I’ve always been drawn to Ernest Hemingway and his family, not because of his writings or his antics, but because of the deep stain mental illness has left on the Hemingway legacy.
I remember an English teacher talking about Hemingway’s 1961 suicide. The teacher suggested Hemingway was an asshole, that he was too macho to accept that he was getting too old to seek out adventure and thus gave up. I accepted that answer for a long time, and when my best friend killed himself in 1996 the Hemingway perception colored how I dealt with my own loss.
Hemingway was an asshole for doing what he did, the teacher had suggested. Therefore, my friend was an asshole for doing what he did.
It’s too bad I saw it that way. If I knew the truth about mental illness back then, I would have had a healthier outlook on what had happened in my life. I still would have grieved, of course. But maybe I wouldn’t have been so haunted for so long. I’m not bitter about that. I ultimately learned my lessons and was able to make peace with the past. But my awareness has drawn me to other suicide cases, including those of the Hemingways.
Besides the famous author, actress Margaux Hemingway ended her life in 1996, the same year as my friend. All told, seven members of Ernest’s family have died by taking their own lives, according to CNN.
It makes sense. Depression runs in families and so can the coping tools for dealing with that depression.
Looking for resources to manage your depression? Check out our Coping with Depression, Fear and Anxiety page.
The CNN story mainly discusses the so-called Hemingway curse and how actress Mariel Hemingway, sister of Margaux and granddaughter of Ernest, has dealt with it. From the article:
Every family, even famous ones, have secrets. The Hemingways are no different. “We were, sort of, the other American family that had this horrible curse,” says Mariel Hemingway. She compared her family to the Kennedys — but the Hemingway curse, she said, is mental illness. Hemingway explores the troubled history of her family in “Running from Crazy,” a documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. “Knowing that there’s so much suicide and so much mental illness in my family, I’ve always kind of been ‘running from crazy,’ worried that one day I’d wake up and be in the same position,” Mariel Hemingway, 51, said at a support group for families of suicide, as shown in the film.
Making the film must have been a liberating experience for her. By pulling all those family skeletons from the closet, she’s freed herself from some of the haunting and educated a lot of people in the process. That’s always been one of my main motivations in doing this blog.
If blogs like mine and documentaries like hers can bring a few people some peace of mind and detonate the stigmas around mental illness, it will have been worth it.