What you don’t see about recovery from celebrities with mental illness
I recently read an article on yet another celebrity being praised for overcoming mental illness. I recognise that celebrities are people just as susceptible to mental illness as you or I, but unlike the wider population, they are equipped with help that others often do not have access to. My issue is the media too frequently neglects to state this advantage and furthermore, rarely brings to light the details of the journey from “ill” to “recovered.” The lack of attention given to these factors creates a very unrealistic and simplified version of what to expect from the recovery process.
As someone who has had mental illness for most of my adult life, I am no stranger to this topic and know firsthand how unnerving the prospect of recovery can be. Agreeing to take these steps towards a new future means not only delving into an unknown space, but also admitting when I am not OK, which is all too often associated with weakness.
When I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, I had no idea what it all meant. So as anyone in this era would do, I turned to Google to enlighten me on what to expect during recovery and beyond it. The pages of articles that depicted stories of beautiful people who had “overcome” mental illness were falsely comforting. Despite being in a state of denial, I reluctantly worked on convincing myself if I followed my doctor’s orders, I too, could learn to eat while remaining extremely thin. What these articles failed to mention is the biological reaction my body would have to food, the alternative psychological issues that would surface and, more to the point, that celebrities in recovery often have a whole team of professionals on demand to ensure their recovery preserves their public image.
In the space of a short few months, my clothing no longer fit. The little self-esteem I had, diminished. Activities like running and yoga became so much harder as my body hadn’t adjusted to carrying the extra weight. It wasn’t just the physical that broke me though. As a perfectionist, I couldn’t understand why my recovery didn’t reflect the women I had read about. This sense of failure tormented me and often caused me to act in irrational and out-of-character ways. I had an agonising desire to be back to my former self. It was during this time that I wished I was dead.
With a lot of hard work and the right support, I am learning how to manage my mental health, but I am not, by any means, “cured.” For me, recovery still feels like all my agency has been taken away, and I find my biggest impediment is that I still cling tightly to my mental illness. This is not because I don’t want to be healthy, but because it is so embedded in my personality that I don’t know how to identify without it.
My point is, when you have a mental illness, you can have periods, sometimes years, when you can’t function like the “average” person. When celebrities have a mental health related “breakdown,” but are praised by the media for being back in the public eye only a few months later, it sets an unrealistic standard for how quickly people should recover and what recovery should look like. For some, being “cured” won’t be the absence of their mental illness, but rather learning to manage it and appreciate the progress they make.
As Clare Stephens so rightly stated in an article that appeared on Mamamia, “When we only have privileged, thin, successful and highly functional people sharing their struggles, we end up with a very skewed idea of what mental illness looks like.” While celebrities have done wonders in changing the stigma surrounding all types of mental illness, the media needs to show the whole truth of their recovery process, not just the final product — and furthermore, show the diversity of recovery.