"Andy Warhol Was A Hoarder" And Other Tales Of Mental Illness And Stardom | KERA News

"Andy Warhol Was A Hoarder" And Other Tales Of Mental Illness And Stardom

Apr 22, 2016

If you thought you knew Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe or Albert Einstein, think again. 

Much of our understanding of mental health has only been developed in the last few decades. On Think, Science writer Claudia Kalb took that newfound knowledge to explore the minds and quirks of the world's most interesting celebrities in her new book "Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History's Great Personalities." 

Interview Highlights: Claudia Kalb...

...On Marilyn Monroe's troubled past and borderline personality disorder:

Beneath that platinum blond bombshell veneer, "she was really struggling. She was a woman who had a very difficult childhood. She was born to a mom who couldn’t care for her and who gave her up just within a couple weeks of her birth. She really searched and went on a quest throughout her life for some love,  sense of security, family and identity, and it sort of haunted her.

In a way, landing on stage was a place where she found some sense of security. It was a foundation for her, but off stage, there was nothing. It was almost as if the ground would sink beneath her. 

There are therapies today that allow patients to acknowledge a traumatic past, and strike a balance between accepting and changing. There are skills and coping mechanisms, ways to regulate emotions, and give a structure for moving forward. Monroe didn’t have access to that at all."

...On Princess Diana's bulimia:

“Childhood becomes a theme in a lot of these stories. She describes her childhood as unhappy. She was a child of divorce, and she grew up feeling torn. She had not a lot of self-esteem and struggled academically. She got to the point where she was such a young woman, getting married when she was just 19, and she’s entering into this palace life, and it really did look like a fairy tale. But the reality was, she was going into a place that she found little comfort, little support -- not to mention there was Camilla Parker-Bowles, the other woman, in the sidelines from the very beginning -- so she did not feel comfortable in this marriage from the start.

She talked about the bulimia starting even before walking down the aisle. In a way, it was her getting out that pain. It was a way to release the tension. She was just so emotionally troubled, and she felt like she wasn’t getting the help or support.”

...On repetition in Andy Warhol's artwork as an indicator for hoarding: 

“He seemed to feel really comfortable with excess. There it was in the artwork. There it was in his boxes, his time capsules. There were 600 time capsules that he filled with everything from empty toothbrush boxes to prescription bottles, old receipts and checks. He just could not help himself from piling stuff into these boxes. And then I realized he collected people -- the jaunts to the club with hordes of people coming with him. He also recorded thousands of hours of just everyday routine conversations.

Hoarding disorder used to be considered a symptom or category of obsessive compulsive disorder. As researchers started studying it in depth, they realized there are some differences. People with OCD really hate their obsession; it drives them crazy. But a lot of people with hoarding really like the process of accumulating and shopping, and Warhol was a mad shopper. He loved to go everywhere from the five and dime in New York City to the high-end galleries.”

...On Albert Einstein and the link between scientific minds and Asperger's syndrome: 

"He would be very focused on a single task. His sister recalled he could build a stack of cards 14 stories high. He had this power of concentration but also this withdrawal from what was going on around him. His social interactions were sometimes rocky, his relationships were troubled, he didn’t always say the socially appropriate thing. He kind of needed to be taken care of. His head and his brain were obviously beyond the rest of us but otherwise, he had some issues."

There's this interesting theory about if there's a link between the scientific mind and Asperger's. And even Hans Asperger, the man who first described the condition, connected in some way the scientific brilliant mind with these difficult social traits." 

...On Frank Lloyd Wright's narcissism: 

"He really did not treat people very well. He had a lot of sense of superiority, sense of entitlement. He was very confident, and he believed in his vision above all else. What’s so interesting is he designed these extraordinary buildings, and in some cases, the roofs leaked, the floors weren’t that great and the ceilings were too low. There were just practical concerns, but you were supposed to be so grateful to be living in a Frank Lloyd Wright house that none of that mattered.

There’s garden variety narcissism. There are lots of people who display those traits and are full of themselves. Narcissistic personality disorder would be something more intrinsic, more inflexible, with a real sense of entitlement, these characteristics of grandiosity. In Wright’s case, it was really not caring about how much something cost, not having much empathy and exploiting relationships. It was all about him to the detriment of people around him."

...On celebrities publicizing their mental illnesses today:

"It has a huge impact in terms of people having better understanding and more empathy, and ideally getting rid of some of that stigma. If people don’t talk about mental illness, it becomes this other. It becomes this scary thing. Mental illness can be such a scary word. But there's this continuum. You can suffer from depression or anxiety; you can get help; and you can function very well.  So you can be mentally healthy by getting the help you need. I think by these public figures speaking out, they are doing a big service because there have been a lot of studies in public health about how famous people affect awareness.

Claudia Kalb is a journalist, specializing in science, health and medicine. She will be in Dallas for the"Authors at the Adolphus" luncheon on May 12.