Instead of complaining about the celebrity spotlight, we could combat stigma by talking about our own experiences with bipolar.
I’ve found myself talking about celebrities and mental health a little more than I’ve wanted to, but it’s something that I realize is just important to talk about. When celebrities talk about their struggles, especially when it comes to mental health, the media pounces on it. But is this always a good thing?
I’m usually on the fence about it. I question their motives; is it really because they want to bring awareness or is it for personal gain? Because of that (probably my own cynical, but realistic way of thinking), I was more willing to applaud Mariah Carey than Kanye West; I actually stopped taking Kanye seriously a while ago, and really stopped taking him seriously after his comment about slavery being a “choice” on TMZ a few months ago. While that moment convinced me once and for all that he was dealing with something deeper than his mother’s death, it was also something that was unforgivable for me, no matter how he tried to explain it later.
Bipolar Disorder Can Affect Anyone
But I’ve said in the past that I applaud the ones who are legitimately looking to help other people because it reminds us that they’re human, too. What separates them from us is that they can afford treatments while everyday people struggle to do so.
What we forget is that regardless of the social status, mental illness can affect anyone and everyone. I’ve seen a whole lot of people talk about employment issues. Guess what? I’m not a celebrity by any means and I can tell you how mental illness—in particular, the disclosure of it—can affect their work.
Side note: My depression was the reason I was discharged from the military. Laugh, point fingers, tease me, call me whatever you want. That’s the truth and you would have to be there to see how it became the downfall of the career that I dreamt of as a teenager. By the way, that dream didn’t go the way I had planned.
Now, believe it or not, performing to an audience or contributing to the performing world (I’m a blogger, occasional book writer, and playwright), regardless of the stature, is very demanding. Think about it like this: If you’re sick and you miss too much work, you’ll get fired. After all, it’s not like you have cancer, right?
Yes, that was below the belt and a little cliché. But I did that to prove a point.
If an artist can’t perform or is constantly missing important dates and deadlines, their contracts aren’t renewed or are cancelled. People don’t want to work with them. Their audience eventually forgets about them and they move on. But I’m not trying to teach people about the business of entertainment, professional writing, or any kind of art (that was the business major coming out of me).
We All Must Confront Stigma
The attempt to bring this thing called bipolar disorder to the forefront can be a double-edged sword. One of the reasons it took so long for me to make it known to everybody that I live with bipolar disorder was due to the fear that it would be stigmatized or trivialized. While most of the response I received was very supportive, I experienced both.
Here’s an example of it being stigmatized: A couple of years ago when I was only revealing it to certain people, someone who I was working with made it a point to say that they didn’t want me around other people. Why? Because I supposedly posed a safety risk. Keep in mind that I never threatened them or anyone affiliated with them. All I wanted to do was work. But when some people hear the word “bipolar”, they automatically see “crazy.”
Then I had the examples of trivialization because I’ve heard people say, “we’re all a little bipolar,” or “nothing is wrong with you.” I think I’ve experienced that more than the “protect the village from the bipolar monster” reactions. To be honest, I would much rather have the “monster pillaging the village” perspective than the dismissive “oh, everybody is bipolar.” It’s the lesser of two evils.
Either way, I know their mindsets. But in a way, I have a little bit of a sadistic mind; I’m well-known for my dry and sarcastic sense of humor. I actually take an odd enjoyment out of the whole “you’re a monster” mentality over the “we’re all a little bipolar” because at least with the latter I can educate and help them understand the gravity of their words, as well as how it affects not just me, but everyone else who is dealing with mental illness. The ones who think I’m a monster tend to have issues themselves and feel the need to project their issues and insecurities on someone else. So I kind of make a joke out of their ignorance.
It’s the only way I can really deal with this illness and the world around me.
Understanding the Everyday Person’s Experience with Bipolar
I believe that more people need to be aware of how bipolar disorder affects us—the everyday people who just want to get through the day. Sometimes, I believe the media make it seem less important than it actually is. Having bipolar is somewhat of a Hollywood diagnosis. If a celebrity acted a complete fool somewhere, they are automatically labeled as having bipolar disorder, even if they never disclosed their diagnosis.
That’s the consequence of trivialization.
I’m not going to sit here and justify celebrity behaviors. But one thing that bothers me is how when celebrities bring up mental health and their struggles, people are so quick to say, “what about us?” and use words like “nobodies.” I’m honestly sick of it. I can’t change the world, but I’m tired of people making it seem like mental health isn’t important, and I’m tired of people walking around with the whole “we’re nobodies” mentality.
But you know what? You’re not a nobody. Just because you don’t have a million dollars in your account and three million followers on social media doesn’t make you a nobody. If that was true, I wouldn’t be here writing this post. So while we’re sitting here bashing ourselves and criticizing celebrities, remember that they are people, too. It takes a lot of strength to come forward with any illness—especially mental illness—regardless of your status in the world.
I’m not advocating for everybody to disclose their bipolar diagnosis. I’ve once said do it when you’re comfortable. It took a long time to process it, accept it, and get to the point of where I am now.
I want this to be the last time I talk about celebrities for a long time. I also want to see more people stop calling themselves “nobodies.” I know it’s easier said than done. I’m in this struggle with you.
JB Burrage is a creative and content writer living in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Originally from Meridian, Mississippi, he joined the US Army in 1999, serving until 2010. After years of battling depression and receiving different diagnoses, he was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2011. Initially ashamed of his diagnosis, he later embraced it and started on the road to manage it. He’s currently the owner and operator of The Mad Writer Project, LLC, a writing service and self-publishing consulting company that also manage his various projects; including material that addresses his mental health concerns and a blog on his website called The Diary of a Mad Writer. More information about him and his work can be found at jbburrage.com.
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