For the 50th — FIFTY — episode, I'm talking about Zachary Levi's memoir, Radical Love, and the inadequacies of mental health care in the United States.
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TRANSCRIPT OF “RADICAL LOVE”
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MALE VO [00:03]
This is Bad Attitudes.
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Hello friends and strangers! Welcome to another episode of Bad Attitudes: An Uninspiring Podcast about Disability. I’m your host, Laura.
We’ve hit another milestone, y’all! Today marks the 50th episode of Bad Attitudes!
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As always, I want to remind you that disability is not a monolith. My experience as a disabled person is going to be different from the experiences of other disabled people. I am one voice for the disabled community but I am not the only voice.
I recently read Zachary Levi’s book, Radical Love, about his mental health journey from complete breakdown in 2017 to relative stability today.
Full disclosure, I LOVE Zachary Levi. I find him so funny and talented, I was hooked on Chuck from the first episode, I was thrilled when he was cast as the voice of Flynn Rider in Disney’s Tangled, and I was ready and waiting when Shazam! was released. The fact that he is funny, adorable, has a beautiful singing voice and is as nerdy as I am basically meant I was destined to be a fan.
When I saw he was releasing a book, I immediately added it to my “To Be Read” list. I put it on hold at my library the second I was able to do so. And I read it as soon as I got my hands on it.
And there is so much I didn’t know.
Let’s be honest. We only know about 10 percent of the truth of what goes on in celebrities’ lives. If that. Most of what we “know,” we make up in our heads based off of interviews and wishful thinking. Social media has made it possible for us to get a little closer to our favorite celebrities, so maybe now we know about 12 percent of the truth. But we feel like we know them. We create a version of them for ourselves that probably looks NOTHING like the actual person, whether it’s someone we admire or not.
I would like to give Zachary Levi a hug for writing this book. One, for all the trauma he experienced growing up and as an adult, and two, for being so vulnerable and open as to share it with readers. (Also, not gonna lie, I think it would be real fun to hug Zachary Levi.) The fact that he was willing to commit to paper his experience is, I think, a major show of strength. People don’t like to share their trauma. We like to keep our skeletons in the closet because we’re afraid that if we admit to our trauma, other people will think less of us.
There are some people who wear their negative experiences like a gold medal. They almost brag about what they endured. And then there are those who downplay their trauma to the point of saying it didn’t actually happen. Levi doesn’t brag about his trauma, but he doesn’t blow it off either. He admits that what he went through was bad, and admits that it shaped him and cultivated some nasty personality traits and personal habits within him that he struggled with for years.
The main thing he doesn’t do is blame anyone else. He talks a lot in his book about generational trauma and how trauma begets trauma, and how trying to break that cycle can be traumatic in itself. While he doesn’t blame anyone, he also doesn’t shirk responsibility for his own actions. I think it’s an important distinction he makes. You are not to blame for the trauma you endured, but you are still responsible for how you behave as a result. Levi’s trauma created numerous mental health struggles for him, but he takes responsibility for the bad behaviors that resulted as a part of those struggles. It’s impressive because no one would fault him for blaming his parents for his trauma. We would all probably let him off the hook. But he doesn’t let himself off the hook. And even though his abusers experienced their own traumas which were not their fault, he doesn’t let them off the hook for their bad behavior either.
I’ve been fairly open about my struggles with depression and how I behaved badly when I was at my lowest. Even though the way I acted was a result or a manifestation of my depression, it was still my responsibility, which is why some of those things still haunt me today.
Something else I appreciate about Levi’s book is his openness about his reticence to try medication. That really resonated with me. Today, I will shout from the rooftops how much antidepressants helped me and how they changed my life, but before I started treatment, I was resistant to the idea. There is so much stigma, even today, around the idea of taking medication for your mental health. I was afraid of that stigma, afraid that taking medication meant I was, quote, “crazy”. Levi says essentially the same thing, not in so many words, of course. We both felt that by admitting we needed medication, we were admitting to being beyond help. Irrevocably broken.
One thing I wish Levi had touched on more is his privilege in accessing the care he received. He does mention that he was lucky to be able to fund his treatment, but that’s basically all he says. I recognize that this book is not about the inadequacies of the American healthcare system, but I feel it was a missed opportunity, considering his platform and audience reach.
The treatment program he accessed is probably only covered by platinum-standard insurance, which is available to individuals with plenty of liquid assets anyway. Lack of funds is one of the main barriers for many people not receiving mental health treatment they need. Most insurances will only cover a handful of therapy sessions; if you need long-term therapy, you are likely going to have to pay out of pocket. They can also deny coverage if they don’t believe the therapy is “medically necessary.” There are laws in place to help individuals with employer-sponsored coverage access mental health care, but even so, the ability of patients to afford said care leaves a lot to be desired.
I would have liked for Levi to make a stronger point about how the disparity in socio-economic backgrounds makes it easier for an affluent white man like himself to access necessary care. Additionally, he and his family were able to research multiple programs around the country and determine the best fit for him based on his needs, not on his ability to pay. He was able to fly across the country and retreat from the world for nearly a month, which is simply not an option for the average person. I don’t expect him to dedicate a chapter to it, but I would have appreciated a stronger acknowledgment from Levi that the care he received is not the average mental health care available to most people, and that his privilege afforded him a much higher standard of care.
That being said, I wish more people were as brave as Zachary Levi. If more well-known figures were willing to be open about their trauma and their struggles with mental illness, I believe that would help us make great strides is lessening the stigma associated with mental health. Yes, most public figures are going to have the same privileged access to treatment as Levi had, but even so, simply talking about the realities of abuse, trauma, and mental illness can go so far. Levi talks a lot in his book about the fact that mental illness lies to you and makes you think you’re alone, that no one has ever felt the way you feel. That’s certainly how I felt during the height of my depression. And for many of us, it may be true that there is no one in our immediate vicinity who has ever felt the way we feel, but there IS someone out there who has felt that way. And that’s what we need to hear. We need to hear that other people have suffered the mental pain and anguish we’re suffering and they came through it. That’s the most important part. We need to know they made it through.
Being able to relate to another person’s story is so empowering. I think about how much I would have benefitted as a child if I had seen another disabled child in popular media. Being portrayed as a regular child, not some beacon of inspiration or effervescent symbol of innocence. Yeah, I was cute, but I wasn’t ALWAYS cute. Or how it would have benefitted me to see a disabled adult who looked like someone I wanted to be when I grew up, doing things, having a job, having a relationship, having a LIFE.
We need the same kind of representation of mental health. We need to hear people’s stories. Not just the “triumph over adversity” bits, but the parts where they have hit rock bottom and how they found their way out. That’s what we get from Levi. While his story is ultimately optimistic, he doesn’t shy away from dirty laundry. He hasn’t, as far as I can tell, glossed over anything to make himself or his family more palatable. While he may not give us every salacious detail, he gives readers more than enough information about his past and his present to satisfy our morbid curiosity while allowing us insight into his psyche.
The cynic in me wants to say this book is a money grab or a publicity stunt, but, if I’m being honest, I must admit that he didn’t HAVE to write this book. He didn’t HAVE to share his trauma with the world. They are a lot of less invasive ways he could have made a little money or hyped up his next movie. There’s a quote that goes, “Writing is sitting down at a typewriter and opening up a vein.” And that’s what Levi has done.
Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you in the next one.
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