brave enough to disclose their mental health issues.

Enter, Jon Hamm. I will give you time to swoon.

I picked Jon wearing glasses and a five o’clock shadow because it’s my blog and that’s how I like it. For you clean shaven lovers, you’ll get yours. Just wait.

So, I will refrain from making a joke about how Jon Hamm has been given the diagnosis of Damn Sexy, oh wait… I just did that. Moving on…

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Mr. Hamm, he’s the lead character Don Draper on Mad Men. He’s universally adored for his good looks, his acting chops, and his charm. I’m also personally in love with his expansive vocabulary. He taught me two new words while I was reading his interviews – unmoored and pendulous. He’s been with the same girl for 14 years and doesn’t seem to be interested in dipping out anytime soon. All appearances and reports would lead you to believe that Jon has been a glowing success and a well-adjusted individual all his life. But, alas, he has not.

Jon Hamm’s live began less than quaintly in Missouri when he was born to a secretary and a an owner of a truck driving business. His parents divorced when he was 2 years old and Hamm went on living with his mother until she was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer when he was 10. He moved in with his father shortly after his mother’s death, until his father passed away when he was 20.

“I was… unmoored by that. But I was very fortunate to have really good friends in my life whose parents sort of rallied: ‘We’re gonna help this kid out, because otherwise there’s going to be trouble…’ I struggled with chronic depression. I was in bad shape. I knew I had to get back in school and back in some kind of structured environment and… continue.”

Hamm openly talked about his struggle with chronic depression in 2010. He has been candid about what treatments he used to work through his dark time. Besides having a strong support network, Hamm said he had success with therapy and antidepressants.

“I did do therapy and antidepressants for a brief period, which helped me. Which is what therapy does: it gives you another perspective when you are so lost in your own spiral, your own bullshit. It helps. And honestly? Antidepressants help! If you can change your brain chemistry enough to think: ‘I want to get up in the morning; I don’t want to sleep until four in the afternoon. I want to get up and go do my shit and go to work and…’ Reset the auto-meter, kick-start the engine!”

Hamm also said he found refuge in the theater department, finding that other children in similar situations sought out drama as a way to work through their struggles.

“Well, the theatre department always seems to be the sort of… way station for the orphans and all the people who don’t fit in anywhere else. I always swirled back to it.”

I’ve always liked Jon Hamm because he is handsome and hilarious on 30 Rock. I like a man who isn’t afraid to openly poke fun at how gorgeous he is all while wearing hooks for hands.

As always, I am more endeared to Jon Hamm. I find the way he expressed his work with his chronic depression to be refreshing. He was honest, he was straightforward, and he had no shame. He basically told the press, “Yeah, I had depression. So what?”

Exactly! So what. It doesn’t make him weaker and it doesn’t make him any less wonderful. From all reports, it likely made him the success he is today because he had to learn to work through some of the most difficult times of his life. Things like the death of both parents and a divorce can send you to a dark place and leave you feeling like a victim and that the world is just not a good place for you. It can also be an opportunity to find out how truly resilient you are and prepare you for a life of tough times, like going on several auditions and getting rejected. Having the patience and the faith in yourself to keep going until you hit it big, on the show Mad Men, for example.

I admire Jon Hamm. He’s good looking, talented, and intelligent. He’s also not a tool. He seems authentic and vulnerable in a way that makes him stronger than if he just pretended like his depression had never happened. Thanks, Jon Hamm. Thank you for being you.

Sources (1, 2, 3)