How Mariel Hemingway Handles Her Depression and the Family Curse - But Does This Apply to Us?

Patient Expert

Today's NY Times Magazine features an article, The Importance of Not Being Ernest, on the actress Mariel Hemingway, granddaughter of the writer Ernest Hemingway. A quick family history:

Ernest Hemingway was a heavy drinker who suffered frequent bouts of depression. At age 61, he shot himself in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun. His father also committed suicide, as did his brother and sister and first wife's father. Another sister may have committed suicide.

Mariel's sister, Margaux, who was a supermodel during the 70s, overdosed on phenobarbital at age 41. Another sister, Muffet, has been diagnosed with both bipolar and schizophrenia.

In his book "Strange Tribe: A Family Memoir," grandson John Patrick Hemingway calls suicide "the family exit."

The NY Times piece is based on an about-to-be released documentary, "Running From Crazy." According the to NY Times:

The title is an apt summation of the film's premise: Hemingway has spent her life outrunning the "crazy" that seemed to be her genetic inheritance. "When Margaux died, I thought, Oh, no, it's my turn. I'm going to get the sickness," Hemingway told me. "Honestly, I thought I could catch it."

Mariel has "built a life of preventive measures." The NY Times follows her and her live-in boyfriend engaging in various stay-well rituals on their secluded Malibu property and nearby nature reserves. One of these includes climbing a rocky precipice barefoot to watch the sunrise.

Mariel has endured depression and no end of family crises, but according to the NY Times, although well, she is "still like a sentry guarding her self." This includes no alcohol or coffee and a strict diet. In addition, she and her boyfriend make time for play. Says the Times: "She believes her way of living has kept her sane and alive."

Perhaps you see the catch: Mariel does not have to worry about paying the rent. While she is watching the sunrise and then helping herself to green tea, her fellow Angelenos are going nuts gridlocked in LA's notorious freeway system, on their way to jobs they probably hate.

While Mariel and her partner are turning staying well into a full-time job, her fellow Angelenos are struggling with their real jobs, only to arrive home (via the same freeways) physically and emotionally exhausted, with a whole new set of family obligations to fulfill, with barely enough time to climb into bed, having to face yet another harrowing tomorrow.

The comments to the NY Times piece are particularly revealing. This, from a certain DC Lambert:

_... I am really tired of Times articles featuring the 1%, or their concerns. ... I get up before the crack of dawn too--then I stumble into the still-dark kitchen, take the dog out to pee, pack my bagged lunch for work (because I can't afford to buy lunch), & wish a good day to my groggy 9th grade son, who is stumbling into the bathroom as I stumble to my car for my 45 minute commute to work.

While at work, I hope my son has made it to school himself ok; meanwhile, I teach inner city special ed students, a very fulfilling job in that I can change lives for the good, but definitely stressful & certainly nowhere approaching medication or communing with nature. I spend maybe 10 minutes on lunch, which I eat while taking care of emails or paperwork. Certainly not fresh-blended veggies etc.

After a long day, the 45 minute drive home; I pull into the driveway about 11 hours after I've left it. Then on to evening tasks, duties, bills, activities, often until 10-11 pm. Repeat.

Just middle class life in the US. But who cares about us?_

And from George, who notes that immigrants, rich and poor, seem to readily adapt to life in LA, but for middle-class native-borns:

I've never met anyone of this demographic group who either does not take serious medication or is not obsessed with their diet like the characters in this article. There is something about living in this isolated, car-centric, celebrity obsessed culture that makes people unsatisfied and paranoid.

Still, let's give Mariel credit where it's due. Her sister Margaux enjoyed equal privilege and celebrity. She did not escape her genes. Mariel may have the luxury of having all the free time in the world to devote to her wellness, but she certainly has no luxury in letting down her guard. Depression takes no prisoners, especially in her family.