Bipolar Is the New Black

For those of you who have been paying more attention to Obama providing his birth certificate and Osama Bin Laden's post-mortem DNA than you have to this week's issue of People Magazine, let me catch you up.

Catherine Zeta-Jones, 41, spent five days in a mental health facility last month (by choice) and came out with a diagnosis of bipolar II disorder and a cover story to boot. Her friend was quoted in the article as saying, "It's such a tricky disease..." I would look for a word other than disease, darlin', but mazel tov on being a supportive friend.

Okay, now you're all caught up.

I'm hardly going to attempt to either agree or disagree with the diagnosis, nor do I have enough information for such banter anyway. And, despite my seemingly gossipy self, slapping labels on people isn't my style. Accepting each individual's own path to authentic happiness is more in my comfort zone. So, if canoodling with her bipolar diagnosis is what works for CZJ, it works for me. You go, girl.

But here's my issue...

Now that the brunette bombshell (let's take a moment to take her drop-dead gorgeousness into account, shall we) has made her diagnosis public, everyone and their mother who has ever had a down day will be tempted to grab the nearest "Proud To Be Bipolar" sticker they can find and slap it on their chest. And that's an issue. A pretty f'ing serious issue. Not serious like "Flavor Flav was arrested last weekend? Seriously?" No, this is actually serious.

Because diagnoses are serious. They're not passed out as promotional material at psychobabble conferences. They're not even given out at your first therapy appointment. And they sure as hell are not the kind of thing you Google on WebMD only to follow up with an MRI and an assumption about how your entire future will shape up. In other words,  this is potentially a mental health hypochondriac's wet dream.

So, that's my issue.

Don't get me wrong, I love when celebrities and people with influence come clean about being real humans with real issues. It's good times for sure, and frees up all us regular folk from over-judging ourselves for a few seconds and going to our "if they can deal with that, I can too" happy place. And I love love love Ms. Zeta-Jones for bringing actual mental health to the cover of People Magazine, even if just for one week off from reading a cover story about someone who's not fat being fat.

I just feel like it's important to include in this whole 'celebrities with bipolar' conversation the recognition that diagnoses have power. And diagnoses often turn into labels. And labels have power. And life doesn't just shape up to be rainbows and butterflies as soon as you find the label that ohmygod is so you.

Labels can absolutely be empowering to claim, if that's your thing. They can be a roadmap to the next step towards finding your happy, finding yourself, and finding everything else in-between. But they can also misdefine you if they're incorrect, or given to you by someone who is misinformed-or just an asshole. "Fat" is a label. "Gay" is a label. And so is "bipolar." Labels can lead you to believe false things about yourself, about who you are, and about what you're capable of.

Diagnoses don't pop out of vending machines, nor do they pop off the pages of magazines into your own personal story. So, if you want a label because you feel like having one might help you to make sense of why you've been a moody bitch all these years, great. Go to therapy. Learn, grow, unpack your stuff, go get 'em.

But before you start canoodling with your label and shouting it from the rooftops, get acquainted with the person you're labeling. Because it doesn't hurt to know who you are a li'l bit before you decide to slap a sticker onto your chest. And one thing's for're not Catherine Zeta-Jones. (Unless you are, in which case, Hi!!!! Oh My Gawd I LOVE you!)

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