Are you…who I think you are?

So it turns out: Cruella DeVille…isn’t all that cruel. I know, I know… it’s hard to believe. It’s even harder to believe that now when I look at pictures of her, or even clips of her (such as the scary one linked above) … I feel an immense swell of respect and love for the woman who is actually Glenn Close – and not just Cruella (tell your inner six-year old to stay with me here).

Every year, the SfN meeting is kicked-off by a “Dialogues with Society” section. This event is as described by the Society itself an event which: “features a luminary speaker whose work touches on brain function and the diversity of human experience.”

This year’s topic? Mental Illness – and the stigma associated with it. Glenn Close opened this year’s meeting by sharing the story of how one day, she was stopped by a woman off the street who asked her: “Are you…who I think you are?” Close, unsure of how to respond asked the woman: “I don’t know…who do you think I am?” The woman apparently paused and said “I don’t…remember your name – but I loved you in Mammia!” Glenn Close is laughing now, as she recounts this – and we are laughing along with her. “Why yes, I am Meryl Streep thank you!” she responds good-humouredly.

She then follows the question more deeply with us, her audience. Am I who you think I am? She flashes her genes up on a slide, telling us they make her “fabulous and divinely complex” Close explains she had her genome sequenced because, “mental illness runs in [her] family” and she wanted to glean a deeper understanding of her own biological makeup.

Following her introduction, Close’s nephew, Calen Pick, and her sister, Jessie Close, both shared their experiences of living with mental illness. Calen (a painter) has schizophrenia and Jessie has Bipolar disorder. It was with their blessing and courage, Glenn Close explains, that she decided to start a non-profit organization “Bring Change 2 Mind”.

“We aimed high,” said Close, “and we filmed the PSA at Grand Central Station” 

Not only were the speeches given by her Jessie and Calen moving in their courage and  honesty, but as Thomas Insel pointed out on stage after their speeches, the love that kept their family together was palpable. It was clear that they supported each other unconditionally – and perhaps more notably: it was clear that they saw each other as more than the disease that afflicted them.

“All of you can help in this new struggle. As you continue to make such astounding strides finding the sources of disease and disorder it will take consumers who have the courage to talk about their illnesses, without fear or shame. And it will take a public who will respect and support them without judgment or censure,” Close said.

Without judgment? Clearly this requires a vigilant self-awareness that is operating to continually monitor our knee-jerk responses and our gut-level reactions to those people in our environment that are different from us, that make us uncomfortable, that we don’t understand.

It requires courage on our part not to take the easy way out and to simply label someone as crazy or schizo or depressed (as though it’s their fault). It requires courage on our part to grow deeply aware of our reflex to disconnect from such individuals, forgetting our shared humanity, forgetting that the other person is a person. It requires us to ask ourselves: is that person…who we think they are?

[Update 11/19: The video is now posted on the SfN 2010 Annual Meeting website. Click here for a link to the page]

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1 Response to Are you…who I think you are?

  1. Alice says:

    That was a good video! i just wished that the colors were warmer.
    Glenn Close is scary only because she is SUCH a compelling actress…

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