After 13 years of what she describes as an "abusive," controlling conservatorship, Britney Spears was finally able to share her devastating testimony in a June 23 open court hearing.
"I've been in denial. I've been in shock. I am traumatized," Spears said. "I just want my life back. And it's been 13 years. And it's enough." In a subsequent, 24-minute statement, Spears recounted the various abuses and violations she'd endured — and, in one of the most jarring moments, said that she was abruptly taken off the medication she'd been on for years and put on lithium.
"Lithium is a very, very strong and completely different medication compared to what I was used to," Spears said. It isn't known what medication she was on before, but lithium — a mood stabilizer typically used to treat bipolar disorder — can impact mood, energy, and in some cases, interest in engaging with others. "You can go mentally impaired if you take too much, if you stay on it longer than five months. But he put me on that, and I felt drunk," Spears said.
Spears went on to explain that she struggled to communicate with her parents while on the medication. According to her testimony, six nurses were sent to her house to "monitor" her behaviour and wouldn't let her leave the house for a month. "Not only did my family not do a goddamn thing, my dad was all for it," she said. "Anything that happened to me had to be approved by my dad."
While it's also unclear what dose of lithium Spears was taking and for what condition, it's true that the medication has an infamously narrow therapeutic index, meaning there's a relatively low difference between recommended and toxic levels of the drug. Lithium also causes different reactions to different bodies — while some respond well to it as a treatment, others can suffer from things like blurred vision and difficulty speaking.
The drug is frequently used to treat conditions like mania, and Spears is right that it is a notably strong prescription; but lithium can have dangerous effects if you take it for too long or accidentally take even slightly more or less than recommended. There's also a long list of other medications and certain foods and drinks that can negatively interact with lithium and impact its concentration in the body, leading to lithium toxicity.
What is even more worrisome is the lack of consent throughout Spears' alleged treatment. If Spears weren't under a conservatorship, she would have to undergo an informed consent process before starting lithium, according to California state guidelines. During this process, a doctor must explain why a medication is being prescribed; any expected side effects and benefits; and any alternative treatment options. Conservatees, however, "no longer have the right to consent to or refuse treatment," unless a judge grants them specific rights.
The risk of lithium toxicity, given the narrow therapeutic index, is why patients on lithium are closely monitored. And while the medication can be life-saving for someone who needs it as a treatment, as Spears implies, this medication shift seemed like a thinly-veiled excuse for her team, including her father Jamie Spears, to just further control her life and career and undermine her independence.
"The control he had over someone as powerful as me — he loved the control to hurt his own daughter 100,000%. He loved it," she said. "I'm tired of feeling alone. I deserve to have the same rights as anybody does."