How many of us have thought that life would be so much easier if we only had someone else’s? From the outside, Catherine Zeta Jones seems to be the epitome of perfection: beautiful, married to a successful man, gorgeous children. Even with her husband battling cancer, she seems to handle stress with grace and ease.
At least that’s how it looks from the outside.
With her recent disclosure of being diagnosed and treated for bipolar II, Catherine Zeta Jones has cracked that veneer by inserting the element of doubt into our perfect image of her. There has been controversy over whether she was “outed”; pushed into going public with the information because a tabloid had been tipped off. Whatever the reason for her revealing such personal knowledge, the result is the same. She has been exposed. And the public is fascinated.
Why are we so intrigued? I argue that we are like young children who see their teacher at the grocery store. How can my teacher be at the grocery store? She buys food? She goes shopping? We are so stunned at seeing this person outside of their role that it rocks our foundation. The same dynamic is at play here.
How can she be bipolar? She doesn’t seem bipolar. She doesn’t act crazy. She looks like she completely has it together. Like the child who only sees her teacher at school, Catherine Zeta Jones only fits into our world as a beautiful, picture-perfect movie star. How can she be bipolar? We start minimizing it with comments like “Well, it’s only bipolar II and that’s a milder form of the disorder.” While this is true in some respects the dangers are not less than those of bipolar I, but different. People who suffer from bipolar II can experience serious clinical depression with suicidal features. The mania (hypomania in bipolar II) is not as intense as those with bipolar I but it can still be debilitating. And although there is a long list of artists who suffer from both bipolar I and II, the hypomania experienced with bipolar II can manifest not only in a flight of ideas and increased creativity but in anxiety as well.
Zeta Jones’ revelation shatters our idea that life might be perfect if… if we had her life, if we had more money, if, if, if. And then we are left with the present, the reality of our lives now.
We are the only ones that really know what is going on within us at any given time. For this reason, it is fruitless to compare and judge ourselves against someone else. To gain inspiration from another or strive to emulate good qualities is one thing but to give ourselves a hard time for not being “as good as” or “as smart as” or “as beautiful as” is myopic. We have tunnel vision. Remember that old saying, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”? Perhaps this is apropos precisely because we have yet to finish the whole story.