If You Could Read My Mind: A PTSD Memoir

David_Elijah_Nahmod_thumbDavid-Elijah Nahmod is a film critic and reporter in San Francisco. His articles appear regularly in The Bay Area Reporter and SF Weekly. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.

David developed Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD) after surviving gay conversion therapy as a child and has found that many in the LGBT community suffer from severe, often untreated emotional disorders due to the extreme anti-gay traumas they endured. This column chronicles his journey.

Mental Illness Is Not Entertainment

I know what its like to have my condition laughed at. Everywhere I go there’s always one or two assholes who will make snarky comments about how “sick” I am or lecture me–using the cruelest language imaginable–regarding all the “help” I need. All of these “concerned” souls usually do these things as publicly as possible in order to fully maximize the degradation they wish to subject me to.

I am well aware of what my PTSD–caused by being subjected to childhood gay conversion therapy and other abuses–can do to me. The last thing I need is for some idiot to use my condition as a weapon against me–or as a “teaching tool” to “educate” me.

With that in mind, I join millions of people who have expressed their disgust at talk show host Dr. Phil’s recent interview with the former movie star Shelley Duvall.

Duvall_YoungerDuvall was riding high during the 1970s and 80s. She played major roles in numerous films by the late director Robert Altman, most notably in the Oscar winner Nashville (1975) and opposite the late icon Robin Williams in Popeye. She had a small but memorable role in Woody Allen’s Oscar winning Annie Hall (1977), and is most likely best remembered for co-starring role opposite Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick’s classic chiller The Shining (1980).

Duvall had a glorious second act as a producer. Her 1980s TV series, Faerie Tale Theater, which she created, produced and occasionally acted in was a huge hit for Showtime, helping to put the then second tier network on the map.

A little over a dozen years ago, Shelley Duvall dropped out of sight. Rumor has it that she had moved back to her native Texas and was living a life of quiet retirement, comfortable with the money she had earned during her twenty-plus years in show business.

In late 2016 Duvall resurfaced on the Dr. Phil Show. The TV psychologist interviewed Duvall about herDuvall current state of health. Many viewers were shocked by the once rail-thin Duvall’s overweight appearance–another example of how the public rushes to judgement. Duvall is now 67 years old–45 years have passed since she made her film debut. It’s absurd for people to expect Duvall to look in 2016 as she did in 1971.

What is most concerning is the fact that Ms Duvall has developed mental illness in the years since she left the spotlight. On her recent Dr. Phil interview, Duvall claimed that Robin Williams, her Popeye co-star, was still alive and was a shape-shifter. She made many other bizarre statements, few of which made sense. One statement she made stood out for it’s truthfulness: Duvall told Dr. Phil that she was “very sick.” Phil was there to help Duvall of course. After asking the former star a series of leading questions, many designed to illicit the disturbing answers that his audience was expecting, Dr. Phil assured Duvall that he was there to “help”.

Wasn’t that nice of him?

Earth to Dr Phil: You should be ashamed of yourself.

I don’t know what caused Ms. Duvall to deteriorate so severely, but I do know that she’s a human being, and a lovely one at that. I actually met Shelley Duvall in New York City in 1981. She and I had a delightful conversation which went on for several hours. The person I met was sweet and charming, down-to-earth and quite talented. What has happened to her in recent years is a tragedy, not an excuse for Dr. Phil to make an exploitative grab for ratings. Ms. Duvall clearly needs help. That help should be given to out of the public eye, where she can regain her wellness in an environment which is nurturing, supportive and loving.

Too many people judge and ridicule mental illness.

Even more people treat it as a character flaw. It is most certainly not a character flaw. Mental illness is exactly that, an illness. A medical condition, and that’s how it should be treated. Those who exploit it, those who judge it, those who ridicule it are only contributing to the problem. They are making it more difficult for people who are ill to get well. In some cases, they are causing those who are ill to get worse. That’s a despicable thing to do.

The mentally ill deserve kindness and compassion. What Dr. Phil did to Shelley Duvall is inexcusable. His show should be boycotted and he should make amends for the harm he’s done to people’s lives.


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