The Public Cry: #freebritney! Is There More to the Conservator Story?

We become conservators to rescue.

Listen, I want Britney Spears to be happy too. She’s incredibly talented, seems nice, obviously loves her children, and has worked her ass off pretty much all of her life. And, yeah, her dad seems like a controlling asshole. Also, it has to suck to have your adolescence questioned and paraded all over the media. She was not treated with respect, to say the least. The paparazzi and press were shameless in their interference – and, well, sheer gall. Anyone might crack under that kind of pressure and scrutiny.

(Imagine if all Your teenage love starts and fits has been plastered over the tabloids. I mean, Seriously.)

But, after watching  Framing Britney Spears (and to channel Carrie Bradshaw), “I couldn’t help but wonder…..” even now, are we getting the whole picture of her conservatorship?

This is not a popular take right now. And I’m not saying that Brit shouldn’t be “set free”.  Honestly, it’s none of my business.  But, since I am a conservator myself, I’m just saying there might be more to the story. Have we fully seen in that documentary what a conservator can do to help? To avoid disaster? To protect the conservatee? We have not.

Even Brit herself, speaking out after the documentary aired, has said “everybody has their story.” 

Here’s mine.

I applied for conservatorship in 2003 when my son Ben was about to sign papers to “set himself free” from the psychiatric unit in the hospital. He was psychotic, confused, a danger to himself – but would have been released anyway because he had “rights.”

But by applying for conservatorship and right to treatment, I bought him some time – time to stabilize and to plan for discharge.

I became Ben’s conservator (of estate and person) and fought for his “right” to be treated for a serious brain illness – and kept fighting. Because of that, he finally was stabilized enough (5 hospital stays later) to be placed in housing where he could begin to rebuild his life.

And, I had the right to information each time he was hospitalized again. Without those papers, I’d not even have been able to know where he was. 

In the 18 years since that decision (one I have to renew every year), I’ve stayed as far as I can from making decisions for Ben. Not all conservators decide what a person eats for breakfast (like Britney’s father in the documentary). However, I have been able to step in and help when necessary.

Some examples:

  • Ben thought he was “helping a co-worker” by co-signing a car lease agreement for her – without my knowledge. When she defaulted and he was hounded by debt collectors, I was able to get him out of the agreement.
  • Ben decided to sell a perfectly good used car we had gotten for him (he paid us back, bit by bit, and had been free and clear) and lease a brand new one….to the tune of almost $800 a month.  He went over the mileage and “solved “ that by leasing a more expensive one. We have to declare bankruptcy to get him out of that debt.
  • He is a shopaholic. I know it makes him happy to feel normal…but did he really need a set of pool balls and cues when we don’t even have a pool table? I can’t really stop him, but I can keep enough money set aside (if he has any) to make sure bills are paid. 
  • He has now been hospitalized 9 times. That’s a small number compared to others I’ve seen. But my conservatorship gives me the right to know medical information, from the smallest detail (yes, he is a patient there) to the larger issues of what a discharge plan is.
  • I can take charge of getting his disability payments back. This is absolutely essential right now, as he is back to square one and has no other income at all.
  • While he was in the hospital, I was able to keep up his credit card payments ((of course, he was maxed out and only paying minimums)

“But (I hear you saying in your head) why don’t you let him just make mistakes when he hits bottom won’t he learn his lesson? The answer is… No. With schizophrenia, even treated schizophrenia, learning from your mistakes is often not part of the picture. I wish it were.

I do not decide what he eats for breakfast, who he hangs out with, where he goes. I am a safety net, and he has fallen many times. Mostly I let him make his own decisions, but within reason. 

Like today:

“Mom, did I get a stimulus check? Where is it?” 

“Yes, and I put it aside to pay your rent until your social security is approved.”

“Oh, ok.”

(Because I know, from experience, that if that check is at his disposal he will not rest until it has all been spent on clothing he does not need. trust me , I know. I cleaned his room while he was in the hospital. He could also use it to buy pot. Nope. Not on my watch).

Conservators are not all dictators or assholes. Most of the time, we don’t even want the job. But someone has to do it, and if we can prevent total disaster we step up to the plate. Most of us strike that balance of letting go and stepping in. or at least we try.

So – i feel for Britney, I really do. But that documentary was very one-sided. I would just need to hear the other side of the story. Wouldn’t  you?

1 thought on “The Public Cry: #freebritney! Is There More to the Conservator Story?

  1. In the state of Maine, it is legal guardianship, and I have been my son’s legal guardian since 2007. He was in the hospital for the 10th time since his diagnosis of schizophrenia in 1994, and one of the wonderful doctors at the state psychiatric hospital (who has since become a wonderful friend of mine as well) suggested that it would be the absolute best thing for my son if I could legally be his advocate and not have doors continually slammed in my face because he was his own person. She was also the one, years later, to suggest that it would be much better for him, and for us, to have him transition to a group home rather than returning home to live with us yet again. He and I have a loving relationship, which is always the foundation to which we both return when things are extremely tough. He thanked me a few years ago for being his guardian, even though he has railed against it a few times! “Mom, I know I would not be alive today if it weren’t for you being able to advocate for me.” Music to my ears 🙂

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