Katherine Zeta-Jones

The headline in the electronic newsletter came was written in large font: “She’s one of us.” My favorite magazine that offers hope and harmony to people living with bipolar depressions, bphope, called attention to the recent disclosure that actress Catherine Zeta-Jones lives with bipolar depression. By the time I received the newsletter, I had already read a couple articles about Zeta-Jones from my twitterfeed, the Huffington Post and on the cover of magazines in the grocery store checkout.

Even though I live in Los Angeles, where people are often defined in their relationship to “the industry” (Hollywood and all the support the movie and television business incur), I have never been swept up into celebrity news. In fact, I find it hard to understand why some people are so interested in the personal lives of other people who are known primarily through their portrayal of fictional characters.

This headline helped me understand.

She’s one of us.

Someone out there, someone big, someone gorgeous and rich and famous . . . is not so far away. She’s not so different from regular people. In fact, she’s one of us.

Although contemporary medicine and mainstream media have done a lot to let the public know that living with a depressive condition is analogous to living with any other chronic medical condition, there is still a significant stigma to living with a depressive condition.

Most people still know bipolar as “manic depression,” and have an image of someone with tremendous mood swings – from grandiose superhuman feeling highs to sullen poutiness.

Most people still use terms like “crazy,” “insane” and “nut job” in flippant and careless ways that they would not use comparable terms about physical challenges, sexuality or race.

Most people do not think of the complex causes of depressive conditions – some unknown cocktail of family history, environment, body chemistry and life circumstances. Nor do they realize the everyday machinations required to stay healthy.

Most people that I know who live with depressive conditions spend a good amount of time hiding them, or weighing the advantages and consequences of sharing the fact of their conditions with employers or loved ones. Because we don’t want to be blamed, excused or treated differently because we live with a depressive condition.

So when someone well known – and presumably well liked – is revealed as one of us, it makes a difference. It makes living with a bipolar depressive condition seem more commonplace. It shows that there are talented, gorgeous, famous people who live with a depressive condition. It shows that having a bipolar depressive condition does not close off the possibility of being an glamorous, talented, admired or famous. It widens the circle of “insiders,” so that we begin to hope that one day we might stop drawing lines between who is in and out of what is normal.

We aren’t so unusual.

She’s one of us.

In this season of high holy days in Christian traditions, people focus a lot on what makes Jesus exceptional. Some traditions talk about his birth to a virgin woman. By the time we get to holy week, we talk about how Jesus conquers death. Various Christian communities will talk about Jesus’ ability to forgive when betrayed; Jesus’ ability to bestow a life in paradise; Jesus’ ability to rise from the dead; Jesus’ ability to save us from sin and death.

All of this is because Jesus is not like us. Because, some interpretations assert, Jesus is a mystical combination of full divinity and full humanity. Jesus was human, but did not sin. Jesus has a special relationship with God (think: “only begotten son”). This is why Jesus can save us. Because, as the early Christian thinker Athanasius often put it, “only God can save.”

Another early Christian thinker, Gregory of Nazianzus, asserted the opposite. He felt that “what is not assumed cannot be healed.” Only a human can save humanity. Part of what makes Jesus so exciting is that he is human.

I hear the headline again.

Jesus is one of us.

Jesus had parents. Jesus walked. Jesus wept. Jesus ate. Jesus struggled. Jesus prayed. Jesus had friends. Jesus was betrayed. Jesus had some things to say. Jesus got tired. Jesus was killed.

Just like finding out that a celebrity – who is widely admired – shares something with those of us whom society often maligns, Jesus’ humanity is encouraging. It means that someone who is admired, respected, uplifted and worshipped is . . . just like us.

It also means that we, too, may do the things that we see as exceptional about Jesus: We can forgive, seek ideals in our communities, stand up for justice, welcome the ostracized, see life overpower death, and pursue healing for the world.

The Easter message brought to us by popular culture: God is one of us.

Joan Osborne sings it here:

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