Fighting a legal battle often involves walking a tightrope where your voice becomes your most important instrument of advocacy. If you do not speak up, you risk the continuance of the status quo, and if you do speak up, you can risk some very serious and quite literal forms of punishment.
When you introduce the mental health system into the equation, the situation becomes even more precarious for the individual at the epicenter.
The intersection between the legal and mental health systems worldwide is so problematic that it tends to silence its victims almost immediately upon entry. And there are a lot of victims.
Britney Spears is trapped right there, and in true Britney form, the whole world is watching.
To break it down to basics, the mental health system takes your rights and turns them into privileges to be dispensed through a “carrots and sticks” game format. The “carrots” are the regaining of your rights as privileges, and the “sticks” are punishments as severe as losing those rights entirely.
Britney Spears had her life suspended for 13 years
As we can see in the case of Britney Spears, her rights have been suspended for 13 years. But what we are also witnessing right now is quite literally the phoenix rising from the ashes; Britney is using her voice to get free.
In a recent Instagram post, Britney writes in her caption, “So I said ‘life goes on’ in one of my recent posts but it’s always easier said than done !!!!! In that moment that’s what felt was the easiest to say but I think we all know that I will never be able to let go and fully move on until I’ve said all I needed to say … and I’m not even close !!!! I was told to stay quiet about things for so long and I finally feel like I’m just getting here !!!!”
That very sentiment is what I am constantly thinking about in terms of Britney’s situation. When Britney finally broke her 13-year silence on June 23rd of this year, on a day now known as ‘Britney Speaks,’ she may have said so much, but I know, as someone who has also been abused by that very same intersection between the legal and mental health systems, there is much more that she did not say.
To begin with, every time Britney has been held in a mental health facility against her will, her rights have been violated. The length of time that Britney spent in those institutional environments guarantees this. Whether by staff members or other patients, Britney has undoubtedly experienced trauma just as a result of having been put through forced treatment.
In the mental health field, there is an incredible imbalance of power between staff members and vulnerable patients. Power tends to corrupt, and the medical field is not exempt from this. In fact, it’s rampant.
Misdiagnoses and overdiagnoses are common within the mental health field. Because the mind cannot be seen, and also, because the personal testimony of the individual being assessed goes out the window the second the assessments begin, psychiatric teams can get it wrong from the very beginning. They also don’t need evidence necessarily, just a claim from others that you are unwell in a certain way.
And the people that tend to come forward and vouch for your instability are often those closest to you. They throw the whole weight of the law and mental health system at you, and as a result, you become reduced to being a form of their property and at the same time, a child all over again.
Except this time, you’ve known adulthood and had it taken away from you. You’ve known freedom and now temporarily reside on a hospital bed with straps attached to the bottom just in case you get “out of line”. And they use these tactics openly, varying from institution to institution. These are the types of environments you are expected to heal in, and very often they are not set up for “healing” at all.
I have heard of psychiatric wards referred to as “the land where human rights are forgotten,” and I don’t know if I know of a truer sentiment. We do not know how many days Britney Spears has spent inside of mental health facilities, but we do know that she is a survivor of them. A fact that she has not yet opened up about when she speaks, but one that is undoubtedly very real in her life.
Misdiagnoses are more common than you’d think
Once you are in the system, whether the diagnosis is fitting or not, the same people who called for you to be institutionalized the first time around can call again and again, and often they do. These people who are often your closest family and friends often don’t even attempt to speak to you, they just make the call, and with it your freedom is gone, just like that.
Your family and friends treat you differently as soon as they have corroborated to have you essentially locked up against your will to get treatment. They often will not even acknowledge this fact, and when you are discharged from the facility, it can often feel like you’ve walked into a bizarre version of your old life. This is where and why trust can often become a completely nonexistent concept in your life. It is not just because your family has turned on you (and in Britney’s case directly profited off of you for years), but it is because of where they sent you- a place with no warmth, so backwards, and so outdated in their methods that the only thing you can do is continue with the program, just to survive.
I remember a time in my life when I did not know if I would ever be able to trust a single soul ever again. Every person who had betrayed me was either a close family member or “best friend”; how could I ever trust someone who took on that role in the future?
The truth is I am still building that back, years later, and I would imagine Britney may have to do the same given her situation. Not only was Britney sent to mental health facilities, but her life on the outside of them was completely stolen from her as well. Regulating her whereabouts, monetary spending, reproductive abilities, and beyond, the parameters that control Britney Spears are extensive, patriarchal, and just as Britney says, straight up “abusive.”
Then there is the subject of medication, which is a big one. Often you are forced to take medication against your will, and in this case legal proceedings can secure that. Britney referenced in court being switched to Lithium after she expressed that she didn’t want to do her show in Vegas. She was labeled as difficult for not agreeing to this, and within 24 hours saw herself pulled from a medication regimen she had stabilized on for years and placed on Lithium, a drug that made her feel “drunk.”
I have never been more depressed in my entire life than when I was forced to take Lithium. I was on Lithium and another drug at the same time, but I definitely felt overmedicated and let my psychiatrist know it. He didn’t particularly care. I had embarrassing side effects that prevented me from wanting to go out in public, but I still went when I had to. Most days I spent lying in bed watching television series after television series, because I simply could not move. I was literally zapped of all energy. And at this time, on Lithium, I lost my voice entirely. I could not sing, I could not write, and I could barely even speak.
Lack of open communication between the medical team and the patient can be harmful
While every person has a different reaction to medications, when Britney spoke about her experience in court, I understood the sincerity in what she was saying instantly. For starters, they utilized medication as a weapon against her. She was clearly punished for her defiant actions which was a way of deterring her from being oppositional in the future.
It should also be noted that doctors will change up your medications at an alarmingly high frequency while you are hospitalized. There was a time period where I was inside a psych ward, and they changed up my medications so quickly I felt like a living and breathing human experiment.
There is also a lack of open communication between the medical team and a mental health patient themselves.
I have PTSD. I am not ashamed of this, at all. I remember the day I was diagnosed, it clicked and made sense. Gaining that diagnosis helped me to understand what I was struggling with and has helped me navigate these muddied waters of the mental health system since I was pushed into them. Still, in my documentation, not only is there no mention of my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder condition (my very first diagnosis), but they label me with multiple diagnoses I have never even heard of. To make matters worse, they not only labeled me inaccurately, but they did not even have the courtesy to tell me what my diagnoses were.
Can you imagine if a doctor did this for a physical ailment? What about my rights? What about my right to understand what is supposedly going on in my mind according to the experts? What about my right to know what is being discussed by my medical team? What does this say about Britney Spears’ rights under a conservatorship?
If it were a male celebrity, he would definitely be treated differently
We cannot remove the social variables from these scenarios, so who is Britney Spears? She is a singer, a dancer, an entertainer, a famous and wealthy one at that. She is a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend. She is a woman in love with a man who wants to have more children and has every right to expand her family if she so chooses.
This would not happen so readily to a man. Tanya Gold writes of this uncomfortable truth in The Telegraph saying, “Justin Bieber was a danger to the public; Macaulay Culkin was arrested for drug possession; Shia LaBeouf has been treated for alcoholism. None of them lost their autonomy for 13 years to a man they told a court they are afraid of.”
The level of exercised control over Britney’s mind, body, and life experience is so vast that it has taken the #FreeBritney movement to lift the veil on its scope. Britney now has powerful attorney Mathew Rosengart representing her, which stands as a reason to be hopeful. Proper representation in any court of law is a good leg to stand upon, and in the fight to oust Jamie Spears as conservator, you want a man who is known for his principles like Rosengart to get the job done.
Britney’s case is even bigger than just being about one of the most famous pop stars on the planet losing all of her rights and freedoms to her abusive father. It is also about all of those under abusive conservatorships across the United States and under similar legal constraints worldwide. Britney’s case is unprecedented in many ways and stands to make incredible waves for disability rights globally.
In using her voice, Britney Spears has broken a 13-year silence and come out swinging. The strength that it takes to speak out about abuse, knowing that the judge may not grant you freedom from that abuse for quite some time, is immeasurable. Britney is fighting for her life, and she is no longer hiding that fight from her supporters.
Britney may have been subdued into silence for over a decade but she refuses to be suppressed by it any longer. She has quite literally found her voice and has hope for the future again.
No matter what you’ve been through, the truth will always prevail
Truth will always make waves. It will always move with a different flow than lies. Your voice is one of the most powerfully authentic tools at your disposal. Prolonged silence can stifle the human spirit, especially when you are keeping someone else’s secrets of wrongdoing.
Your rights are not “privileges” no matter who tries to convince you otherwise. Your rights are inalienable, which means that they cannot be stripped from you no matter what the circumstance. Fight for your rights and the rights of others when you recognize that they are not being realized. Use your voice to represent yourself, because chances are, just like Britney, you’ll be representing so many others at the exact same time.
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