Tuesday, May 4, 2010

David Helfgott

I added David Helfgott to my list on August 25, at 10 am. This is usually when I'm writing, so I must have come across his name while researching someone else.

Who could he be?

I shall go see.

Maybe he's a playwright. I just got that feeling. Well, I mean it's not a psychic feeling. It's more of a I-kind-of-remember-seeing-this-name-before.


He's not a writer.

Lord Wiki says he's the piano man!

This might be interesting....for me at least.

Helfgott is the guy that Geoffrey Rush portrayed in Shine. He was talented. He was also eccentric or mentally ill. I'm not sure which of those he was yet. I guess I'll find out. Or I'll end this not knowing. It's hard to tell the difference sometimes. And what is mental illness to some, is quirkiness to another.

I'm both amused and saddened by how quickly we want to diagnose people these days. There's this girl I have on my Facebook. She's a friend of a relative, and I don't know her too well. On Facebook, she's a very cheerful and friendly girl. She seems to be mostly upbeat and happy. She's seems to be the type of person who really embraces life. One day she wrote an update saying something like I feel blah. She didn't say anything like Life is worthless. OR I wish I was dead. OR Why shouldn't I kill myself? No one would miss me.

I personally think feeling blah is a normal part of life. It happens sometimes. But someone wrote this stuff in her comments. I forgot what it was exactly. It was pretty much saying this girl should consider the fact that she might have a mental illness, and get help. WHAT? If we're not happy 100% of the time, does this mean we're mentally ill?

Baby David was born in Melbourne on 19 May 1947. He's a little older than my parents.

His parents were Polish-Jews. Well, I guess then Helfgott would be a Polish-Jew as well. I'm a Russian-Jew.

When Helfgott was five, his father gave him piano lessons. I guess Helfgott was good at it. He was labeled a prodigy.

I always say Jack is a prodigy, but I wasn't exactly sure if he fit the definition. But according to Lord Wiki, he would. His definition is that it's someone who masters a skill at a very young age, at an adult level. Jack's geography skills at age 2 were at an adult level. Actually, he was probably better than most adults....well, since most adults are awful at geography.

I guess Helfgott's family moved to Perth when he was a child. Lord Wiki says he had piano lessons there, and won some local competitions.

When Helfgott was fourteen, people raised money so he could go to the United States to study. His father refused to let him do it, saying he wasn't ready for independence. I can't exactly blame him. Fourteen seems kind of young to go off and be independent in a foreign country. Although I guess it would depend on the situation. I think it would be okay, if someone that age was entering some kind of formal program where they'd be watched over.

Helfgott's parents did let him leave the country when he was nineteen. So it doesn't sound like they were totally stifling or anything. He went to England, and studied at the Royal College of Music.

Lord Wiki says that Helfgott may have shown signs of mental illness when he was younger, and then in London he showed more definite signs. I wonder what these signs were.

A doctor later diagnosed him as having anxiety neurosis. This depression website says it's the most common type of psychoneurosis occurring in people of above average intelligence.

When Jack was a toddler, I told his doctor that he's very fearful at times. She said it was probably because he was so smart. When you're smarter, you know more, and it scares you. Or something like that. And/or your imagination is more active.

I was a fearful child too. My dad has movies of me on this one trip to Florida. It shows me being scared of the bees and wasps. I looked all paranoid. I think I would walk up slide ladders, then chicken out, and climb down again. But they did manage to get me on a water slide with my sister.

Jack and I manage to get by fairly okay with our fears. I'm not sure if the same could be said for Helfgott.

He came back to Perth in 1970. He got married in 1971.

Later his marriage broke down, and Helfgott ended up in a mental institution. Did his marriage breakdown because he was mentally ill and difficult to live with? Or did he have a nervous breakdown because the loss of his marriage hurt so much?

Helfgott spent ten years in the institution. He had something called psychotropic medication, and electroconvulsive therapy.

This medical dictionary says psychotropic medication is pretty much psychiatric drugs....anything that affects the mind or emotions. I thought maybe it was a drug found in a tropical rainforest.

The other day I was asking Tim....What's the difference between recreational drugs, and psychiatric drugs? They both are supposed to make you feel better....emotionally. And they both have negative side effects, sometimes deadly ones.

As for the shock therapy stuff. I want to read more about it. I've done some skimpy reading on the subject lately. I saw recently that it's still used, and is a recommended treatment for extreme cases of bipolar disorder. I know there's some who say it's just plain EVIL. And others say it's got a bad rap that it doesn't exactly deserve.

So, what is the deal with that?

Lord Wiki says it involves inducing seizures in people. It's used in depressed, manic, and catatonic people who have not responded to other treatment.

Honestly if someone I loved (like Jack or Tim) went all catatonic, and tickling or medications didn't work.... If I was desperately wanting them to come back to me, I'd totally be open to shocking them. I would have to feel really desperate though.

Lord Wiki says that about one million people use the therapy worldwide per year. There's some interesting statistics here. 70% of ECT users are women. And affluent white people are more likely to get the treatment.

The treatment is supposed to have a 60-70% remission rate. That's pretty good, I suppose. However, it's not a one-time fix. Patients need continued treatment, either through drugs, or a later dose of ECT.

There are some negative side-effects of ECT. It sounds like the main ones are memory loss and reduced cognitive abilities.

Hey, maybe someone gave me ECT in my sleep. Maybe THAT'S what happened to my memory!

Anyway, so there really is a cost-benefit decision here. It's a tough one. From what I've read (and I probably haven't read enough to give a truly informed opinion) is that if one is truly HORRIBLY depressed....like in a completely debilitating way. It might be better to be a little less smart. I think the ECT would be worth it. Maybe.

What I question is the diagnosis of severe depression. I've probably told this story before, but I'll tell it again. In 9th grade, I was very sad about the death of Heather O'Rourke. Poltergeist was my favorite movie as a child and young teen. I think what happened is that I had needed to mourn. I needed a little time to be sad. I needed some comfort. I needed someone to say, Well, yeah. It's a little weird to be sad over the death of someone you didn't know personally. But it happens sometimes. And I know how you you were such a huge fan.

I was feeling sad.  I remember my dad telling me to snap out of it. This wasn't months after the death. I think it was just a day or two later.

Now maybe my parents remember things differently. But from what I remember I was still functioning. I still ate. I still went to school. I don't think my grades suffered. I don't think I did anything totally psychotic. I didn't go outside naked screaming that the aliens were going to kill us all.

I think I was just sad....probably in a typical moody teenager way.

My parent took me to a psychiatrist. I remember wanting to talk to him....tell him my story. He seemed very disinterested. He just wanted to put me on Lithium. He loved his Lithium, and thought it was the miracle drug that would save the world.

I went on the Lithium. I think I stuck to it for a few weeks. Then one day I stopped. A few weeks later, my mom mentioned how much happier I seemed with the Lithium. I told her I had stopped taking it. I forgot her reaction, but I think it was supportive. Well, I know at least that she didn't make me go back on the drug.

So that's my concern about our treatment of mental illness. Are some people treated when they don't need to be? Is it sometimes a matter of people just being a bit too annoying, and we treat them for OUR benefit. We had a bipolar guy living with us for a few weeks. He drove me NUTS. He wouldn't stop talking. And he just had way too much energy for me. I couldn't handle it. In the same way, it was hard for my family to deal with me being sad. Sadness is annoying. Excessive energy is annoying. Hallucinations are creepy. But is it always a good idea to use risky treatments to reduce these symptoms? If they're severe? Yeah. But who defines severity? When our apartment-guest was visiting, I'd probably be happy to drag him to a hospital and get him shocked. Other people might found him to be absolutely entertaining.

Some people might have looked at me in 9th grade and said. Oh, she's terribly depressed. We need to cure her. She can't go on like this. Someone else might have said. Oh, just give her a hug and let her talk out her feelings. If she's given enough comfort, she'll probably be okay in a month or so.

You know....I was just thinking. If Jack had other parents, he might already be on psychiatric drugs. His reactions to fears sometimes go beyond the accepted norm. So some parents in that situation might feel their child needs to be fixed. Or a doctor might tell them that this is what they need to do....and if they don't do it, their irresponsible parents. The parents might be guilted into starting drug therapy. We were lucky in that our pediatrician didn't push that viewpoint. And if they did, we'd probably just find a new doctor. My feeling is Jack does NOT need medication. To me, he's a quirky child. Some aspects of him can be challenging, and annoying. But the good stuff outweighs the bad. And the bad stuff is really not all that bad.

This post is going to be REALLY long. But I'm going to take a break, check on the cats, and feed us breakfast.

Honey is doing well. He's graduated. Our rule was he has to stay locked in the bathroom until he pees or poops. Then we'd have indication he knows where his litter box is. And if had that, then we'd feel he's ready to be let out into the bigger room. So Honey has met that skill level, and now has more freedom.

You know, I've been on Lord Wiki's electroconvulsive therapy for quite awhile. Now I need to get back to the page on Helfgott.

In 1984, he was working at a pub in Perth. There he met an astrologer, and fell in love. They got married. I think I remember seeing some scenes like that when I was researching the movie.

Well, here's a scene at a restaurant or pub. It's a great scene....very much like the Susan Boyle one.

Lord Wiki says that Helfgott still does concerts. Some like his work, and some critics do not. One critic complained that Helfgott stares into space and grunts, groans, and mutters. Okay. Who cares? It's weird. Yeah. But is it hurting anyone?

Helfgott likes cats. I wonder if he'd like Honey, Mushu, and Max.

He also likes chess, swimming, philosophy, and keeping fit.

This book review talks about a book written by Helfgott's older sister Margaret; Out of Tune; David Helfgott and the Myth of Shine.

It seems sister Helfgott didn't much like the movie. Why?

The sister and the book reviewer say it's because the movie lied. I haven't seen the movie, but I guess it says that Helfgott's mental illness was caused by his father. Sister Helfgott says this wasn't true. The father was a good man. It sounds like she puts the blame on Gillian and the filmmakers for pushing a different story.

Who is telling the truth?

I don't know.

Filmmakers lie. They want to tell an interesting story.

Family members lie too. And family happenings and relationships are often interpreted differently by siblings. One child might see the parents as loving and easygoing. Another child might feel they were mistreated by those same parents.

And then there's stuff here about the nature/nurture argument with mental illness. I guess the movie made it look like it was purely daddy's fault. Margaret Helfgott goes in the opposite extreme. It must be purely genetic. Why? They had an aunt with it.

When I had my eating disorder relapse last April/May, I sought information and support online. Some of the websites I went to were created by parents of teens with eating disorders. They pushed the viewpoint that eating disorders have NOTHING to do with the environment. It's purely a genetic thing. Blaming the parents for an eating disorder is like blaming parents for their child's Leukemia. Well, the thing is....sometimes Leukemia IS caused by something in the environment.

These parents understandably don't want to take ANY of the blame or responsibility for their child's problem. And I do think it's counterproductive to point to parent saying, this is all your fault. You're horrible parents. Your child is sick...all because of you. But I also think it's counterproductive to tell parents. This is purely genetic. It has nothing to do with anything you've ever said or done.

My guess is that a huge bunch of us have certain genes that could effect our emotions and behavior. Then our lives (including parents, siblings, school, media, job, friendships, romantic relationships, etc.) determine whether we end up being:

a) Happy and fine. No one would suspect we have these genes.
b) little quirky.
c) a bit messed up
d) annoyingly crazy
e) an extremely dangerous lunatic.

I think I'm in the middle of b and c.
I'm guessing Helfgott was between c and d.

My guess (and it's just a guess because that's all I can do from here) is that Helfgott had certain genes. His relationship with his father was strained, and that caused him to go a bit nuts. His sister may not have had these genes, so she was fine. She might have even had a fantastic relationship with her father.

Children are born with a certain personality, and parents are born with a certain personality. Sometimes they fit together well, and sometimes they do not.

Now you have certain behaviors that will damage almost all children....you know like raping them, or breaking their arms. Then you have other stuff that's much more ambiguous. It might make one person grin with fond memories. Good old Dad. He's such a joker. Meanwhile the younger sister can't hold down a job because her self-esteem is so fragile. She blames it on all the teasing and ridicule she endured from their father.

On the other hand.....Reading this book review. I'm getting that the wife Gillian is a bit controlling. This could be one of those cases where someone is convinced by another that they were mistreated. As some people are good at convincing others that they are sick and need medication, others are good at convincing people that they've been abused.

My rule of thumb regarding that is this: If someone is already having problems with a person and seeks help (either through a book, self-help group, therapy, a friend, etc) then they might just be getting confirmation regarding stuff they already suspected. They're experiences and feelings are being validated. But if someone has a POSITIVE relationship with someone, and then they are suddenly convinced there's something wrong in the relationship....then I think there's brainwashing going on.

My question would be...how did David Helfgott feel about his dad, BEFORE Gillian came along?

Here's David Helfgott's official website.

This week he'll be performing at the Bellingen Music Festival. That might be fun for some people to do on the weekend.

In September, Helfgott is going to be in South Africa, and in October he's going to be in Europe. I wish I had some skill that would make people want me traveling around the world. Although I wouldn't want to perform. Well, so that's kind of a problem. Maybe I could have an avatar robot thing do the performing. But it would be that I'd have to be nearby to control the avatar robot. So I could sit in my hotel room for awhile, pulling the strings. Then Tim, Jack, and I would go out exploring the city. How cool would that be!

Here's a clip of Helfgott playing piano. He's definitely quirky, and he looks weird when he plays. But I think a lot of musicians and singers look weird when they do their thing. I love to sing, but I hate seeing myself sing. I think I look weird. That's why when I made my singing videos for YouTube, I showed my printer, and not myself. Maybe my printer can be my avatar robot. He's kind of cute.

I'm reading an editorial right now that comes from the camp opposite of mine. My side of the lake believes mental illness is usually caused by quirky people living in an intolerant world, where only the neurotypical are welcomed and accepted. Alan Stone's side of the lake believes mental illness is purely biological phenomena. He says:

Although psychiatrists still make acceptable targets, one might have thought we were past blaming parents who suffer themselves as they try to cope with their children's serious biological mental disorders. And the last 20 years should have taught everyone who cares about people with serious mental disorders that unconditional love, while salutary, is more effective when combined with appropriate medication.

At least he clarifies that he's referring to SERIOUS mental disorders. So is being sad about a dead horror movie actress, a serious mental disorder? Is that why I needed drugs?

I do agree with Stone here. He says, These truth-telling problems seem most disturbing when a docudrama portrays mental illness, perhaps because no one knows the full truth, not even the victim. Yeah, because if you're truly mentally ill, you might misunderstand what happened. Who knows. Maybe when Heather O'Rourke died, I turned into a raving lunatic. Maybe I blocked that out of my memory. My parents and sisters could come forward and say. Yeah. You were nuts. We were all scared of you. Terrified. You should have SEEN the way you were acting! But then what if they're lying? Or what if they're misremembering?

It's so hard to know the truth in these situations.

Stone talks about how the movie has villianized Helfgott's father. And that's sad....especially if he was a really good dad. But parenting, like mental illness, is open to interpretation. People are constantly calling other parents abusive. You send your baby to daycare. That's child abuse. You homeschool your child? That's child abuse! You let your child eat candy with red 40 in it? That's child abuse! You were breastfeeding your child when he was thirteen months? You're sick. Don't you realize that's sexual abuse?

Daddy Helfgott isn't the only one villianized in the movie. The psychiatric world is as well. Stone says, The screenplay suggests, too, that David Helfgott was further victimized by unseen psychiatrists who gave him shock treatment and, in their sinister ignorance, ordered him to stay away from the piano--his only route to salvation.

Yeah. They sound awful. It's sad if it's all a lie. But that's the media for you. It's manipulative.

Stone talks about how some feel Helfgott's piano-playing isn't really that impressive. He's getting the attention because he has dealt with mental illness. Well yeah. That's because it's that whole human-interest story. It's like the Susan Boyle thing. She doesn't have the youthful and skinny beauty that our society covets. She's socially awkward, and withstood ridicule from a reality TV audience. I think that made her performance much more interesting, and it attracted boatloads of attention. If she was a thin thing with perky boobs, a happy smile, and a charming personality.....would we have cared as much?

It's kind of like my blog. I've been struggling with the question. Why do people come here to read? And why do some people come back repeatedly. There are so many other websites to seek such information. I'd LIKE to think it's because I'm such a brilliant writer, and extremely entertaining. But honestly.....I think it might just be that I'm very weird. I'm a spectacle. Maybe it's like I'm an exhibit on a freak show. If I was a little more normal, I think my Statcounter statistics would go down considerably.

Stone says that the movie presents Helfgott as being child-like, inappropriate, and impulsive; but not hostile.

Stone says, In real life, patients with chronic mental disorders who are regressed are very stressful to live with and care for, and often provoke rage and burn-out in professional caretakers (and in their families).
I agree with him there. I had enough trouble tolerating our manic apartment guest for just a few weeks. I can't imagine living with the guy full time. And as a child, we had a paranoid schizophrenic living with us for a few weeks. That was very difficult for my whole family.

Again though, it's all a matter of perception. Well, I really think most people would find this particular schizophrenic hard to deal with. From what I remember of the experience, she seemed awfully sick. For the bipolar guest, I think there'd be more variety of opinion. Some people are good at tolerating all that excessive energy. I'm not.

When a family says that one of their members is intolerable....is this because the family member is truly sick? Or is the family intolerant of any behavior that goes out of the norm?

Stone says, But, truth to tell, disorganized, impulsive behavior is no laughing matter. Really? Never? I mean going around and stabbing random people is not funny. But if someone walks into a restaurant, strips off his clothes, and sings "Dancing Queen"....that IS funny. I think we all need to lighten up a bit. Some people are working so hard to make mental illness not a stigma. I think by being so overdramatic about it, they're making it MORE of a stigma.

It sounds like the movie DOES blatantly lie about something. They say Helfgott's father was a meanie father because he himself was a victim of the Holocaust. In reality, he had migrated to Australia in 1935.

I'm not sure why that was added to the film. Maybe the screenwriter thought it would make things more interesting? Maybe they felt the Holocaust angle did well for Schindler's List, so they figured it would help win Shine an Oscar?

There's argument about why Helfgott wasn't allowed to travel overseas. The movie says it's because his father was a controlling tyrant. There was the message of no one will love you as I do. I think that type of message is very damaging to one's self-esteem. If Helfgott did have to deal with these types of statements, I can understand why he had a difficult time.

Sister Helfgott says their father didn't let Helfgott go overseas because he was already showing signs of mental illness. That could be true. But maybe he was already showing signs of mental illness because things his father had said and did to him when he was younger. And maybe his father said these things because Helfgott was born with a personality that Daddy Helfgott couldn't tolerate. Maybe this personality was caused by a certain gene. If Helfgott had the same parents and a different gene, maybe he wouldn't have developed a mental illness. And if Helfgott had the same gene, and different parents, maybe he wouldn't have developed a mental illness.

Here's an ABC interview with Helfgott. They have a photo of him. He reminds me of Ron Howard there.

Helfgott says his family had very little money. They lived in poverty. Yet he managed to buy his son a piano. Well, at least we can say he supported his talent. I wonder if his siblings felt some resentment there. That might have happened. And instead of blaming their father for the choice, they could have directed their negative feelings towards David.

The interview says that after ten years of care, a doctor noticed that Helfgott had talent. He invited him to come and live with him. He fed him, housed him, and got him a job. If that's true, it's pretty awesome. What would life be like, if all mentally ill patients were given such care?

Mr. and Mrs. Helfgott talk about how they first met. David grabbed Gillian, kissed her, and told her to come see him play at Riccardo's (where he worked). Alan Stone would probably say such impulsive behavior is NOT a laughing matter. Most people would probably be frightened by it. Gillian, it seems, found it romantic. She was able to tolerate it. That's pretty cool.

Helfgott proposed to their second day of knowing each other. Most people would say What kind of freak does something like that? Gillian asks, Why didn't you propose the first day?

This kind of reminds me of The Fisher King. You have two individuals who would be seen as creepy by most typical individuals. Yet they find each other, and they're in love.

Helfgott is asked about his mental issues. He says, it was an accident. And perhaps it was a combination of... combination of lots of things. It all... perhaps it was... perhaps it went back to the parenting. I would agree it's a combination of things, and probably PARTLY due to the parenting.

Helfgott says he has nothing bad to say about his mother. But his feelings towards his father are complicated and conflicting.

He feels obligated to be grateful to his father....the piano thing, and all. I think it's so confusing when you're angry with someone, but feel you also need to be grateful. When I was having a rough time with my parents, I read a book that helped me a bit. It said just because you're angry at someone, doesn't mean you can't be grateful towards them for other things. Relationships don't have to be an all or nothing thing. Life isn't all in black and white. There are a lot of grays.

I don't know what to think.

I really see two different stories here. One is an abused child who grew up to be mentally disturbed. His family is in denial. Another is the story of a mentally ill person with pretty decent parents. Then his wife led him to believe that it's all the fault of his father.

Helfgott seems confused himself. His way of speaking is....different. He's definitely not neurotypical.

He says his father pushed the idea that the piano was all he needed. You can be without friends. You can be without money. But as long as you have piano, you're okay. On one hand, this can be a madman who cared about one thing: His child being a success. On the other hand, it could be a man that recognized his child had talent, and was trying to make him feel okay about the world. If things get really bad, remember you always have the piano.

Helfgott mention someone named Alice. She pushed the piano-is-all-you-need thing too. Who is she?

Gillian says that after Shine came out, the critics of his piano playing became much more harsh. That's interesting. I wonder why.

Helfgott is a zany guy. That's probably how I'd describe him. He seems child-like, and a bit annoying....but incredibly sweet. He has a refreshing type of enthusiasm.

I like how he admits enjoying his fame. He says it's reassuring. Yeah. I think that's one of the good parts of fame. There are negatives of course....the lack of privacy, the critics, the pressure, etc. But I think it's reassuring to be recognized for our talents.

Well, the only way we can know what really happened to David Helfgott is to go back in time and watch every interaction he had with his father. We can't do that, so I guess we just have to leave it at....there's two sides to every story. And sometimes there's twenty sides to the same story.

I gotta go, and get ready. We're going to my sister's house to babysit, and see their newly-improved house. So see ya later alligator.