On the Soap Shrink’s Couch: All My Children’s Annie Lavery

Thinking Fans Comment update: antmuoz doubts AMC will “actually tell a reality-based story with Annie. But if they did, it might be a daytime first in that it doesn’t involve cloning or demonic possession” … while Matthew objects to AMC’s “fear-based portrayal of Bedlam with outdated methods and near criminal activity” … and more. See Comments below. 

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By Damon L. Jacobs

2008 was a rough year for the residents of Pine Valley.  Murderers ran loose, tornadoes crashed through homes, but nothing or no one had an impact quite like hurricane Annie herself.

Annie Lavery (played by Melissa Claire Egan) first blew into Pine Valley in 2006, on the run with her infant daughter, Emma, from her first husband, Terry.  She was a force to be reckoned with, as she mistakenly shot Ryan (thinking he was Terry),proving to everyone she would do anything to hold on to  Emma.  Eventually she and Ryan fell in love, got married, and lived happily ever, because that’s what always happens on soaps, right?  

Only in Annie’s delusional mind it does!

In 2008 alone, Annie killed her brother Richie and her friend Di, almost killed Greenlee, stabbed Erica, faked Emma’s kidnapping, broke out of an insane asylum,

The Soap Shrink is sickened by the way Annie has been treated in The Oak Haven Institute, and is deeply concerned that this portrayal will scare viewers away from seeking mental therapy when they need it.

assaulted Ryan — and this doesn’t even include losing her marriage to Ryan, losing her unborn baby, losing custody of Emma, losing her job, losing her home, her good friend Babe dying, and those pesky hallucinations of her dead brother egging her on to do horrible things.  And you thought YOU had a hard year!

How did this “good girl” go so wrong?  In order to better understand her behaviors, it would be beneficial if we looked at diagnoses.  As several court-appointed therapists have already pointed out, Annie appears to be coping with Borderline Personality Disorder, a characterological disorder that leads people to go to extremes in order to avoid abandonment from a loved one.  This would certainly help explain the desperate measures to hold on to Ryan, including faking their daughter’s kidnapping and even allowing herself to get shot in the arm by Aidan in order to hold on to him.  

But what about the hallucinations of her brother?  The delusions of still having a perfect marriage?  The disorientation of who and where she is? And her tragic clown makeup in that bloody bridal gown? These symptoms are better explained by “Schizophrenia, Paranoid Type,” a psychotic disorder which results in one losing touch with reality and perceiving individuals and systems as plotting against her.  I must make it clear, however, that although it is common for people with this disorder to display outbursts of rage, it is rare that their actions are violent.   

The question then remains, what does one DO with all this information?  I’ll start, dear Thinking Fans, by explaining what  you DON’T do.  You do not lock someone in a sterile room, load them up with drugs, video tape them against their will, verbally berate them, accuse them of faking their sickness, deprive them of compassion, or counseling, or interactions with others, or group therapy, and you DO NOT plot against them to keep them behind bars for the rest of their lives.  

Clearly the Soap Shrink is sickened by the way Annie has been treated in The Oak Haven Institute, and is deeply concerned that this portrayal will scare viewers away from seeking mental therapy when they need it.  I have watched every interaction with Annie and her psychiatrist, Dr. Riley Sinclair (McKenzie Westmore), and can cite at least ten ethical and legal violations she has committed that in the real world would end up with her losing her license to practice.  But that may be another feature of another column.

What I believe would be helpful at this point is for Annie is to be involved in an inpatient treatment setting that is respectful, structured, and objective.  There are noninvasive medications that could easily stabilize her psychotic symptoms, and therapeutic modalities, such as Cognitive-Behavioral therapy, that work very well with Borderline.  Given time, individual and group therapy, compassion, and supervised medication, I have no doubt that Annie can face the pain of her past and learn to deal appropriately with life’s obstacles.  

Dr. Sinclair, however, does articulate a point of view that is much debated in the legal and psychiatric communities.  She does not believe that rehabilitation is possible, and that criminals such as Annie deserve to be behind bars.  I clearly disagree with this point, as I have seen first hand the power of therapy to rehabilitate violent offenders.  But what are your thoughts?  Do criminals like Annie deserve to walk the streets among us?  Or is society better off if we lock her up and throw away the key?  The Soap Shrink wants to know what YOU think!!

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Damon L. Jacobs is a family and relationship therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of  Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve.  He blogs regularly at www.shouldless.com.

Comments

  1. antmunoz says:

    Damon, your post is incredibly thought-provoking. As someone dealing with mental illness (myself and in my entire family), I have to believe in treatment. We do “deserve to walk the streets among” others.

    But, on soaps…well, “mental illness” springs up in storyline projection meetings, not organically. The “brain tumor” excuse has been used once too often lately to excuse criminal behavior and even murder. And we rarely…or should that be NEVER?…see “real” treatment. (I’m flashing back to the commitments of Julia Lindsey, her arsonist friend, Owen, and, later, Barbara Ryan, victim of the arsonist, on ATWT, for some reason…and the psychiatrist, usually played by Courtney Simon, always came off as very involved and professional. But Julia was allowed to go off and stay off the deep end for plot purposes, even Viagra-raping Jack Snyder at one point. And Barbara has NEVER paid for her crimes, at least not legally. Was the woman ever given a clean bill of mental health? Or do Paul’s shenanigans give her a free pass? I believe BarBar also dealt with cancer AND some brain issues as well, so ATWT obviously went all out to relieve her from any and all responsibility. And these are just a few characters on ONE show. Don’t get me started on Y&R’s Jana. At least GL’s Annie, once she fell off the deep end, eventually wound up in a clinic she lives in to this day…in a replica of the Lewis living room…LOL. And I’m interested to see Phillip’s state of mind upon his return next week.)

    “Violent offenders” on soaps ARE redeemed. Not necessarily through therapy, though. Usually through the therapy of the rewrite…or audience amnesia. I would classify GH’s Luke as one…also OLTL’s Todd (how well he’s turned out…). Gina on SB, who I loved, was obviously, to me, mentally unstable, pulling comatose patients plugs and poisoning others…but humiliation and revenge, not any sort of therapy, WAS her therapy. The mental illnesses (depressions) of Sonny on GH and Cass on AW weren’t handled especially well, or at least with any long-term effect. (A shame since GH’s Maurice Benard has always been such an advocate for treatment of manic-depression, but GH botched the story…which could have justified a lot of Sonny’s behavior over the years and eventually redeemed the character, at least in part.)

    AMC’s Annie will “deserve to walk the streets among us”–IF the writers still have stories left to tell with her that DON’T involve real, competent, (and possibly boring to many to watch) treatment of her mental illness. If not, she will be “lock(ed) up” with the key thrown away. Alot will depend upon the actress’ own willingness to stay with the show, or their desire to continue to employ her. So, to ask AMC to actually tell a true, reality-based story with Annie at this point seems a moot point. BUT, if they did it, it might be a daytime first, at least in light of the past decade or two–a first that didn’t involve cloning or demonic possession.

    I leave you with this, Damon: please do a follow-up with characters from over the years who desperately needed true, professional help. I’d really like to hear your thoughts on GL’s Roger Thorpe, as well as Holly, for starters. Thanks.

    Damon says: Bravo, Bravo! Thank you, antmunoz, for your insights into how mental illness is poorly portrayed on soaps, as well as sharing with us your own experience. I really appreciate your comments and ideas.

  2. Matthew says:

    What about the fact that Ryan turned out to be the sperm donor who fathered Emma? I think that might mess with your reality as well. I also think there’s going to be a reveal about Dr. Sinclair, that maybe she has an agenda where Annie’s “treatment” is concerned. She’s very rude to Tad, and you don’t get away with that in Pine Valley unless you’re a villain or you end up in bed with him.

  3. Matthew says:

    Also, what of Ryan’s part in all this? Two of his wives are now dead, his former lover Kendall is in a coma and Annie is now in the nuthouse. BTW, I use a term like “nuthouse” because that’s what AMC is portraying, a fear-based portrayal of Bedlam with outdated methods and near-criminal activity that aren’t typical of what an affluent white woman in the United States would experience. Lock ‘em up and throw away the key!

    Damon says: Thank you for your responses, Matthew! Certainly Annie has many reasons to be untrusting of reality. But having a doctor in an institution abusing her won’t help! I like your description of “nuthouse,” as that is exactly the fear-based portrait that prevents people from actually getting the help they need. FYI for you and the Thinking Fans — most long term mental institutions don’t even exist anymore because no insurance would pay for it. In the real world, Annie would probably be mandated by Parole to attend an outpatient day treatment program.

  4. Pamela says:

    I believe that Dr. Sinclair must have known Annie’s brother Richie. She was extremely defensive of him when Aidan insulted him, and she maintains her view of Annie in spite of any evidence to the contrary. I imagine she is, with her other patients, a decent doctor, or even the sadistic writers would think of sacking her.

    I enjoy this column. I think I’ll be bookmarking this.

    Damon says: Welcome Pamela, I look forward to seeing more of your responses! I must say, however, that a “decent” doctor would never treat a patient whom she knows through a loved one or friend, for that is called a “dual relationship” and is a big no-no. If not sadistic, then I’d say she’s WAY off her true path.

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