Remembering That I Am Not Her
I mentioned, a while ago, that mentally ill people play Guess the Mental Illness. Another thing we play, one we're less inclined to talk about, is I'm Not That Sick. Once we've established that the person doesn't just have Hollywood Crazy Person Syndrome, we started thinking about how serious the person's illness is. Outsiders don't necessarily notice that there are shades of sickness, a spectrum of health. A lot of them think that, if you're mentally ill, you're one of those people talking to people who aren't there and living on the streets. And if you're not, well, you're not actually sick. But we know. We do it in real life, too--I am sicker than you; he is sicker than I. Is she sicker than he is, or does she just fool people because of better coping skills? We talk about this endlessly among people who we trust to share details with. And it is often with relief that we realize that, no, we aren't that sick.
For example, I am assuredly not as sick as Maggie Cogan. Filmmaker Michel Negroponte was going to make a documentary about his childhood playground, Central Park, when he encountered her there. Why he started talking to her is a little worth considering, given how seldom strangers speak to one another, especially when one is a crazy person, but I guess dogs ease that for people who like dogs, and she had four of them. And she lived in the Park. She begins to tell him her story, and yeah, it's the sort of story you expect a crazy person in the park to tell. The title? That's who she thinks she is. Her story is full of figures from Greek mythology, as well as a claim that she is the daughter of Robert Ryan, an actor we've seen here a time or two and will see again. And at that, we see a friend of hers whose own delusions involve being the daughter of Greta Garbo by Albert Einstein, adopted by the Kennedys, and so forth.
We are assured that Maggie spent some time in a hospital long ago, and we are told that one of the things that separated her from her family is her mother's failed attempt to get her hospitalized again. In the deleted scenes, Maggie says that she'd sneaked a look at her chart, and she was listed as "mildly schizophrenic." Either she's gotten substantially worse--not impossible--or she was underdiagnosed. No, this woman doesn't really seem dangerous, which is why her mother (who Maggie denies she is related to) couldn't get her hospitalized. However, she is very clearly in need of care, which she doesn't believe. I'm not sure how she appears to a healthy person, but the denial is transparent, and it's not just that she's receiving telepathic signals from Jupiter (a person, not the planet) in her brain. Winter does not concern her, even though it concerns just about everyone around her.
Negroponte is transfixed by Maggie. You get the impression that he really wants to believe her, even when her stories get increasingly improbable. He seems to have gotten a lot of his ideas about mental illness from the movies, honestly; he wants to think there's something more in touch with her spiritual nature about Maggie, and he seems to think that, if he can just unravel the roots of her stories, she will somehow be better. Basically, he's too involved with Movie Crazy Person Syndrome to understand that sick people aren't generally like that. He does quite quickly realize that it's not just whimsy. He thinks some about walking away from her, but he also finds himself thinking about her when he is off with his family, because she just can't live the way he does, and he has a hard time processing that.
This has been a very hard review to write. I've taken longer on it than I usually do, just because there are so many stories which I cannot tell but which spring to mind when I think about this woman. None of my friends are as sick as her. I don't think. However, I have one friend whom I think has had a psychotic break, and I have a friend who had her house bugged by her schizophrenic boyfriend, and all sorts of grim stories along those lines. I've known people who went off their meds, people who won't go on meds, people who self-medicate. And you? You probably never hear these stories unless you have stories of your own to share as well. The stories I have are mostly not my own and very much not my place to tell. And I'm not telling you my own much, either. This is not the place for them. For most of them, I'd have to know you pretty well--because I'm Not That Sick.