The Case Files: Angelina Jolie

Back when I cared about such things, I was on Team Jen. I thought Angelina Jolie was a thieving husband-stealer and Jen was a hapless, kind gal who happened to marry one of the most desirable men in the world. Looking out on the other side of the ordeal, along with maturity and a more disconnected feeling from celebrity news, I don’t really think too much about it all. Jen is marrying a sexy, sexy man and so is Angelina. Life happens the way it’s supposed to happen.

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Angelina Jolie is beautiful and talented. There’s no getting around those two statements. She’s also done some things in her life that some might consider… crazy? Granted, my threshold for crazy is quite high (mostly because I think it’s such an abstract term at this point and no one is completely ‘sane’), but Angelina has done a few things I find impressively dysfunctional. However, I think there’s plenty of reason behind that.

Early Life

Angelina Jolie is the daughter of actor John Voight and model/actress Marcheline Bertrand. When Jolie was just 1 year old, her parents divorced as a result of her father’s infidelity. With little support from her father, Jolie’s mother abandoned her acting career to support her two children. At some point, she remarried and the family moved to New York. Angelina became interested in acting because of her mother’s influence taking her to movies as a young child and she enrolled in a theater program where she starred in several school productions. All the while, Jolie was estranged from her father.

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In 1988, Jolie attended the Academy Awards with her father (she was 13). Shortly after, Jolie reports she began cutting herself at 14 and began an intense and serious long-term (2 years) relationship with her then boyfriend where her mother allowed them to live in her house.

“I was either going to be reckless on the streets with my boyfriend or he was going to be with me in my bedroom with my mom in the next room. She made the choice, and because of it, I continued to go to school every morning and explored my first relationship in a safe way.” — Angelina Jolie

She dropped out of school with the ambitions of becoming a funeral director and began modeling. While the relationship with her boyfriend ended at 16, Jolie returned to school and lived in a garage apartment a few blocks down from her mother, eventually graduating. Jolie reports this time as the beginning of her ongoing battle with depression that lasted through her early twenties. This is also when Jolie began experimenting with drugs and by 20, she reports she had tried just about every drug.

Relationship with Father

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Jolie’s relationship with her father has been rocky. They have been estranged on-and-off for most of the actress’ life, citing Voight’s infidelity to her mother as the primary reason for the rift. They reconciled long enough for him to appear in the Lara Croft movies, but shortly after the relationship deteriorated again after Voight spoke with a media outlet about his belief his daughter was mentally unstable. Good job, Dad. Definitely go to the press if you’re worried about your daughter. *high five* As a result, Jolie severed ties again, citing Maddox (her first adopted son) as the reason she no longer wished to have her father in her life. They reconciled again after her mother’s death in 2007, but I’d hazard a guess the relationship is probably still quite chilly.

Relationship with Mother

By all accounts, Jolie adored her mother and viewed her as a saint. She named one of her biological children in honor of her mother shortly after her death.

Romantic Relationships

Jolie’s romantic relationships were always newsworthy. She married at a young age to her Hackers co-star, Brit Jonny Lee Miller. At the wedding, she wore black rubber pants and a white shirt with his name written in her blood upon it. The relationship dissolved because they were “too young,” according to Jolie, but she believes he was a great husband and the two parted amicably.

Jolie is also known for dating actress Jenny Shimazu, whom she has said she would have married if not for marriage to Miller. By all reports, Jolie’s relationship with Shimazu lasted on and off for several years and Jolie has said she identifies as bisexual.

Angelina Jolie with former husband Billy Bob Thornton.

Her most intense relationship was her marriage with Billy Bob Thornton. After a two month courtship, the two wed in Vegas in 2000. Their relationship was marked by outlandish public displays of affection and lust, along with the more notable habit of wearing vials of each other’s blood around their necks. After Jolie adopted Maddox in 2002, the relationship ended suddenly in 2003. It was obvious Billy Bob did not want a child.

“It took me by surprise, too, because overnight, we totally changed. I think one day we had just nothing in common. And it’s scary but… I think it can happen when you get involved and you don’t know yourself yet.” — Angelina Jolie

Then there was Brad. They are engaged now. I won’t go over it because unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know what I know. They love each other, they are not outlandish, and they live a pretty quiet and unremarkable existence with a million kids and lots of humanitarian work.

The Case File

I don’t know where anyone in psychology who believes people are not primarily affected by their past gets their supporting information. With the exception of some cases, I believe most people dealing with typical life challenges that inspire one to seek counseling, are caused by past wounds or experiences in one way or another. Angelina Jolie is no different.

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While I can’t be certain (the internet is only so reliable), I don’t think it’s surprising that Angelina Jolie was estranged from her father most of her life and then a year after attending the Academy Awards with him at 13, her life became much more sensational and her relationship with her boyfriend began (which she has compared to the emotional intensity of a marriage). She was trying to make sense of everything that happened with her mother and father and because she had little evidence to go on (remember, she was 1 when it happened) other than her mother’s reports, she had to experience a relationship herself. She had to love someone a lot and then find a way to let them go. It made her father human.

Her self-harm and depression was likely a manifestation of her own emotional turmoil trying to make sense of her life and her father’s abandonment of her. From Jolie’s humanitarian work and her choice of profession, it’s obvious she’s capable of caring a lot. When that energy is focused on things like children and do-gooding, it’s reflective. When it’s focused on the self (like most things are in your teens and early twenties) it can be damaging. We can sit and ruminate, never really finding a sensible answer for the wounds of our past, or we can put value on our lives and existence, proving we’re worthy to ourselves, by being good people and doing good deeds.

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Which is why Jolie’s evolution from wild, drug-experimenting, blood wearing sex vixen happened almost in direct correspondence with her evolving relationship with her father. Her relationship with Billy Bob almost directly corresponds to her fallout with her father. It’s no surprise that the two reconciled while she was with Brad and at the peak of her humanitarian work. We’re like magnets for what is going on inside of us. If we’re at peace, we attract the things that bring us more peace. If we’re in internal chaos, we do things that create more chaos because we can’t see what will be right. We’re too busy focusing inward.

I also find that in some ways, our partners and children help us heal whatever past hurts we’ve experienced – especially those from our parents. Jolie fell in love with a married man (Brad). She refused to pursue a relationship with him until his marriage to Jen ended, but it’s obvious something happened (emotional affair are real). I think this experience created an empathy for her father’s indiscretion that Jolie had not been capable of having.

So now, she’s in a good place. Her emotions and energies are put to good use, so when she looks at herself, she sees a person worth loving. She is a good mother (something she’s idolized from her own mother from the beginning), she is a successful actress and director, she advocates for humanity, she’s in a loving and supportive partnership, and I think she finally has a really good grip on the person she is and the person she wants to become. She also loves herself, which is always a recipe for happiness.

Sources (1, 2)

The Case Files: Sandy Hook

I generally stay pretty quiet when tragedies like the Sandy Hook shooting occur. I feel it’s best to reflect upon what has happened and honor the lives of people I didn’t know personally by not saying much of anything. Some of this is because I feel words cannot begin to describe the place I am mentally. Other reasons involve my own profession, as a therapist, where I feel so much professional and personal emotion, that I just don’t know where to begin.

As a therapist, it is my job to understand every person’s point of view. Not only understand, like how you look at another human being and go, “Oh man, I bet it would be tough to walk in their shoes,” but to look at that other person and be brought to tears because instinctively you know how it feels to be in that person’s shoes. Call it empathy, call it a sixth sense, I may not have worn the shoes you’re in, but I feel the experience as if I was in your skin.

So in this case, I feel overwhelmed. I begin to imagine the parents, heartbroken, learning they will never hold their child again. It makes me scared to ever be a mother, because I can’t imagine having something I love that much walking around in the world outside of me. Then, I imagine how Nancy Lanza felt as Adam’s mother. I read articles like this one, and I know how these women feel. It doesn’t mean they are right or wrong, they just feel a certain way about their life circumstances in relation to this tragedy.

Then I see pictures like this one:

Then, my Facebook feed blows up about laws for gun control and mental health care and I just get exhausted. I’m exhausted because sometimes, I care too much. I care too much about people like Adam Lanza, a boy I didn’t know and by all accounts, plenty of people think he is a monster. I mistakenly get in conversations with people about the state of the mental health care system in this country. For every need I express, someone explains to me why people like Adam Lanza, Jared Loughner, or any of the other mentally disturbed shooters in this country could not be helped.

So I continue to reflect and this time, I will share my inner dialogue with you all and let you see it from my perspective. Here’s what I’ve got:

Part of it is the awareness piece. Plenty of people don’t know how fragile their mental state is because they have never had an experience with an internal dialogue that resembles what you might deem ‘normal’. Then, they have to recognize that they are unwell and ask for help. If they don’t, then their family members, who have their own problems as a result of their own personal struggles caring for mental instability (or fighting their own fractured thoughts and feelings) are responsible. Even then, we still get to pass the buck to “the system”, one that I think we can all agree is garbage, but who will fix it? Once it’s fixed, who will use it? It’s not just Adam Lanza who needed help, it’s his family, it’s now the families of those hurt by his actions, it’s our fear as a nation, and it’s the stigma associated with seeking help. Mental health is not a routine check-up in this country and I think that is ultimately the problem and the solution.

If only… if only… we had the resources to go to a mental health professional as often as we go to our primary care physician, without the fear of shame or judgement for such acts. We could stop passing the buck (I believe, for the most part) and let qualified professionals assess our minds, feeling a freedom to share how we are feeling, thinking, and experiencing our world. We would have greater opportunities to connect with those who have our parallel struggles – learning we are not alone – and we’d also gain a freedom to actively work on our issues, bringing to light what we are working on in our own minds, allowing others to support our processes to becoming better humans and a better society. We’d feel less isolated and we would have a system of support in place, so people like Nancy Lanza, would not be the only person making decisions about the mental health of her child.

I thought about how I shouldn’t say these things about mental health. How much I will be crucified for commenting on this experience while people are still grieving. Maybe it’s just my agenda I’m promoting, but I don’t think that’s it. I’m pretty sure that after this, our country would like to see something change for the better in regards to how we treat and care for people like Adam and Nancy Lanza, because it is my hope, that then we wouldn’t have to treat those injured by Adam, those whose children were murdered by Adam, or those who watched Adam Lanza kill their loved ones.

I believe we would have less work to do because those mental wounds could be prevented. The ripple effect would be calmer, rather than a tidal wave eclipsing everyone’s future. We would hopefully be in control of our outcomes, rather than just waiting for another round of chaos to all shrug our shoulders and go, “We should really look at how we regulate gun control and treat mental illness in our country,” and then do nothing about it except shake our fists at the sky.

As some would argue with me (and they have) – life is chaos. We can’t see the future and this isn’t the first or last tragedy of this kind that our country – or our world – will witness. I agree. This might happen again, but I’d like to feel differently about how we handled it as a nation. I’d like to know we are actively working on preventing these tragedies. I’d like to feel that maybe it was a little less destructive because we adapted, changing our laws about weapons and changing our behaviors surrounding mental wellness. I just want action, but I feel like writing these words is the same as shaking my own fist at the sky.

I don’t know what else to do though, other than to keep clacking at these keys, working with my own clients, cutting out my sliver in the universe that hopefully ripples back into moments like this one, where I feel so helpless. What are we all doing to change the current of this tragedy and redirect our energy towards fixing this problem? It’s a question I am asking myself as a mental health counselor and as a citizen of this country. It’s dominating my thoughts and I want to know that when I retire from this field, things will be different and the world will be closer to the one I imagined in this moment than how far it feels today.

The Case Files: Ernest Hemingway

I took requests for Case Files ideas yesterday on Facebook. Pretty awesome suggestions, I am especially excited to write a post on Elizabeth Taylor (but I feel like that one will be a beast to write, better save it for a night where I’m not feeling so lazy). Last night, I was sitting with Jesse finishing up season 3 of The Wire (finally, we’ve been so busy) and Patronus just crawled right on my lap and stretched his big paws across me. Not only did this strike me as unusual and special, it also struck me because… I haven’t written a post about Ernest Hemingway yet! Silly me.

So, let’s Case Fileize (I just made that up, so there) Mr. Hemingway.

Background

Ernest Hemingway grew up in a nice suburban town in Illinois. His father was a physician and his mother was a musician. Ernest begrudgingly learned to play the cello as a young kid, later saying as an adult that he hated his mother. Ouch. Life wasn’t rough, as Ernest lived in a seven-bedroom home in the early 1900s.

As Hemingway got older, his love of two things emerged – writing and being active. He played football, water polo, track and field, and boxing. He also wrote for the school newspaper and yearbook, eventually graduating and working for The Kansas City Star as a reporter. Another great reason to love Hemingway – he start as a journalist!

But times being what they were, Hemingway signed on with the Red Cross to go assist as an ambulance driver in Italy with the war. He performed gloriously, eventually recieving the Itlalian Silver Medal of Bravery for carrying a man to safety while injured from shrapnel in both of his legs. He left the war effort and stayed in the hospital for the next six months, falling in love with his nurse, and making plans for marriage. She was supposed to meet him in America to finalize their marriage when she wrote to Hemingway saying she had become engaged to an Italian officer instead. Burn.

But love wasn’t too far off for Ernest. He returned home and after some recuperation, bounced around Canada and the U.S., finally landing in Chicago and working for the Toronto Star. It was there he met his future wife, Hadley Richardson. It’s important to note that she was a redhead. They fell in love, got married, and moved to Paris once Hemingway was hired as a foreign correspondent through the Toronto Star. Things were pretty peachy.

Paris

Oh, but not so fast. Hemingway was a member of the Lost Generation! He had to act as such. I could sit here and go over all the things he did in Paris, like meet F. Scott Fitzgerald and rub elbows with Pablo Picasso, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about Hemingway’s mind. So, the short of it is that Hemingway became insanely successful while in Paris, had a child with Hadley, began an affair with another woman, Hadley left him, and he married his mistress (Pauline) shortly after. This would be a lifetime pattern for Hemingway. Pauline got pregnant and wanted to return to America. They left for Key West.

America

Hemingway returned to America and welcomed his second son, Patrick, into the world. Shortly after, Hemingway found out his father had committed suicide, with Hemingway remarking “I’ll probably go the same way.” That’s ominous.

Hemingway’s drinking had been of note in Paris – he regularly went out with the Irish writer James Joyce – but it picked up at this time in his life. His third son was born, he had suffered a severe head injury right before leaving Paris, he broke his arm so badly it took him a full year for it to heal properly, and he began to regularly frequent the bar Sloppy Joe’s in Key West. Oh did I also mention he got anthrax (on his honeymoon with Pauline) and contracted dysentery (on safari with Pauline – this woman is bad news) and had to be evacuated from Africa for a prolapsed intestine.

But Pauline (and her bad luck) didn’t stick around for long. Hemingway fell in love with a woman working alongside him as a reporter in the Spanish Civil War. The romance happened slowly, but by the time Hemingway returned to America, his relationship with Pauline was over and she left him. He moved his residences from Key West and Wyoming, to Cuba and Idaho. It was during this time he also began his love affair with kitties, especially ones with more than four toes.

Oh but wait, this new lady (named Martha) did not last long. Hemingway went to Europe to write, report, and galivant through WWII terrain – even picking himself up a group of resistance fighters and leading them through battle. Are you shaking your head? He was brought up on formal charges for violating the Geneva Convention, but he escaped any punishment. Martha was reporting abroad, and returned to London, and a concussed Hemingway – to discover he had fallen in love with and proposed to a woman named Mary.

The End

Hemingway, who I will argue had some seriously bad luck with injury and health, just deteriorated after his marriage to Mary. He got pneumonia and Mary had an ectopic pregnancy. Then she broke both her ankles and Hemingway got in a car accident crushing his knee and providing another nasty head wound. His son, Patrick, got in a car accident and became severely ill. Then all his friends started dying – Fitzgerald, Joyce, Yeats, Stein, and finally his longtime friend and editor, Max Perkins. Ernest’s health rapidly deteriorated with chronic headaches, high blood pressure, and weight fluctuations leading to diabetes. Don’t forget all that drinking, either.

Things just got worse. Mary and Ernest visited Africa where they got in two back-to-back plane crashes, one so bad reporters arrived on the scene to report the death of Hemingway. Alas, it was not yet meant to be, and Hemingway shushed them before returning to lick his wounds, which tallied in at second degree burns on his legs, front torso, lips, left hand and right forearm, along with two cracked discs, a kidney and liver rupture, a dislocated shoulder and a broken skull. Joy. This where Hemingway’s drinking really picked up as he began to use alcohol to numb his physical pain.

Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but was so ill he could not visit Stockholm to accept his prize. He suspected he had been awarded the prize as a consolation gift for his near-death experiences over the year. What a crappy way to think about such a wonderful honor. His drinking continued in spite of his doctor’s orders to cut that stuff out.

He continued to work, finishing three different works during this time, but he became depressed. He left Cuba permanently and moved with Mary to Idaho. His work was fragmented and unorganized, like it had never been before. Hemingway became incredibly ill while in Spain for a TIME magazine piece, taking to his bed for days and barely speaking. He returned to Idaho, but things just got worse. Not only was he depressed, but he became paranoid, too – insisting the FBI was watching him. He was admitted to the Mayo Clinic and treated with electroconvulsive therapy (ahhhh!) and released. It became clear what was on his mind when Mary found him at the kitchen table one morning just holding his shotgun. He was placed back In treatment and received more shock therapy.

Two days later, Hemingway shot himself in the head with his shotgun.

The Case File

So, I didn’t know this until researching Hemingway, but he had a condition known as hemochromatosis, which causes iron build-up in the body, causing mental and physical impairment. His father had it and behaved similarly to Hemingway before his suicide. His siblings also committed suicide. I don’t know what to think of this discovery, so I’ll just do my best with the information I have.

Ernest Hemingway had some clear mental health issues. It was obvious he was an alcoholic, whose behavior and out-of-control drinking was over looked because he was a writer. Writers and alcohol are kindred spirits. It’s rare to have one without the other. Couple that with Ernest’s clear wounds from being left by his Spanish nurse in WWI, and you’ve got a guy who really didn’t think much of himself.

Think about it, he treated his body horribly, regularly injured it taking great physical risks (how do you get injured that many times without some ownership of it all – tell me, please), he probably kept all of his female companions at arm’s length, making it that much easier to leave them when they became disposable, much like he had been. To top it all off, Hemingway believed he didn’t deserve the Nobel. He didn’t believe he deserved good things. Most writers don’t and the ones who do either worked very hard to believe they did, or they aren’t good writers. Right? I don’t know. That just seems to be the case.

Either way, Hemingway was a great dude. He’s provided me with some of my favorite writing rules, ever:

1. Write drunk, edit sober.

2. The first draft of anything is shit.

Thanks, Hemingway. If you felt the way I feel about my writing, then maybe I’ll write a book one day after all.

I’m also in love with him because he was in Paris during that seemingly perfect time, a time I’d kill to be a part of. He was also a great writer, with a distinct style, and he lived a really cool life. Paris and Key West! Plus, he’s responsible for the cat I have today, I’m sure of it.

Sources (1, 2)