Talking with Glenn & Jessie Close: Stigma-fighting sisters
By Nancy Tobin
The Close sisters are a compelling study in contrasts, relaxing at either end of a sofa, dangling their bare feet. Jessie Close's small service dog, Snitz, is happily nuzzling Glenn's willing shoulder, while Glenn's two dogs-Billie and Jake-compete for room at her feet. Jessie's manner is easygoing, jocular, and familiar; Glenn is more reserved, a patient listener and a reflective speaker.
Two days earlier, Jessie and her 29-year-old son Calen Pick (now padding around the living room in shorts and checking his cell phone) were keynote speakers at the annual conference and workshop of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) in Chicago-their first experience at public speaking. Jessie and Calen are now visiting Glenn's New York City apartment from their home in Bozeman, Montana; their open suitcases add friendly clutter to Glenn's elegant living room. Calen's 18-year-old sister, Mattie, is expected to arrive soon from the airport, joining them for the coming week of travel and activism.
It has been a busy weekend and a very long day. At a luncheon earlier, Fountain House-a mental health support foundation based in New York-honored the Close sisters for their anti-stigma work. The event also recognized U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI) and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. A lengthy outdoor photo shoot followed. Now, early in the evening, the pair is settled in for an interview with bp Magazine in this sunny Manhattan apartment, where windows overlook the spring canopy of a tree-filled Central Park far below.
Since the fall of 2009, spurred on and supported by her doting older sister, Jessie has been in a whirlwind of highly visible, stigma-busting activity in the world of mental health. When Calen was 19, he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Shortly afterwards, Jessie, then 47, learned that she had bipolar disorder after suffering from depressions, suicide attempts, and alcoholism for nearly as long as she can remember. But it was not until 2004 that she finally got the more specific diagnosis-"bipolar 'with psychotic tendencies' and 'rapid cycler,' all of which I was," says Jessie. Finally, she began receiving helpful medications.
"It's conservative to say that one in six people has a mental illness," Glenn says evenly and with conviction. "Some think that number is closer to one in four. To me, it's one of the conditions of being human. Having a mental illness doesn't separate you from other people-it brings you closer together."
It certainly has bonded the members of the Close family...
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