I Have Bipolar II: Britney's Conservatorship Is Terrifying For People Who Live With Mental Illness

by Elizabeth Broadbent

In a long statement to a Los Angeles judge on Wednesday, Britney Spears compared her 13-year conservatorship’s treatment to “sex trafficking.” Sound extreme? Yes, but: she worked for ten hours a day, “seven days a week, no days off.” They took “all [her] possessions away — credit card, cash, phone, passport,” she told the court, and had people — who she was forced to bankroll — watch her “change every day — naked – morning, noon and night.” She wasn’t even allowed a door to her room.

According to Britney’s testimony, this was all because Britney had turned down a dance move for a show that never materialized.

It became clear, through the singer’s passionate plea, that “Toxic” wasn’t just a song title. #Slave2U ought to join #FreeBritney as a hashtag in the movement to break off Britney’s association with the “two-pronged conservatorship” her father established in 2008, which covers both her person and her estate. James Spears petitioned the courts for it in 2008, out of concern over what he claimed were Britney’s mental health and substance abuse problems; Daddy pounced just after Britney was taken to the hospital over concerns for her mental health on both January 3rd and 31st. The conservatorship, awarded on February 1, was supposed to be temporary.

It wasn’t, because patriarchy. And no one complained, because: patriarchy. In 2008, as Elle Magazine says, we were just emerging from an era that treated media megastars like Britney, Lark Voorhies, and other “stars-gone-wrong” as messy soap-opera sideshows, not real women with mental health issues. CBS, for example, called Britney’s behavior a “meltdown,” as if she were a tantrumming toddler and not a person experiencing a crisis.

Britney told the courts on Wednesday that she didn’t know she could petition the court to end the conservatorship, which The New York Times says is usually used as a “last resort” for people who are unable to care for themselves, such as those “with severe disabilities or dementia.”

She described forced labor, forced rehab, and forced therapy visits that she called “abusive.” The conservatorship’s people compelled her to take lithium, a powerful drug used to treat bipolar II, when she says her current medication was working fine, and she was taking it as directed. And lithium is no fucking walk in the park.

All these people bossing her around, terrorizing her, keeping her “in denial… shocked… traumatized… not happy… angry… [and] depressed” were on her payroll. Britney is being forced to pay the people keeping her hostage. She’s not allowed to get married or have another baby — the conservatorship won’t let her take out her IUD. But she’s apparently sane enough to keep working and paying them all.

And after the statement…

Disability advocates have come out in force for Britney, pointing out that her bipolar II shouldn’t prevent anyone from “allowing her” to have a child — fuck, I’ve had three, and they’re allowing me to write this essay.

Her conservatorship also threatened to prevent her from seeing her children and her boyfriend. She is not allowed, she reported, to ride in a car with her boyfriend — or marry him. Here’s a sentence no one ever imagined they’d read: Britney Spears is the victim of forced eugenics. If that sounds off-base, figure out what the fuck else to call it. Sorry, you ran out of time. Britney Spears is being forcibly sterilized. By Daddy. For her money.

Someone get out the torches, because it’s time to burn the patriarchy.

James Spears says his daughter’s incompetent, and her conservatorship has found people to agree with him. Britney has asked the court to release her from the conservatorship without evaluation, because therapists have been so abusive to her that she’s clearly terrified that one will, baselessly, agree with him. During her conservatorship, she’s recorded albums “Femme Fatale,” “Britney Jean,” and “Glory”; from 2009-2018, she played up to 60-112 concerts a year (though she stuck to one in 2012 and four in 2013). And she was rehearsing for second Vegas residency show, Domination, when USA today reports that her father nearly died of a ruptured colon, and the show was postponed indefinitely.

A show for which, according to her, they had her working endlessly, then when she objected to a dance move, shipped her off to forced rehab, even though she wasn’t drinking. Never, in her statement, does Britney mention Daddy’s ruptured colon. Sounds like he couldn’t supervise the show properly and needed somewhere convenient to stash Britney.

They’re treating her like a human slot machine. Let’s parse Daddy’s argument out. Britney’s not well enough to be trusted with her money, but she’s well enough to keep working to make that money. She uses the money she makes to pay him, the other conservators, and the people they pick to threaten her.

And she still isn’t “allowed” to have a baby.

All this is terrifying, and not just because #FreeBritney.

It’s terrifying because I have bipolar II. What if I said the wrong thing at the wrong time? What if I I threw another shoe at another mirror, shattering it, no kids around, like I did around 2008, and someone decided: she’s not competent? What if you, with your anxiety disorder, went into a downward spiral, and you made the wrong comment to the wrong person or had a public moment of vulnerability?

I once did research for a novel about how difficult it would be to declare someone mentally incompetent in the state of Georgia. Answer: terrifyingly easy, and you wouldn’t have to have a goddamn thing wrong with you. Only people and maybe a therapist who claimed you did. This isn’t just about Britney, folks. This is about all disabled people. This is about all of us.

And go beyond disability rights.

Remember when Britney shaved her head? Remember how we laughed? That wasn’t funny. And maybe we all feel pretty fucking guilty about that now (I sure as hell do), because when the media pushed a patriarchal narrative about a crazy woman, we bought it. Now we know our laughter helped form the conservatorship that’s now holding Britney prisoner. The patriarchy sold us an old story: manic woman, can’t control herself, meltdown, can’t control her money, send help.

We bought the tabloids. We scoured TMZ. We laughed.

#FreeBritney now, because we’re the ones who jailed her.