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Two Sisters And A Story Of Mental Illness


In Resilience, the sisters share their story of triumphing over Jessie's illness. The book is written in Jessie's voice with running commentary and an epilogue written by Glenn.

I’m Chérie Newman.

Montana ranked near the bottom of a recent ranking of mental illness and access to care for it. The group Mental Health America puts Montana at number 44 among the states.

Bozeman-area resident Jessie Close knows that reality first hand. She’s written a book about living the first 50 years of her life with undiagnosed mental illness, and how distressing that was for her and her family and friends. The book comes out today. I talked with Jessie about that memoir and her mental illness.

CN:  What’s your official diagnosis?

Close:  My official diagnosis is bipolar I with psychotic tendencies and I also tend to rapid cycling. Rapid cycling means you go back and forth between mania and depression very, very quickly. It’s horribly destructive. It’s very scary for people around you because they don’t know what you’re doing. Going from being high with lots of energy to low and depressed. I know when I was on the upswing I could be very mean. And then I would fall back down into depression and feel great remorse and horror at what I had just done. But I wasn’t able to stop it. I also tend towards mixed-state. A mixed state is a scary place because if you tend to suicide, as I do, that’s where you are when you really begin obsessing on killing yourself. Mixed state is depression with the energy of mania, which you need to kill yourself. So that’s a very dangerous and dark place to be.

CN:  There was an incident recently in which a police officer in Deer Lodge shot and killed a suicidal man. What do you know about how police officers are handling mental illness these days?

Close:  Well, I know the Chief of Police in Bozeman is very well-versed in mental illness. And I went to the opening of the Gallatin Valley Mental Health Center and the police were there, and they had a lot to do with getting that center going. They did not like having to handcuff someone with mental illness and take them all the way to Missoula, or Helena, or Billings. It was a nightmare for those guys, and women. But I know the police in Bozeman have had special training in mental illness, and that the Police Chief himself travels and speaks about this.

CN: Well, you found out that your mental illness is genetic and that you passed it on to your son Calen. And you also wrote about the reaction of a grocery store clerk when you told her that he’d been admitted to a hospital for treatment. Describe that situation for us.

Close:  You know those little cups that you can put money into at the grocery checkout—most of them are for multiple sclerosis, or other physical disabilities. I remember telling the woman that my son had just been diagnosed with schizophrenia and wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a cup there that said, “Help Calen, he’s been diagnosed with Schizophrenia.” Her reaction to me telling her that my son had been diagnosed with Schizophrenia was one of horror. And she just shut down.

CN:  Jessie Close's memoir, Resilience, was released today. Close’s sister, the actress Glenn Close, founded a nonprofit organization to bring attention to the stigma related to mental illness:  BringChange2Mind.org.

For Montana Public Radio, I'm Cherie Newman. 

Chérie Newman is an arts and humanities producer and on-air host for Montana Public Radio, and a freelance writer. Her weekly literary program, The Write Question, is broadcast on several public radio stations, and available online at PRX.org and MTPR.org.
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