Marilyn and Madness

Marilyn was not ``insane“ (a legal term, not a medical term), nor would she ever be but the actress lived in terror of a mental descent into madness all of her life. She did however suffer from bouts of psychosis. Marilyn suffered from Bipolar Disorder, then known as manic-depression.She took medication to stabilize her moods but her behaviour and mood swings were a testament to their ineffectiveness. Part of the reason Marilyn had such difficulty in getting out of bed and becoming Marilyn Monroe each day was probably linked to her illness. That, and her insufferable insomnia.

She had good reason to fear a permanent mental breakdown. Her mother, Gladys Pearl Monroe marilyn-monroe-2Baker Mortensen, was a paranoid schizophrenic who was in and out of mental hospitals during Marilyn`s childhood and was permanently hospitalized when Marilyn was only 23 years old. It has been suggested that Gladys may have been manic-depression rather than schizophrenic. It was not uncommon during the 1930s and 1940s for those suffering from manic depression to be diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, which accounts for the discrepancies in discussions of Gladys’s case history. It is rumoured that Marilyn`s grandmother, Della Monroe, was also mentally unstable. Marilyn recalled an incident when Marilyn was a toddler where her grandmother held her down and tried to smother her with a pillow while she lay in her crib.This may have happened or not but the point is Marilyn believed it did and it filled her with angst. Is it possible that the underlying cause of Marilyn`s insomnia stemmed from that terrifying memory. Marilyn may have been afraid to abandon herself to sleep, haunted by the image of the attempt suffocation.Both of Marilyn`s grandparents, Otis and Delia Monroe, finished out their lives in mental institutions, and Gladys’s brother, Marion Monroe, suffered from a problem diagnosed at the time as paranoid schizophrenia. One day Marion left to run errands and simply never returned.

Marilyn’s great-grandfather, Tilford Hogan, committed suicide by hanging., Marilyn_Monroe_Birth_CertificateThere can be no argument that Marilyn`s family tree was filled with highly unstable and mentally ill relatives. Marilyn`s condition was inherited, as these illnesses usually are. Maybe she feared she would become hospitalized like her mother, or worse, that she would kill herself like her great-grandfather. Imagine researching your family history and discovering these bleak events. Whether or not Marilyn knew the full extent of her family history, simply growing up with poor Gladys induced paranoia in Marilyn about her own mental health. Her abrupt change in environment and religions, absent parents, and variability in surnames led to an uncertainty of identity. Marilyn was quite competent in decision-making, but resorted to substance abuse for relief from insomnia and depression.

During her career Marilyn was in fact hospitalized in mental institutions on two occasions, both times during the year she and Arthur Miller divorced.. One experience however left her stunned. She went into a hospital for severely ill people and was distressed by what she saw. She contacted her white knight, Joe Dimaggio and as usual, he went straight to her side and was able to have her released. “I know I have my problems but these people are really disturbed,” she later commented about the experience to Susan Strasberg, daughter of Lee and Paula Strasberg, two of Marilyn’s acting coaches. The psychiatric hospital terrified her and she would never enter another one again.

Marilyn was posthumously diagnosed as having a borderline personality disorder which seems to fit her behaviour. A borderline personality usually has a mother who could not cope or has a psychotic illness. Separation or divorce in the family history is typical and also feamarilyn1tured the absence of one parent. Borderlines tend to have abusive childhoods, particularly of a sexual nature. Marilyn sounded tailor made for this description. Certainly her unstable and tumultuous relationships, punctuated by scintillating highs and crashing lows, seems to verify the illness. Borderlines also fluctuate between psychosis and neurosis. Marilyn’s numerous hospitalizations and increasing paranoia as she aged depict her as a classic BPD.

Of course Marilyn’s behaviour and her many achievements can lend credence to her being classified in numerous personality disorder axes. There is little doubt that Marilyn at the very least displayed symptoms of histrionic personality disorder. Histrionics crave personal attention. They are very sexual beings, often in inappropriate situations. They crave other people’s approval, a trait that usually begins in early adulthood. People affected by HPD are lively, dramatic, vivacious, enthusiastic, and flirtatious. HPD affects four times as many women as men. People with HPD have a high need for attention, make loud and inappropriate appearances, exaggerate their behaviors and emotions, and crave stimulation. Certainly if these traits weren’t prevalent in Norma Jeane there wouldn’t have been a Marilyn Monroe.

Whatever her full diagnoses, it is safe to say that Marilyn was a woman with a very troubled psyche.


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