One of my favourite films, is breakfast at Tiffany’s, mainly because I understood it so well. When I was first introduced to Miss Holly Golightly, I saw myself; a woman who felt so alone, so desperately sad and yet she pretended all was fine, pretended she didn’t care, she didn’t have emotions, she had no need for them.
She willingly married a man at least twice her age, just to ensure a safe and comfortable life for her handicapped brother. Her entire existence revolved around him, around the people she loved and the lengths to which she would go for them.
Holly shied away from love, almost as if she felt she didn’t deserve it. She hid her compassion under a hard exterior of nonchalance, pretending not to care for anything or anyone. She described a feeling of the “mean reds”, an expression she goes on to explain as the feeling of fear without knowing why, as if some force were looming over her. She explained how it was different to “the blues” which were something you get if it’s raining too long or you have something to be sad about. “The reds” on the other hand, seemed to have no reason, no purpose, no goal, they simply came and stayed.
Truman Capote was the author of breakfast at Tiffany’s and when looking at his early life, you can see where he got the feeling of “the mean reds”. He was born the 1920’s to a very young mother of 17 and her husband, who divorced when Truman was only four, sending him to live with distant relatives for several years. Although he describes his time with his relatives as happy and comfortable, it’s not ridiculous to suppose such an early split from his parents as well as the divorce may have caused emotional problems for him later on. He also had to deal with his stepfather, who had given him the Capote name, being convicted of embezzlement and uprooting the entire family.
Throughout his life, Truman also turned to drink and drugs which no doubt led to his death in 1984 when he was only 59 years old. He died from a liver disease that was said to have been made worse by his intoxication’s. So all in all, he didn’t have the best of lives, he was clearly struggling with several emotions, from a very early age too.
Drawing from my own experience with mental health, often the very smallest of difficulties in your childhood can lead to intense depression and other problems later on. For myself, I felt as though I always had to pretend to be someone else, to be happy and healthy just like everyone around me. People weren’t as open about mental health as they are today and it’s quite surprising how in only around 10 years or so, people have gone from calling mentally ill people “wackos” to treating them as respected members of the community. Either way, my psychotherapist is of no doubt that other peoples and my own invalidation of my feelings, lead to my BPD, Depression and everything else I’ve had to deal with.
I first watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s not so long ago and I mentioned it to my dad when he came home from work. He said, “oh I don’t like that film” and when I asked why he replied “I just didn’t understand it, it didn’t make any sense”. I was surprised and began to explain to him why it was good and why it did make sense. I told him that Holly gave up her innocence and childhood to marry a man she didn’t love so as to keep her brother safe. I explained that she was really a very sad girl, who didn’t understand how to express herself. She had spent her whole life without anyone she felt she could turn to, she was always the protector, never the protected. She struggled to make meaningful relationships because she felt people always wanted something from her, plus she was always putting on a mask of what she thought other people wanted her to be, she was so intent on making other happy, she forgot how to look after herself, or even who she was.
Once I had finished explaining, somewhat dramatically, why this film was so fantastic, I noticed my Dad’s facial expression change to one of understanding, and though I don’t know exactly which bit hit him the most, nor did he actually say anything, I gathered I had got my point across.
But the main reason I’ve been explaining all of this is because really, the only thing that stops people from helping friends, family or strangers with mental health issues, is really understanding. Everyone can watch breakfast at Tiffany’s, I’m sure you can get it on the internet for free and its an old enough film for there to be multiple cheap copies in various charity shops and car boot sales. Everyone can watch it, but not everyone can understand it. There’s a quote I love which is actually from a fictional villain, Lex Luthor, some of you may know it, “Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.”
I know you may think its a bit of a strange source, but sometimes wisdom comes from strange places. This quote can also be applied to breakfast at Tiffany’s. Some people think its a cute love story, others, like my dad, think its stupid and confusing, and then I, looked at the film and saw the thoughts and feelings of the author coming through the screen. I took a piece of literature and used it to decipher the feelings of the man that wrote it, a man who I never knew. It doesn’t just have to be a piece of literature that we manage to decode either, it could be a persons attitude. Are they standoffish and cold? Do you assume this is because they are a bad person? Or do you think that maybe they’re cold and distant because experience taught them to be scared of getting close to people. Do you find a teenager cutting themselves and assume it’s a faze? Do you yell at them for being sick and disgusting? Or do you see below the act and realise they must be suffering? Do you see someone with a mental health label and assume they’re too much work to help out, or do you see the person below the label, who may be pretty fun if you get to know them?
So many things can be translated in different ways and it really boils down to our own outlook on life. If we think of mental health as a weird freaky issue some people have, we’re going to treat those people like weird freaks. If, however, we see it as simply an illness, not the person as a whole, look at it as a temporary setback, rather that a lifestyle choice, we are more likely to respect those people and show them the care they deserve.
We’ve got to a point now where mental health is more open, everyone knows about it, it’s no longer hidden. It’s out there for all to see, we can’t get rid of it, all we can do is make a choice, and that choice is whether we accept or reject the people struggling every day to keep themselves alive.