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Nearly two years after going public with her bipolar disorder, Catherine Zeta-Jones wants her privacy back. In a Friday interview with Good Morning America, the Playing For Keeps actress was asked about her mental illness -- and said in no uncertain terms that she was "sick of talking about it."
Of course, it's her life, and she has the right to privacy -- but here's why we think Zeta-Jones should keep the conversation going.
It's important to understand, first of all, that the actress didn't want her bipolar diagnosis being public knowledge; she was "outed" by the press and felt she had to come clean. "I never wanted to be the poster child for this," she said on GMA. "It came out, and I dealt with it in the best way I could, and that was just saying, 'Hey, I'm bipolar.'"
So Zeta-Jones would have preferred to deal with this issue privately. Who can blame her? Instead, she has been goaded into talking about her condition in interview after interview. Now, she seems worried that bipolar disorder is defining her public image. "Everyone has things going on and we deal with them the best we can," she told GMA. "We can't jump from the rooftops shouting, 'I have this, look at me. Victim.'"
Here's the thing: "victim" is the last thing that Zeta-Jones looks like. In the interviews she's given about her depression, she's talked about the strategies she uses to cope with her illness, the way her marriage to Michael Douglas has helped her through, and how discovering she was bipolar led to a deeper understanding of herself as a person. "You find things inside yourself you never imagined were there," she told InStyle this winter.
And that's a big contrast to a lot of the other celebrities who have come forward with their bipolar diagnoses. Demi Lovato admits she was struggling with eating disorders and self-harm; Amber Portwood has struggled with drug addiction and legal problems; Sinead O'Connor has threatened suicide on Twitter. All of these women had to hit rock bottom before they went public with their condition. Others, like Carrie Fisher and Patty Duke, didn't come out of the bipolar closet until long after their Hollywood careers had peaked.
Zeta-Jones, on the other hand, has remained as glamorous as ever, before and after her diagnosis. She looks fantastic; she's still an A-list movie star; and her marriage appears to be rock-solid. Furthermore, when she needed treatment, she didn't spiral out of control; she did the right thing and sought medical attention.
Catherine Zeta-Jones is living proof that a person can have a mental illness without it consuming their life. She's also a great demonstration of the fact that mental illness can happen to any of us, just like any other disease. You can't know a person's brain chemistry by looking at them, whether they're walking a red carpet or working in the next cubicle. This is a powerful message that she's in a unique position to spread.
And yes, the media has been obsessing over Zeta-Jones' bipolar disorder for almost two years now. But that's precisely because people love hearing that celebrities have the same problems they do. Zeta-Jones has become more relatable, not less, since she came out. The age of the aloof, mysterious mega-star is long gone; this is the era of Twitter, when the biggest stars on the planet share pictures of their breakfasts with 10 million followers. By removing mental illness from the conversation, Zeta-Jones risks alienating fans, not winning them over.
Besides, the media is fickle. They're not going to stop looking for a new angle, and as soon as Zeta-Jones gives the press something else to talk about (another Oscar-worthy performance, perhaps?), her bipolar disorder will no longer dominate the headlines.
With that in mind, we'd love to see Catherine Zeta-Jones remain open about bipolar disorder. She doesn't have to plumb the depths of her soul during every morning talk show appearance; it's enough for her to say, "Yes, I have bipolar disorder, I got help, and I'm doing okay." Her lack of shame will speak volumes, and set an example for other people with mental illness to stop blaming themselves and start getting the treatment they need. That's the opposite of being a "victim" or an empty "poster child;" that's showing true strength.