Imagine losing agency over your life decisions. That’s what happened to Britney Spears. For 13 years this woman, capable of generating personal assets around $US60 million, has lived under the rule of a court-appointed conservatorship (Aus version is a guardianship) that placed her father in charge of her life decisions.
This is a story played out in the public eye that reminds us of how vulnerable people can be who have lived experience of mental illness. I remember reading the story of Frances Farmer and thinking ‘That kind of institutionalisation and cruelty could only happen in the 1950s’. But no, people with disabilities are at risk of having legal arrangements put in place that remove their control, even today.
And of course, if you want to challenge those controls, you have to endure psychological testing. I don’t know about you, but if I had to sit in front of a panel of strangers to assess whether I was able to control my finances or have my contraceptive device removed, I think I’d lose the plot. I’d swear. I’d be angry. I’d cry. I’d beg. I’d threaten them. I might even knock over furniture. This would be triggered by the injustice and the sense of powerlessness. Then they’d say: ‘Yep. She’s crazy’.
How does anyone maintain their ‘sanity’ in such an insane scenario? It’s gaslighting of the highest calibre. I would say that if you approached an assessment like that –without losing it – then possibly you weren’t in charge of your mental health to begin with. A person should be outraged. A sane person would fight.
This is hard enough played out on a small stage for people with no public profile. I can’t imagine the sense of shame and humiliation this poor woman must feel to have had her life sprawled in front of the media, for more than a decade. The fact her father would happily have her out working – earning more money in a year than most would earn in a lifetime, says something about his mentality.
Her Britney: Piece of Me ran for four years at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, grossing around $138million over 250 shows. Seems like everyone really did get a piece of Britney. Except Britney. That’s a pretty major accomplishment for someone considered not able to manage her own affairs.
The world has sat by and watched a woman be completely exploited, bullied and shamed. Her breakdown in 2008 became the butt of so many jokes on social media. Magazines scrambled for photos of her painful downward spiral. There was certainly a bizarre sense of media titillation in Spears’ story.
So at 39, when she wants to get married again and have a baby – she is not allowed to go to the doctor to have her contraceptive device removed. She is not allowed to make decisions over her own body, but she can stand on stage in Vegas and show her body to generate millions of dollars that she can’t access. She has been forced to perform. She is forced to take lithium. She is forced to do therapy against her will.
How can a woman under this amount of psychological distress be properly assessed?
I watched a story on a breakfast TV show where the hosts attempted empathy. They said ‘She appears to be compos mentis’. I guess that’s how it goes. Is this legal version of institutionalisation considered okay for a person with a mental illness? Shouldn’t a person with lived experience of mental illness be allowed agency over their own body? Over their own income? Over their own choices? Britney’s story shows the real risk of manipulation and coercion that people with disabilities can face from those in their life who feel they should be controlled.
What an incredible survivor Britney Spears is. I had no idea. I don’t know many compos mentis folk who would have endured what she has endured. The fact she’s still here is testament to her strength. It’s a crazy story. But she’s not crazy. The law is fucking crazy.
Maybe the people should get a conservatorship over that?