Robert Cleaned Up, Then He Heard A Sound
May 16, 2010 12:30 AM   Subscribe

Just a bit late for Canadian Mental Health Week, legendary children's author Robert Munsch has admitted to cocaine and alcohol abuse to cope with bipolar disorder.

Munsch has spoken about mental health and creativity before. Anyone who only knows him for his sentimental "greatest hit" Love You Forever is missing out on a hilarious, energetic storyteller.

(previously on MetaFilter)
posted by Schlimmbesserung (33 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, this kind of blows my mind. I would not have expected this, but then I didn't know he was bi-polar either.

One of the great things about a childhood in Guelph, Ontario is the frequency in which you were able to have Robert Munsch come read his books to you while you were in Elementary school. There were at least 3 times I remember this, and he was such an engaging story teller.

Glad to hear he's getting himself back on track.
posted by aclevername at 12:51 AM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


who decides to do coke in his 50s?
posted by PinkMoose at 12:53 AM on May 16, 2010


who decides to do coke in his 50s?

Somebody clutching at straws to keep a debilitating situation from overwhelming him for one more day.
posted by Saydur at 1:00 AM on May 16, 2010 [11 favorites]


i understand that, but it does suggest how gone he was
posted by PinkMoose at 1:08 AM on May 16, 2010


who decides to do coke in his 50s?

This might seem kind of flippant and in a real sense doesn't apply here.. but... I've long thought that the time to take up serious recreational drug use would be when you get older (now I don't really consider "in his 50s to actually qualify as old enough in my mind). It certainly makes more sense then when you are younger and have your entire life ahead of you to fuck up for a few years of fun.

I think I'd pass on the coke because it just doesn't sound fun to me, but yeah, let me hit the 70s and some of those opiates may well just be part of my life.
posted by edgeways at 1:10 AM on May 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


And looking at the previous thread, it seems there are a few of us Mefites from Guelph. Huh.
posted by aclevername at 1:15 AM on May 16, 2010


i didn't mean it to be flippant--the narrative is so strong, and so suprising, that it is frightening.
posted by PinkMoose at 1:25 AM on May 16, 2010


Hear him read his stories here.
(linked from Wikipedia page)

PinkMoose: "who decides to do coke in his 50s?"
People in their 50s decide to do all kinds of things, ranging from greatnesses to foolishness of various sorts, same as anyone else -- you think we're dead?
posted by dancestoblue at 1:30 AM on May 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


if you spend 40 years or so with the prime drug of choice being one thing, and move onto a rather bigger thing, it begs the question, what exactly changed to make that bigger thing more reasonable.

Plus where does a world famous childrens authour living in a small city in central ontario cop--i mean, this would require a lot of planning, and forethought. It does not seem to be a random appetite that came with the wind.
posted by PinkMoose at 1:42 AM on May 16, 2010


"if you spend 40 years or so with the prime drug of choice being one thing, and move onto a rather bigger thing, it begs the question, what exactly changed to make that bigger thing more reasonable. "

Maybe his alcoholism/addiction took him further as things progressed; my understanding is that alcoholism/addiction is a progressive illness. Addictions don't have much use for reasonable, from what I've seen of it anyways.

"Plus where does a world famous childrens authour living in a small city in central ontario cop--i mean, this would require a lot of planning, and forethought. It does not seem to be a random appetite that came with the wind."

I don't know much about small Canadian cities but I'd think that an addict could find another addict and get what he/she needs pretty much no matter where they are.

PinkMoose, I'm sorry about the "you think we're dead" foolishness; I read what you wrote, thought to my self "Hey, he's talking about *me* here!" and wrote that bit of snarl. Maybe a late-night governor on my keyboard would be helpful, hold posts for five minutes or something...
posted by dancestoblue at 2:14 AM on May 16, 2010


Dancestoblue:

totally didn't mean to offend, it's just b/w the announcement in 2001 and now he seemed to be doing alright, or at least doing well. So one is curious.
posted by PinkMoose at 3:10 AM on May 16, 2010


In trying to better understand my schizophrenic son's behavior, I have asked several people suffering from severe mental illness why they use (alcohol, cocaine, marijuana mostly) when it only complicates their life.

"It helps me sleep" was the very surprising and most frequent answer. I haven't yet been able to find a whole lot on Pubmed linking sleep problems and mental illness.
posted by francesca too at 5:00 AM on May 16, 2010


"It helps me sleep" was the very surprising and most frequent answer. I haven't yet been able to find a whole lot on Pubmed linking sleep problems and mental illness.

Maybe that's code for "mind your own business".
posted by DU at 5:12 AM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


interesting that the first link says he's been clean & sober for 4 months, while the 2nd, written 7 months ago, talks about how 'Mr. Munsch finally got help – therapy and antidepressants – when he was close to 50,' even though 'In 1986, ... a glass of wine turned into a boozing relapse.'

i guess i'm just confused. good for him for getting the help he needs, but with his history, i'd be hesitant to says he's out of the woods just yet.

edgeways: i've thought the same thing about recreational drug use as a senior citizen rather than during prime arrest age. unfortunately, the older i get the more i realize that my body might have different ideas. munsch's body apparently feels the same since he 'survived a stroke in 2008 and now sometimes searches for words and has an occasional stutter.'

my experience with the drugs i get now (for legitimate medicinal purposes) is that they were a helluva lot more fun when i was younger. until they actively started destroying my life, i mean.
posted by msconduct at 5:20 AM on May 16, 2010


I'm sure you can get all sorts of drugs in Guelph. It's a university town. Also, it's not like you can't find drugs everywhere.
posted by chunking express at 5:23 AM on May 16, 2010


The cocaine is news to me but it's been an open secret (in libraries at least) that Munsch had a problem with booze for many, many years now.
posted by stinkycheese at 5:40 AM on May 16, 2010


Well, it's even mentioned in the Previously link I see. So not news at all then.
posted by stinkycheese at 5:42 AM on May 16, 2010


The man did so much for my childhood and the childhoods of my friends. I hope he finds peace and serenity somewhere, somehow.
posted by Hiker at 5:48 AM on May 16, 2010


If you've never gone hunting for something at 4:30 in the morning with a nose full of blood and an unknown place of not sleep but crashing than you might not know where some of this man is coming from. The pull at those points is so strong that 'sense' doesn't.
posted by ZaneJ. at 5:51 AM on May 16, 2010


"In trying to better understand my schizophrenic son's behavior, I have asked several people suffering from severe mental illness why they use (alcohol, cocaine, marijuana mostly) when it only complicates their life.

"It helps me sleep" was the very surprising and most frequent answer.
"

Once you're out of the medical establishment (meaning it's hard for you to get to the doctor or pay for stuff for whatever reason, and severe mental illness can boot you out of the system as quickly as anything) marijuana and ESPECIALLY alcohol are much easier to obtain than prescription meds, sleep studies, physical exams, whatever.

I mean, shit, get a bad toothache or something and see how well YOU sleep without medicinal assistance.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:18 AM on May 16, 2010


Hunh, even as a kid I found Munsch's performances off-puttingly manic, there was always a really intense edge to it that sort of scared me. Poor guy.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:05 AM on May 16, 2010


It's a university town. Also, it's not like you can't find drugs everywhere.

If you are a student. If you are a 50 year old man, it's a bit more difficult. Your circle of friends is smaller and in the casual acquaintances you make drug use is not something you discuss. It's one thing to buy weed at a frat party, it's not what you do at the office party. Generally speaking.

As you get older, your choice of illegal drug has more to do with access and availability than preference. Or so I have been told. So....

who decides to do coke in his 50s?

He met a new friend who turned him on to it and provided a source. From there the rest was probably automatic: cocaine's addictive reputation is well-deserved.
posted by three blind mice at 7:37 AM on May 16, 2010


If you are a 50 year old man who is a famous author living in a university town where most of the students grew up reading your books it's probably pretty easy to meet someone who will get you drugs.
posted by Melsky at 8:26 AM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's not like Guelph is on the dark side of the moon. It's less than an hours' drive to Toronto, which is Canada's biggest city.
posted by stinkycheese at 8:29 AM on May 16, 2010


"It helps me sleep" was the very surprising and most frequent answer. I haven't yet been able to find a whole lot on Pubmed linking sleep problems and mental illness.

I've posted links here previously to research on dual diagnosis and the notion of "self-medication" which is specious because as you've observed many people with chronic mental health disorders gravitate to street drugs of choice that actually exacerbate their symptoms rather than mimic the effect of the legitimate psychotropic medications they would be prescribed in the mental health system. I.e., we see huge numbers of people entering the system with psychotic disorders who abuse drugs like cocaine and PCP that exacerbate psychosis, and we see huge numbers of people with depressive disorders that gravitate towards alcohol and opiates that exacerbate those symptoms. So "self-medication" is a misleading concept, because most dual addicted abusers aren't really making an ad-hoc attempt to manage symptoms through their use so much as they are in full flight from the reality presented by their symptomatic state, regardless if the means they chose to flee are inadvertently making the situation worse over time.

Once you're out of the medical establishment (meaning it's hard for you to get to the doctor or pay for stuff for whatever reason, and severe mental illness can boot you out of the system as quickly as anything) marijuana and ESPECIALLY alcohol are much easier to obtain than prescription meds, sleep studies, physical exams, whatever.

I can't speak to your experience, but there is a community mental health apparatus in every city that exists precisely to do just this, get the mentally ill poor psychiatric medications through Medicaid funding. If you look at the recently published list of top 25 psychiatric prescriptions for last year, you'll notice that the number of prescriptions being written and the quantities of drugs being moved is simply enormous. If someone suffers from a severe psychiatric disorder, accessing these systems can be challenging because of the cognitive disorganization that can accompany symptoms, and also delusions can sow distrust that keeps the consumer from willingly reentering the system, but upon eventual contact with the system (be it through the shelter, the prison, the psych unit, etc.) getting the medications is quite easy. Drug companies aren't moving all those pills to people on private insurance. They are dumping huge quantities of these medications into the community mental health system, the prison system and hospitals and they are billing Medicaid for them.
posted by The Straightener at 8:42 AM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm always surprised when people are surprised by this sort of thing. People who struggle with mental health problems and the drug and alcohol addiction that so often go with them are not a special underclass of people; they are drawn from the general population.

You're as likely to face the onset of bi-polar disorder as a bank president as you are as a checkout clerk. It's an equal opportunity disease. Being white and middle aged and middle class doesn't shield someone from this.

The self-medication with drugs and alcohol follow very naturally and are really, really common. People generally do not make good choices for themselves when manic, or when depressed, and God knows nothing fucks up your ability to make rational decisions quite like a manic episode.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:24 AM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


most dual addicted abusers aren't really making an ad-hoc attempt to manage symptoms through their use so much as they are in full flight from the reality presented by their symptomatic state, regardless if the means they chose to flee are inadvertently making the situation worse over time

Substance abuse certainly does seem to complicate the life of a mentally ill person. The people who spoke about their lack of sleep were (supposedly) all compliant with their meds and attending a day treatment center, with symtoms covering the entire spectrum of mental illness, not just depression. There is not a whole lot of research on how lack of sleep influences psychosis and substance abuse.
posted by francesca too at 10:51 AM on May 16, 2010


God, "Love you forever." I know it makes me a maudlin little lightweight to admit this, but that's one of two children's books that I literally cannot read to my kids, because I end up crying prolifically before it's over. (The other is "Someday," if you're interested. That one's even more of an emotional sucker-punch.)
posted by jbickers at 11:27 AM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've posted links here previously to research on dual diagnosis and the notion of "self-medication" which is specious because as you've observed many people with chronic mental health disorders gravitate to street drugs of choice that actually exacerbate their symptoms rather than mimic the effect of the legitimate psychotropic medications they would be prescribed in the mental health system

Self-medication is not at all specious and while illicit drug use may exacerbate symptoms that *bother other people*, it often reduces the symptoms that most bother the addict.

For example, schizophrenics often like pot because it improves their mood. It may do this only briefly and may exacerbate symptoms like delusions, hallucinations and paranoia-- but it sometimes helps with the so-called "negative symptoms" of anhedonia, dullness and listlessness that are invisible to others but are more troubling to the ill person. Most prescribed drugs help not at all with "negative" symptoms-- and yet negative symptoms are what people with schizophrenia say are the most troubling, when asked.

In fact, the drugs prescribed for schizophrenia often exacerbate low mood and pleasurelessness-- they block dopamine and can create anhedonia. So, it's hardly surprising that people don't want to take them and prefer drugs that however fleetingly make them feel good, or even just make them feel *something*. Would you want to take "legitimate" drugs that give you diabetes, make you fat, make you feel crappy and don't help with the symptoms you find most upsetting-- or drugs that do sometimes help with those issues and don't have those side effects?

Second, sure, cocaine may make depression worse in the long term-- but in the short term, it often makes it better (indeed amphetamine and cocaine were early "antidepressants"). Similarly, opioids may cause horrible withdrawal if not tapered and may even cause depression in some people-- but they relieve depression in others.

Self-medication is a very real and very common phenomenon-- but if you fail to see the world from the drug users' perspective, you will not understand it.
posted by Maias at 3:50 PM on May 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


Poor Bob.

I'm shocked that I'm not the only mefite who was born and raised in Guelph. And yeah, the university has very little to do with the drug trade in Guelph, though I'm sure they're a nice market. As a cop once told me, "Why do you think they call it the Speed River?"
posted by Hildegarde at 5:09 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Love You Forever seemed kinda creepy, to me.
posted by ovvl at 3:05 PM on May 17, 2010


"I was a French-style drunk, who is quietly immersed in alcohol all the time," he explained. "I didn't have binges. I was just having a morning drink."

Wait, we're not supposed to drink in the morning, now? How the hell are we supposed to enjoy the sunshine, then? Drop acid?
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:41 PM on May 17, 2010


My sympathy is with him, and admiration for speaking up about it. His books are *excellent*. Bob, if you're reading this, hang in there.
posted by mdoar at 11:12 AM on May 18, 2010


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