Celebrity Sensitivity: Catherine Zeta-Jones & Demi Lovato

Image from people.com

Catherine Zeta-Jones has bravely put her face on the cover People magazine—and on the face of bipolar disorder. And in a less publicized interview, 18-year-old Demi Lovato of teen Disney fame admitted last month to People that she too also suffers from bipolar disorder.

“This is a disorder that affects millions of people and I am one of them,” the [Zeta-Jones], 41, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive statement in this week’s cover story. “If my revelation of having bipolar II has encouraged one person to seek help, then it is worth it. There is no need to suffer silently and there is no shame in seeking help.”

Last month, Lovato said:

“I never found out until I went into treatment that I was bipolar. Looking back it makes sense,” she says of her diagnosis. “There were times when I was so manic, I was writing seven songs in one night and I’d be up until 5:30 in the morning.”

I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of mental illness fads, but bipolar disorder has such a stigma attached to it that celebrities who seriously suffer from the disorder have a chance to put a face on and say “There’s no shame in getting help.” And while psychotropic drugs certainly aren’t a cure-all in conjunction with talk and behavioral therapy, bipolar disorder can be managed—not just for these celebs but also for anyone who suffers from the disorder.

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Celebrity Sensitivity: Catherine Zeta-Jones

Image from people.com

Of all the celebrities I would have pegged with some kind of mental health disorder, Ms. Zeta-Jones would have never made the list. After supporting her husband Michael Douglas through his cancer treatment, she remained quiet about herself only outspoken on issues pertaining to how upbeat and positive the couple was on Douglas’s treatment.

But clearly, being a bedrock for her husband has taken its toll on her. Last week, she checked into a mental health facility seeking treatment for her bipolar II disorder. Bipolar II is characterized by frequent depressive episodes rather than a constant swing of manic-depressive ones. While only Ms. Zeta-Jones knows what’s been going on inside her mind and her heart, I can only imagine that she’s been suffering with some depression for a while but quietly put it aside as her husband struggled to become healthy again.

In the past, I’ve used the Celebrity Sensitivity feature of this blog to mock celebrities who seem to be diagnosed with nearly any mental illness fad that goes around (normally, depression), but this time my heart goes out to Ms. Zeta-Jones who decided to seek treatment for herself instead of putting on a face like everything’s okay and toughing it out.

My Dark Passenger: The Suicide Side

Image from zazzle.com

Although I’m not a fan of the Dexter books or TV series, I’ve been introduced to both by way of my husband who enjoys both forms of Dexter media.

The other day I flipped through Jeff Lindsay’s latest, Dexter Is Delicious, and read a little bit about the part of Dexter that he calls his “Dark Passenger,” the voice inside of him that compels him to kill. (But he justifies this by killing murderers. An interesting twist on the anti-hero.)

I ruminated on this as I’ve been dealing with a lot of suicidal thoughts lately. And really, there’s nothing wrong in my life that would cause these suicidal thoughts to arise. It’s just something in me gone haywire. It’s like a part of me that’s not really a part of me that I can kind of talk back to. It sounds otherworldly and crazy.

It is.

So I’ve taken to calling the suicidal voice (unlike Dexter’s homicidal one) in my head the “Dark Passenger.” My husband kind of likes this too as it identifies something that’s not really me although it’s a part of me.

The Dark Passenger is pretty random these days. Even if I have a slight mood crash, he’ll—because my sinister voice is clearly not a seductive she, maybe androgynous—tell me that life is not worth living and to go kill myself.

Me: What?
Dark Passenger: Go kill yourself. Life isn’t worth living anyway. You’re a total failure and you know you can’t do anything right.
Me: Um, why are you bugging me? I’m not even depressed right now.
Dark Passenger: [silence]

Yeah, that’s pretty much how our conversations go. It probably sounds a bit schizophrenic or something but that’s basically my stupid battle to stay alive. You can probably imagine how terrible our conversations are when I am depressed.

My Dark Passenger’s a bit starved, you see, because I haven’t tried to kill myself in a while and he’s getting antsy. I was last hospitalized for a suicide attempt in 2006 and even though I’ve had a few half-hearted attempts since or serious thoughts about an attempt, I haven’t had a serious attempt that has required me to be locked away for a good bit of time. I still get freaked out about my near-sexual assault encounter and that’s done a good job of keeping me in check for now.

So the Dark Passenger tries to get me whenever he thinks he’s got an opening:

No one signed up for your class. You’re a loser. Go kill yourself.

She never called you back. See? No one likes you. Go kill yourself.

You can’t get pregnant or do anything right. You’re not cut out to be a mother. In fact, you weren’t meant to be one because you need to go kill yourself.

And on and on and on. It’s easy to tell him to shut up when I’m not deeply depressed. Not so much otherwise.

Maybe there’s something to that “Get behind me, Satan” stuff after all. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a famous British preacher, once suggested in his book Spiritual Depression to “talk back” to one’s negative voices. While it doesn’t work in the most severe of cases for me, it works. . . for the most part.