There’s a Pete Davidson clip that my ex-boyfriend shared with me a few years ago. “Being mentally ill is not an excuse to act like a jackass,” he says, in a segment where he’s talking about Kanye West – who, like me, lives with bipolar disorder – and the behaviour West displayed during his time as the musical act on SNL.
This statement comes to mind during every episode of Netflix’s At Home With the Furys, which follows boxer Tyson Fury and his family: his wife Paris; their six children; his father, John; Love Island alumni Tommy Fury (Tyson’s younger brother) and his partner Molly-Mae Hague.
People with bipolar disorder experience extreme mood swings, ranging from very high highs to severe lows. There are two types of bipolar, bipolar I and bipolar II, and people who live with the former experience far more extreme versions of the two. I have been living with bipolar II since I was about fifteen. It has not been said which type Tyson lives with.
“I’ve had a lot of dark moments… as low as not wanting to live anymore for any reason… even though you’ve got everything to live for,” says Tyson in episode one.
Watching a professional boxer who has held the World Boxing Council’s heavyweight title for the last three years talk about his mental health so openly should be celebrated, and acknowledged as a huge step towards destigmatising mental illness. But, as someone who also lives with bipolar disorder, something about his behaviour rubbed me up the wrong way.
From leaving their child’s christening early, to chucking his jacket at Paris and saying he’d rather see the dog than acknowledge her or the time she’s spent making his favourite dessert, to saying he doesn’t want to go away with her and complaining throughout the entire holiday, there are several instances in which Tyson disrespects his wife. And every single time, his rude behaviour is excused, by both the boxer and his family, and chalked up to his bipolar diagnosis.
“It’s annoying and it’s just part of the life of living with someone who has mental health issues, cause I really do blame it on that,” Paris says while discussing his rapid mood changes. “You could say he’s just being an arse, but it isn’t [that].”
But… isn’t it kind of exactly that? I thought, whilst watching the series play out.
I’m not alone in thinking this way either: Tyson has been criticised widely online for the way he speaks to and treats Paris, with some describing his behaviour as “horrific” and others praising Paris’ tolerance and how she holds their family together.
“When I’m feeling low, Paris will get the blunt end of it,” Tyson adds in another clip. “She’s the one there, isn’t she? Direct line, firing range. I don’t feel good about it… but when you’re in a low mood or down, it is what it is, can’t do much about it.”
Except it’s not ‘what it is’. And there are steps you can take to change.
While it’s important to acknowledge that there are instances in which mentally ill people are not in control of themselves or are unable to seek help, when someone is as aware of their problem as Tyson is, and has the resources to get help, can you really always use mental illness as an excuse? Or is that just taking the easy way out?
I have been in therapy on and off for the past five years. Because even though I didn’t get a formal bipolar diagnosis – and medication for it – until two years ago at the age of 23, with age I became increasingly aware that behavioural patterns of mine were hurting other people.
I find it hard to regulate my emotions, I have no impulse control, and long spells of depression can turn me into the absolute worst company. I can turn small disagreements into huge, vitriolic, one-sided shouting matches if I’m angry or inexplicably irritable. I can blame my lack of interest in everything from sex to people’s day on my depression. I can shrug off risky behaviour that leads me to inappropriate situations. I know I’m capable of all of these things and I’ve done them in the past, especially in my late teens.
Therapy has since shown me how this has impacted my romantic relationships; I’ve had a handful of long-term boyfriends since I was 17, and when I look back at them, I realise there were things I did that were simply not okay.
And it’s because I’m well aware that I can be this person, that I go to therapy. That I take my medication, and that I reflect on how I’ve behaved. Because even though these could all be explained by my bipolar, I also know that my diagnosis is just that — an explanation, not an excuse.
Tyson and Paris share some really sweet moments too, and there’s clearly a lot of love between the pair. I also wonder how much of Tyson’s behaviour outside the ring is an ongoing performance of his boxing persona – a loud, often crass, fearless 6”9 man’s man.
But no one should have to “learn to live” with rude behaviour. Acknowledging that you struggle with mental health is a good first step, but there’s a whole marathon to walk after that. Attributing the mistreatment of loved ones to mental illness does all of us a disservice – it empowers those who use their diagnosis as a crutch and reinforces expectations that those around them must simply ‘deal with it’.
Doing the work is hard, at times seemingly impossible. But it’s necessary. “It’s his family’s job, my job, to make sure [Tyson] won’t go [to a dark place],” says John, his dad, in episode two. And it’s true, loved ones’ support makes the journey easier. But it’s also on those of us who suffer from mental illnesses to make sure we’re doing what we can to keep those people around.
Visit the Bipolar UK website for more information on support services, living with bipolar disorder and supporting someone else with the mental health condition. The charity, Mind, are also on hand for support with mental-health related questions or concerns, and you can always visit your GP.
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