‘I Love Lucy’: Lucille Ball Said She Had a ‘Mild Nervous Breakdown’

Dealing with the stress of work and marital issues caught up to Lucille Ball and she began to have difficulties with her mental health. Here’s what the I Love Lucy star once said about experiencing what she described as a “mild nervous breakdown.”

Lucille Ball saw a psychiatrist up to 3 hours a day at one point

Lucille Ball | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
Lucille Ball | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

In her book Love Lucy, Ball said she came to New York for a consultation with Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, a minister and author of The Power of Positive Thinking. She said he led her to see Dr. Smiley Blanton, a psychiatrist and co-director of his American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry. Their sessions were quite long, lasting up to three hours a day.

“He steered me to the co-director of his American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry, the well-known psychiatrist Dr. Smiley Blanton, the author of Love or Perish,” wrote Ball. “Dr. Blanton was a frail, slight man who spoke in a penetrating whisper. For most of September I saw him two or three hours a day.”

Lucille Ball’s ‘mental breakdown’

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz | Bettmann/Getty Images
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz | Bettmann/Getty Images

Ball was having a difficult time at work and at home. Consequently, she got to a point where she had trouble with her mental health. Ball described a time she was in the car with a friend and she saw a dog chained to a fence. The sight of the dog chained up cause Ball to have such a strong reaction that she turned white and began to tremble. Ball says she didn’t feel like herself. 

“For some reason, that lonely pup really got to me that day,” wrote Ball. “The experience left me oddly off balance. Looking back, I think I must have been going through a mild nervous breakdown at this time.”

The I Love Lucy star says she was doing too much and she started to become overwhelmed. She was also having conflict at home. “I was trying to be a good trouper, a good neighbor, and sister and wife,” she continued. “I was trying as hard as I could, but everything seemed to be going wrong and everyone was blaming me.”

Lucille Ball began to have trouble working

Ball knew something was wrong when she reached a point where she could barely say her lines during the filming of the movie The Dark Corner. She says the director even asked her if she was intoxicated.

“When I fluffed my lines on the set the next week and the director said sharply, ‘Lucy, have you been drinking?’ I’d never in my life been accused of such a ridiculous thing,” wrote Ball. “I needed sympathy, understanding, help, but was met only with coldness and hostility.”

Ball said she was troubled by the way she was being treated. “I was so unstrung I couldn’t get a word out,” wrote Ball. “I’d never had any trouble with my work before, and to be suddenly called a slacker was more than I could take.”

Ball cried and asked for her doctor. Someone came and took her home so she could recover. Ball said she learned from that experience to stand up for herself when someone teats her poorly. She also learned to be sensitive to the needs of others.

“I’ve never forgotten that moment,” wrote Ball. “Today if anyone gets unpleasant with me on the set, I say, ‘Hey, what is that?’ If I’ve done something wrong, let’s deal with it directly. Don’t be snide or sarcastic. And I try to remain sensitive to others’ feelings on the set. You never know what else people are dealing with in their lives and how those pressures might be affecting their performance.”

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