When You Shame Britney Spears, You Shame Us All

CW: Mental illness, mentions of suicide.

 If you want to see how people really feel about mental illness just look at any comment section of Britney Spears’ Instagram. 

I haven’t quite been able to wrap my feelings around this situation because it’s so deeply disturbing and everywhere I look there is another disrespectful reminder of how society can turn someone’s trauma into a TikTok challenge. 

I’m a 90’s baby. 1991. I remember the exact day my grandmother and I stopped gardening, we buckled into her sky blue car and drove to Sunrise records to get Baby One More Time. My grandma had a CD player which was a huge deal and I would abuse it over and over and over again between games of Scrabble. She never let me take the album home so the only way I could hear it was on the radio and when I went to her house. I think she did that on purpose because I was at her house A LOT after that. 

Almost everyone my age has emotional attachments and memories of Britney Spears- or really any of their childhood celeb obsessions. Their movies, songs, art, or comedy resonated with us so deeply that for some of us, it saved our lives.

There are few things more devastating than watching one of your favourite celebrities crumble before you. You see the outbursts, you see the flood of headlines, the social media posts, the cancelling, the shame- and you just sit there with a destroyed heart feeling protective and confused. A lot of celebrities these days deserve it- their old racist or abusive shit is surfacing and they’re being held accountable for it. Good.

But what if all this shame and destruction is happening and the person has no control over their actions? What if it’s not just problematic behaviour but deep trauma and mental health issues? What happens when the super-human person you have admired starts showing their humanity? 

It’s heartbreaking. It’s truly heartbreaking. Not only does my heart and soul break for the way Britney Spears, Amanda Bynes, Bella Thorne, Taylor Swift, Kesha, etc, have been manipulated and exploited by the men around them since they were young- but for everyone with a mental illness that silently watches the way people talk about them. They are human beings.

If you're joining in on this ridicule, you don’t think we see? You don’t think we feel it? You don’t think those of us who exhibit the same signs because of our trauma, depression, anxiety, dissociations, bipolar, borderline, or schizophrenia- you don’t think we are hurt reading your words? You don’t think people feel like shit about being on their life-saving meds because of *your* judgements? You don’t think it makes us question every time you’ve sent words of support or said you understand? It’s clear you do not.

We are not animals. We are not malfunctioning robots. We do not belong in cages. We should not be off social media and in a therapist chair 24/7. We deserve to be seen, heard, and validated in our pain. We deserve to gather a community of humans to heal in a safe space. We deserve to cry out for injustice the same way you do. We deserve to change our minds. We are allowed to say no more.

What the fuck is with our obsession with building people up in a dehumanizing way and feeling entitled to every ounce of their time and energy? Why are we so obsessed with draining, belittling and antagonizing people while they’re alive and then pretending we ever cared if they die?

Doesn’t it disturb anyone else to see Rihanna’s fans put her on a pedestal and then harass her for almost 5 years to do something she doesn’t wanna do? It doesn’t sit right with me that we only love and support people when we can gain something from them- an album, a makeup line, clothing, whatever it is. We become possessive, judgemental, disrespectful and violent in the ways we demand and feel entitled to entertainment from celebrities and influencers like they’re fucking circus clowns. 

We watch women like Amy Winehouse completely self-destruct in front of us and we bully, belittle, drag, and shame her to death. We do it to any celebrity who has been used and abused from childhood and has had their perception of humanity so warped that they can barely even function in “regular” society. Wtf?! When celebrities die from overdoses we hardly peel back the layers and wonder what is so insidious about celebrity culture that so many of them feel the need to escape with pipes, needles, and pills. People act like being holed up in a mansion with an inflated bank account somehow stops you from feeling human things. From experiencing human trauma. Sure, these people have way more access to support than the average person but they also have way more access to ridicule, judgement, control, exploitation and global ridicule. For some reason, we have begun to dehumanize celebrities to the point that we don’t even see them in their pain until it’s too late. Look at Chester Bennington. His pain is weaved throughout his music and has touched so many of us, and yet none of us ever stopped to think about what would happen when he couldn't take it any longer. We didn’t even know Robin Williams was suffering to the degree he was and we lost him. Did he receive our empathy because he suffered in silence and didn't inconvenience us? Does Anthony Bourdain not deserve space for his story because he's famous? Is it just men that we extend this courtesy to because they internalize and women express?

Maybe none of us were ever supposed to have our life played out in front of billions of people, maybe we’re not built to withstand the constant bombardment of attacks online, in person, and in our own homes. Living in a pressurized fishbowl under constant watch would make anyone paranoid, irrational, anxious, and weird. We, normies, have a device full of ridicule that we choose to engage with 24/7 and what has that alone done our mental health? We can barely handle it. In Canada, ¼ of people will be diagnosed with depression alone.

Is no one else seeing that celebrity culture is inflated, toxic, unhealthy and inherently exploitative? Sure fame and money are coveted, but do you know what a lot of celebrities say they would give up to have any sense of normalcy? Fame and money. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be and just because a human wants to be celebrated on a large scale for their skills does not mean they should have to deal with endless abuse. “You signed up for this!” Okay, but why are we not looking to change the game so people don’t have to sign up for abuse? Remember the days when there were a million degrees of separation between the people on t.v. and us? Otherwise known as boundaries? Social media has completely blurred the lines. Now we can watch a t.v show and disagree with something and instantly go to that person’s personal space and dump anything we want into it. Is that a good thing? I dunno. 

Have you caught any of the parallels between celebrity culture and social media influencers?

Have you made the connection between striving for followers and engagement and signing up for attacks and abuse?

Have you seen how we, on a small scale, could be more impactful if we focused on small community building and strengthening deeper connections vs mass gaining numbers and having these empty, inflated platforms that are rife with abuse and no influence?

Quite often I think about the fact that three times now I have built up a platform and then deleted it and started fresh when it became overwhelming (between 13k and 18k platforms). Three times I have spent time, money, and energy creating content and building community only for it to get to a point where the abuse outweighs the good and I let it go. How weird is that? I’m always challenging this deep core belief that I will never be able to grow my community without being under attack and it makes me think- do I even want or need large scale growth? Is it worth it? Because every time I grow I become less accessible to my community, have less meaningful conversations, feel more overwhelmed, and get a huge increase in negativity. We are constantly striving for bigger platforms and more followers- but as someone who has seen it on a small scale, I’m telling you it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Imagine being in an auditorium on a stage and 500 people were there. Holy fuck, right? THAT’S A LOT OF PEOPLE! But for some reason when it comes to social media we want thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions. Picture being in an auditorium with 1 million people staring at you. Would you feel free to be yourself? Could you handle 1% of those people berating you in your DMs? Do you even engage with and entertain the followers you already have? But, I digress.

Anyone who knows me either associates me with mental health or funny videos and I’ve made a deliberate point of that- because we have the right to take up space both with our mental illness *AND* our creative expression.  So you can imagine the nausea I experience quite frequently when I see familiar names in the comment section of Britney Spears posts, or the reposting of super insulting and degrading TikToks, or the mocking of her mental illness in headlines. 

How is she any different than me? My manic episodes are full of weird videos, incoherent rants, promising 10 new projects, delivering on 3, endless dancing videos, extreme impulse purchases (I have a butterfly farm coming in a week??) and I know it’s all weird. I know it is- but it’s still me, so I still express it. I’m well aware that people become uncomfortable when they’ve followed me during my manic phase and become thrown off when I exhibit signs of depression. When the badass, unapologetic, articulate fireball of a woman becomes a sobbing, triggered, angry, depressed mess and I can’t even handle my DM’s. My depressive episodes aren’t just me being sad. My depressive episodes can consist of a week straight of me convincing myself not to jump off my balcony or delete my IG and join a matriarchal cult. It’s fucking terrifying because your brain is attacking you. If you’ve never experienced prolonged periods where you cannot even get out of bed because the idea of existing is so unbearable that you would rather die than lift the covers- than please stop making judgements about people who have to survive this endlessly for the rest of their lives- especially while trying to maintain a high-functioning lifestyle. I built this company and this community because I needed something to wake up for, I wanted to share my gifts, and I needed to feel like I wasn’t alone. Many celebrities started off this way, too.

I am not only useful and worthy of celebration when I am creating, engaging, expressing, and presenting happy. I deserve to be seen, loved, comforted and reminded of my power when I’m not okay. I have spent the last few years shedding every expectation of me that wasn’t authentically me so that I could find my fellow mentally-ill, spiritual weirdos and we could heal together. I've BEEN tired of shaving off my edges, I'm no longer seeking approval for it. At times my pain is loud, messy, obnoxious, and demanding. Should I draw my blinds and build a fort around me so I stop reminding you that dark emotions exist? Am I only worthy of love when I can entertain?

I can’t fully accept that people are just so used to dehumanizing celebrities that they didn’t make the connection between Britney Spears’ mental illness and mine or yours. That her showing up and dancing with unwashed hair in the same low-rise shorts from the ’90s isn’t the same as me showing up unwashed in my 79th butterfly outfit of the week. I cannot understand their comments about how she should get off social media and see a doctor because, hello, mentally ill people do both? What you’re really saying with those comments is “Please stay out of my sight until you can present the way I am comfortable seeing you” aka “put her in a mental hospital” which is exactly what happens to any woman who shows any type of distress while surviving a patriarchal, misogynist hell-hole of a society.

The conversation around mental health constantly leaves me full of rage. It’s really hard for me to talk about it as a system or how I see others judging it because it’s so deeply triggering. I get defensive and hurt and I just wish people knew mental illness isn’t a joke. I've been someone who has been involuntarily put into an institution. I've been someone who wore a blue nightgown and floated around a hospital numb and pumped full of drugs. I've been someone who sat in the waiting room of a hospital with a stomach full of T3’s and Jack Daniels and hoped that I would die before my mom could get the attention of a nurse. I've been in a rehab facility where my roommate was addicted to meth and half her face was scabby and bloody because no one ever took the time to listen to her pain. I've witnessed people take their own lives. I attended a friend’s funeral from suicide only 6 months ago. I have been terrified and welcoming of death my entire life. All because of a mental illness which is all because of my trauma which is all something I had no control over.

And through all of this do you know what has helped me show up to be seen, or heal deeper, faster, and more authentically than any institution or therapist chair? Community. Being seen in my fullness. Being validated in my pain. Being encouraged to find joy. Being supported and loved and made to feel like I have space in this world exactly as I am- and not because I “manage” to keep my personality and behaviour “normal”. I have chiselled out space in this world for us weirdos.

I’m doing my best- and if I could take this moment to be truly raw- I am unbelievably proud of myself for not only surviving but thriving with a successful business and a fucking amazing community of solid humans. I did that. A person with an extensive history of reasons why they shouldn’t be alive- is doing the damn thing. And because representation matters and saves lives- I will continue to show up in my entirety so that you see it’s possible, too. That you can be loved for who you really are and not how well you perform. 

We have got to stop demonizing mental health. Especially with celebrities. The way we talk about them on a large scale trickles down and affects the way our loved ones are treated. The stigmas we create around Kanye’s narcissism and bipolar is the lens people are going to look at the rest of us. We have got to stop making fun of people who are not okay- WE ARE LOSING OUR FRIENDS.  People act as if they don’t feel the emotions we do. People act like they never feel hurt or betrayed or broken or abused. We can ALL relate to the underlying emotions of what mental illness serves up, so why can’t we respect that for some people- the intensity and inability to move through those emotions is much greater. I don’t believe there should be no consequences- people with a mental illness cannot wreak havoc on the world in the name of their trauma- but we need deeper empathy, patience, and resources for those of us regular humans who are struggling with the same shit these celebrities do- but they have more help. 

I want to have more faith in us, I want to believe we can do better to love and support our communities. Canada alone has predicted an extra 5,000-8,000 suicides this year ON TOP OF the expected 48,000. What’s even more terrifying is that the increase in unemployment is directly linked to an increase in suicides by 1:1%. Between 2020-2021 Canada is expected to have an unemployment increase of 2-10%. Doesn’t it disturb you to imagine the lost souls in the world right now? Does it not then feel empowering that you have the chance to take healing into your own hands and potentially save even 1 of them- even if it's you.

Source: [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7236718/]

How many more suicides do we need to see in the headlines before we understand the severity?

COVID has killed 530,000 people globally. Suicide kills 800,000 per year globally.

How is this not a pandemic?

Help is available


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