Recently, Jamie McGrath was able to speak with Mary Forsberg Weiland about her history of bipolar and addiction. Mary is the author of Fall to Pieces: A Memoir of Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Mental Illness. She is a former model and the ex-wife of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver front man Scott Weiland.
idobi: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, the writing process and why you decided to write this book?
Mary Forsberg Weiland: I started to write it because after I was diagnosed with bipolar. I tried to read as many things as I could and listen to a lot of different people’s experiences and I couldn’t find an experience that was similar to mine. A lot of books were written by people who experienced a lot of mania, and for me it was mostly depression and I couldn’t find a story I could really connect with and I was thinking ‘there has to be somebody else out there who thinks that their issue is depression but in reality it’s bipolar. I wish that I had known sometime earlier in my life that that was the issue and I wouldn’t have had to waste so much time testing countless anti-depressants which are not the cure for bipolar. I want to share my experience and hopefully connect with somebody else. There is such a stigma with bipolar and mental illness in general and I think once you have more knowledge you become more understanding. The word ‘bipolar’ scares a lot of people, and I think if you talk about it and share positive experiences then it takes away from that. Maybe people who were in my situation would seek help and feel like they can be more honest and public about what they have gone through.
idobi: So this book is more to help other people than to tell your personal story, like a biography and an assistance to those who may have suffered the same problems that you have?
Forsberg Weiland: It’s me and my story, its me from birth on but at the same time it was important I did that. Not because I had any interest in talking about myself but because very early on there were signs that something was different about me so I feel that I had to start from the beginning in order to share what I went through so that somebody else may see in themselves or their child that this could be something else.
idobi: Do you have a family history of this illness and do you think that your childhood, upbringing and surroundings played a role in what happened to you, or do you think its genetic where its something you can’t really control when it manifests itself?
Forsberg Weiland: From what I know, it can run in the family. It runs in my family and unfortunately for all of us that have been diagnosed, it came much later in life. It’s not something that had been understood early on. That’s why it’s important that my doctor and therapist work with me on the book because I’m not a doctor I don’t want to give out professional advice but I also didn’t want to write something that was a medical journal; I wanted it to be a simple read. I wanted something people could understand and didn’t have to translate what a doctor is saying. I needed them so they made sure my explanation and what I went through is something that other people experienced as well
idobi:It is probably easier for people to pick up the book trying to get a sneak peek into that rock and roll lifestyle and be entertained but the reader can take something away from it as well.
Forsberg Weiland: I really tried to inject as much humor as possible and I did share a lot of the Hollywood and rock and roll lifestyle side of my life, because I didn’t want anybody to fall into a coma. I am really happy with all the feedback I have received from the people that have written me that have said ‘I read your book in one night and I couldn’t put it down. It was such a great, easy read; I didn’t have to go back a re-read the page before. Thank you so much for your writing and your voice because I was able to feel like I was having a conversation with you’. I am really pleased that that has been the feedback.
idobi: Do you think that your high profile lifestyle, with the modeling and relationship with Scott Weiland helped bring this addiction and bipolar disorder to the surface? Do you believe that it not have been as severe if you had simply lived a pedestrian life?
Forsberg Weiland: Addiction and mental illness are not specific as to whom they affect. Everyone is equal, if that’s what you carry, that is what you are going to deal with. I could have been a plumber and I would have been bipolar, there is nothing that would have kept me from that. The addiction I don’t have a 100% answer for you because I don’t know what level it would have been at. Am I an addict? Yes. Would I have had an issue with something? Definitely. Would it have been heroin? I don’t know. Im not sure if that would have been a part of my lifestyle if I wasn’t surrounded by people struggling with that as well, but im sure there would have been something.
idobi: You’d still have that addictive personality, but it may not have manifested itself in the form of a heroin addiction, perhaps something else?
Forsberg Weiland: Yeah, I can’t imagine I never would have had a problem with alcohol; I had a problem with alcohol as a teenager. There definitely would have been something but heroin may have never entered the picture, but something would have.
idobi: Was there every any indication to you (before modeling and relationship with lead singer of a huge rock band) was there anything in you that thought you would eventually be in a position where you can help some people? What are some things that you would tell your teenage self to try and avoid knowing what you know now? What would you say to a younger person as far as advice goes?
Forsberg Weiland: I am kind of on the fence about whether or not I would have like to know earlier in my life what I was struggling with, because had I known then maybe my life would have been completely different. Sometimes I wonder if I would have preferred that because it would have been great to have that less difficult path to travel. But at the same time, had I not traveled that path and had the struggles with drugs, I don’t know if I would appreciate my life as much as I do now. I don’t know that I would have had my children. And what is very important to me, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to write this book and share my story and get all the feedback from people that were able to connect with me. I probably would not want to change anything.
idobi: So are your kids fully aware of what’s going on and what you’ve gone through or are you trying to keep them away from everything that has happened?
Forsberg Weiland: They have age appropriate information. They know that mommy and daddy are bipolar and have had struggles with drugs and alcohol. They don’t know to what extent or how bad it got. But the good news is; if the kids should struggle wit mental illness, they have two parents who have experience in dealing with it and they will be able to receive the help they need much earlier in life than we did. Our parents, unfortunately, did not know what was wrong with us so they couldn’t offer any form of assistance because they had no idea what was wrong. I can guarantee that Scott and I will be more protective of the kids when it comes to drugs and alcohol but there’s not much you can do with a teenager.
idobi: So you guys are back to being as normal a family as you can be these days?
Forsberg Weiland: I would say yes. It sounds odd, but yeah; we are as healthy as a family can get. It sounds strange, talking about two people who have a history of mental illness and addiction but the good news is when you are able to conquer those things [you can get back to normal]. I feel like I’m cheating because I take these mood stabilizers to keep me even and get me through. I can get through it easier than someone who does not have bipolar. Somebody else would have melted down because of this but I’m okay. For the bipolar I take mood stabilizers, they keep you from those extreme lows and highs.
idobi: So you are studying for your Drug and Alcohol Certification out in California at Loyola, how is that going?
Forsberg Weiland: It’s a pretty long process, the way that they’ve set up the program and I took a year off to write. I joked that by the time I’m done I’ll be counseling in an assisted living home with my peers because its takine me so long. I love going, I love school, I love all the information that ive been getting ands its already been really beneficial with how many people that have come to me with questions about themselves or family or friends. I am really happy that I chose that course and I really look forward to finishing the certification and becoming a part of the helping industry/profession.
idobi: So your goal for all of this is to get into a counselor type position for people who have dealt with the same issues as you? Are you going into standard counseling, helping celebrities or just helping whoever you can help?
Forsberg Weiland: Help anyone I can help. There will be different areas that I can go into where its just straight counseling in a treatment center. There are a lot of different avenues I could take, but I would love to use this information to do some public speaking with a hope that id be able to visit high schools because that is a trying time in every teenagers life. If I had this knowledge as a teenager I don’t know that anything would have been different but it would have been nice to know what really happens and also how the brain works and what the damage is. Right now it’s a lot of ‘just say no’ but ‘just say no’ why? I would like to fill in that ‘why’.
idobi: It seems like there are a lot of anti-drug programs but its simply ‘just say no’ and getting it firsthand from somebody of your high profile would probably do a lot more to help kids than a teacher saying ‘don’t take drugs’.
Forsberg Weiland: Well thank you; I would hope so, that is a rebellious and curious age group. That is a time in life where you chase your curiosities and hopefully they don’t become tragic but its hard to deny interest in something if you’re curious. I know about myself, I was curious about heroin although I wish I were curious about being a doctor. I thought I could try one time and one time is all it took for me and I was off and running. I don’t know if people that young realize that you can try it once and it works for you. Also, there is a dual diagnosis there when you have an addictive personality, you probably have something else and co-occurring with that like bipolar. It’s a lot of self medicating, sometimes people don’t realize the reason why they are using or drinking is because they are trying to self medicate another problem.
idobi: It seems with this idea that you are trying to bring bipolar to the forefront of conversation and prove that it’s not a bad or taboo topic.
Forsberg Weiland: I’ve always been a really honest person, so I’ve never had a problem sharing the rough patches in my life. A lot of people have written me thanking me for being so honest and they feel comfortable enough to tell someone what they are going through. I think we all need to unload whatever it is that we are harboring. People will write me back again telling me that they were able to speak to somebody and are encouraged. If I’m out at a party and somebody asks what I’m working on I will tell them that I just finished a book and explain what it is about; people will then share with me their deepest darkest secrets whether it was sexual abuse or addiction or they too have bipolar. People just don’t want to keep it in, it’s just really great to open conversation about it and have some compassion. If you share with somebody, I’m almost 100% sure they are going to share something back.
idobi: It seems sometimes that this topic is still taboo and people who suffer are not allowed to talk about it openly with people who do not suffer. They seem to only be allowed to talk to people like yourself who have gone through a similar situation.
Forsberg Weiland: I feel so much that everybody has something, if you have nothing that’s weird. I wouldn’t say go talk to your boss, but if you talk to somebody they will share something back. They will feel that you shared something so important with them that will share something back. That’s kind of the feedback that I have been getting and the feedback that I can give you from my own life. I would definitely like to set the foundation for people to be more passionate and understanding; take the time to listen to somebody.
Any issue, whether it is addiction or mental illness, that needs to be addressed really should be shared with somebody. Reach out to somebody because there is always somebody there who can help you and it might not be somebody you recognize.