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3 Things to Remember When You Read Amanda Bynes' 'Comeback' Interview

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Sarah Schuster, The Mighty’s mental health editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

Amanda Bynes is telling her side of the story.

Well, maybe not the whole story — but as much of the story as she’d like to tell.

If you don’t remember what happened to Bynes before she disappeared from public life a few years ago, headlines from 2013 chronicle her so-called “breakdown.” “Amanda Bynes’ Craziest Tweets” from US Weekly. “Amanda Bynes’s breakdown: A timeline,” from Entertainment Weekly. There’s even a list of all the celebrities she’s called ugly posted on ABC7. During this time, it seemed like the whole world was waiting to see what Bynes would do next. Her bizarre tweets, pictures and public appearances dominated the celebrity news cycle, along with speculation she was mentally unwell and using drugs.

Now, after years of almost consistent silence, the 32-year-old comedian, actor and current fashion student is “back” with a cover story for Paper magazine, where she discusses her past career, her struggle with drug addiction and her hopes for the future. As if sealing the deal on her comeback, Bynes’ Twitter is clear except for one tweet — a link to the story with no additional commentary.

Bynes is not promoting herself as a mental health advocate, and she has every right not to. But how people spoke about her in 2013, and how she’s talking about her experiences now, do have implications for the mental health community. You can read the cover story for yourself here. If you have thoughts about Bynes and this story, we’d love to read them in the comments below.

To get the conversation started, here are three points to keep in mind about Bynes’ “comeback” interview:

1. We should treat people with respect when they’re struggling, not just when they’re well.

While her story is being received warmly now, the internet was not always this kind to Bynes when she was behaving “strangely.” Most people were laughing at her, not with her, and public reaction was a mixture of mockery and speculation about what was “actually” wrong with her.

“It definitely isn’t fun when people diagnose you with what they think you are,” Bynes says in the piece. “That was always really bothersome to me. If you deny anything and tell them what it actually is, they don’t believe you.”

It’s wonderful that people are supporting Bynes now, but it’s just as important to support people when they’re not doing well. Laughing at “celebrity breakdowns” (think: Britney, Kanye) reinforces the idea that those who struggle with their mental health are somehow “less than” — or that mental health issues are only acceptable when they’re “quiet” and relatable.

People — even celebrities — deserve respect even when they’re struggling, and while we should definitely celebrate people’s “comebacks,” we can set an example by being kind during their struggles. It lets others know it’s OK to struggle, too.

2. It’s just as legitimate (and not shameful) when “bizarre” behaviors aren’t drug-induced.

Bynes really emphasized that all of her behavior can be explained by drug-use. “Truly, for me, [my behavior] was drug-induced, and whenever I got off of [drugs], I was always back to normal,” she said.

Bynes said she started smoking marijuana at 16, and later moved on to molly and ecstasy. She abused Adderall, which she says affected her acting career. After officially quitting acting (via Twitter), she says she spent much of her free time doing drugs.

“I got really into my drug usage and it became a really dark, sad world for me,” she said, explaining she spent her time, “stuck at home, getting high, watching TV and tweeting.”

She also recalled experiencing what she describes as potentially “drug-induced psychosis,” during a screening of “Easy A,” where she became fixated on her appearance, and was convinced she should never act again.

It’s true that drugs — especially chronic drug use — can change your brain and cause uncharacteristic behavior. Bynes explained:

Everybody is different, obviously, but for me, the mixture of marijuana and whatever other drugs and sometimes drinking really messed up my brain. It really made me a completely different person. I actually am a nice person. I would never feel, say or do any of the things that I did and said to the people I hurt on Twitter.

That being said, for people with certain mental illnesses, psychosis, disorganized thinking or uncharacteristic behavior isn’t always drug induced — and that’s OK. Just because behavior isn’t caused by drugs, doesn’t mean it’s your fault. When it comes to conditions that make people “act out,” everyone’s experience is valid. Some people use drugs to cope with their mental health, and that aspect of someone’s recovery can’t be ignored.

3. In mental health or addiction recovery, you might not get a”comeback” moment — and that’s OK. Recovery is a process.

Let’s face it: most people don’t get an “I’m well now” cover story. In reality, recovery is messy. It’s a process. It’s moments of light mixed in with darkness, and it’s certainly full of setbacks and missteps. Bynes must know this. She’s been sober for four years, but only now is coming back into the public eye. And despite the swiftness of her “comeback,” most of us won’t get a moment like this. For some, recovery might be anticlimactic, a slow burn towards a good thing, rather than a bang. Embrace that journey anyway. There doesn’t have to be a “moment” for your recovery to count.

Bynes didn’t choose to disclose what recovery has been like for her. She didn’t tell us what compelled her to use drugs in the first place. She didn’t tell us if recovery has been hard, or if she’s had setbacks. She didn’t tell us how she’s talking care of herself now — and that’s OK. She owes us none of this. But, addiction recovery can be complicated. Please know that your story is valid, even if you don’t get the magazine “comeback” story to prove it.

Originally published: November 27, 2018
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