The beautiful straw that broke the camel’s back in my marriage was Britney Spears. Britney and I have been through some shit together. When she shaved her head and busted the paparazzi’s car with an umbrella in 2007, I was about the same age working at UCLA. I heard the sirens and helicopters from my cubicle up the street when the ambulance took Britney to the UCLA Medical Center for her involuntary psychiatric hold back in our early twenties. I’ve always planned to write a chapter in my memoir called “Peers with Spears,” but little did I know that in 2021 we were about to become 5150 twinsies.
The trigger that unleashed an avalanche of mental illness for me was my intense desire to “free Britney’ during my first full blown, unmedicated, manic episode. Always a huge Britney fan, I took it upon myself to create and put together an “pop-up performance” that I pulled off in 13 days of planning – the event was awesome and featured me dancing around on the Venice Beach boardwalk in costume with backup dancers and a crowd cheering to “free Britney!” I had reached out to two activists I met during the Black Lives Matter protest and together we orchestrated an important and uplifting ode to mental health – something that even caught the attention of the BBC and The New York Times. It felt good to flex my public relations muscles and focus on something bigger and more exciting than household chores for a minute.
The project was not a success for my marriage, however, as I spent many sleepless nights and distracted days in full blown mania, making signs, sending emails, ordering costumes and supplies….slacking on my dishes and laundry duties as a stay-at-home mom. I never neglected my children; in fact, it was the opposite, I fully involved them. My preteen daughter cringed at my dance moves and incessant Britney chatter, while my toddler was a great sport as I lugged him to LA to “scout locations.” I boasted to my instagram followers that I was “pulling a Lin” and called myself “Lin Manuel Mermanda” for a period of nearly two weeks. When my husband walked in the living room and got mad at my “end misogyny” handmade posters, it was the beginning of the end. No one can tell me not to free Britney! Damn the man, I thought, including mine, as I continued to order things online and spew out dozens of messages a minute to strangers on the internet.
I knew at the time that I was having a manic episode, as I could feel the surge of fluttery energy pulsing towards a climax. My therapist had only recently introduced the word “hypomania” into my vocabulary. Grandiose thoughts often prompt people with bipolar disorder to dream up plans that seem improbable and invest time, energy, or even money into them—despite how unlikely they seem from the outside. At this point I felt that medication represented an attempt to suppress the creative me who was clearly capable of pulling off great things. During this manic episode in March, I was “freeing my inner Britney.” My mood and energy fluctuations proceeded unimpeded, with no restraints on the scope or intensity of my grandiose ambitions – and really with no room for my husband’s passive aggressive disapproval of my endeavors. Fortunately, this episode did not escalate into psychosis like the next two would, but it did result in the final breakdown of a long-suffering marriage.
In the tumultuous marriage I was in, resentments and poor communication came to a head during the “free Britney” phase of my bipolar disorder.When it was happening, I wasn’t taking any medication, and it was fairly mild compared to the episodes that would follow a few months later and land me in the hospital for two separate weeks. The “free Britney” phase of my struggle with mental illness was about freeing my inner Britney – the person inside of me that I used to be before I got beaten down by a series of traumas, including my son’s eye cancer.
After dabbling with the fun idea of having hypomania, I dove right into that being part of my personality and channeled it all into freeing Britney Spears from her unjust conservatorship. That first episode strained my marriage to the point of collapse, but it was not enough for me to succumb to the idea that I need medication to function. The next episode was worse and involved psychosis, where I had elaborate ideas of reality that caused me to act in bizarre ways to the alarm of my family.
Mental illness and trauma do not define me. The episodes that began post-pandemic would send me into a frightening inner world with aliens and spiders shooting out of my ears. I descended into literal madness a few months after the Britney event, probably due to the stress of the divorce and separation that followed my full-fledged, unmedicated mania. When I was running around town with two different shoes (one a spa sandal with stones on it), no phone and sticking feathers in the grass to ward off evil entities, my family took notice. In May I was handcuffed on my front lawn after my husband, mom and dad had no alternative but to call the police on me for my bizarre behavior. I blacked out parts of that episode, but I will never forget those six days in the psychiatric ward. It was like the movies with people screaming in the hallways. I thought everyone was out to get me in there, and I took whatever prescriptions they gave me in order to get out.
When I was discharged from the hospital, I stuck to the regime of taking the mood stabilizer Lamictal because I had scared myself while on the brink of sanity. I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 with psychotic features. Two months later after another scary episode that involved me destroying my beloved ukulele and hundreds of dollars worth of possessions, I was hospitalized again for six days — this time the diagnosis was schizophrenia. The prescription was an anti-psychotic called Geodon in addition to my Lamictal. Schizophrenia is not something to mess around with, and I wasn’t willing to risk any more psychotic breaks. My inner Britney was too free – she had run loose and needed a little taming in the form of medication.
Today I take seven pills a day, and I’m ok with that. I’m grateful that I have such a strong support system and that the medications do seem to be working. I am still creative and energized, without the obsessive musings on space-time and preoccupation that bugs are coming out of my skin. My mental illness is nothing to be ashamed about, and in the peaks and valleys of it I’ve come to discover myself in deeper ways than I ever imagined. This self-awareness makes me a better mother and person, and I would not change anything about the way it has all played out. The next chapter will surely involve Britney and I making major comebacks!