The Mighty Logo

Why My Pete Davidson Obsession Is About More Than My Borderline Personality Disorder

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I’m not prone to celebrity obsession, but I have to say I’ve turned into quite the Pete Davidson “stan.” What does it mean to “stan” a celebrity? A humorous take on Eminem’s song about an obsessed, stalker fan, Twitter has turned this name-song into a verb. A “stan” quite simply is a (sometimes) overzealous fan of a celebrity. You could also “stan” a television show, food or music genre.

When exactly did my enjoyment of Pete Davidson’s comedy morph into stan-level fandom? I first enjoyed him as a member of Saturday Night Live (SNL), a show I have proudly “stanned” (long before “stanning” was a song or a cultural movement) for most of my life. From staying up late to sneak-watch episodes my parents wouldn’t allow to modern day binge-watching on Hulu, SNL has always been my go-to remedy for boredom, sadness and loneliness.

As he developed as a cast member, I was curious to learn more about him. I was interested to find out he has Crohn’s disease, for which he openly uses cannabis as treatment. In 2017, he went public about the fact he has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). As an individual who struggles with both my mental and physical health in similar ways, I was stunned to learn that this guy, who delivers the laughs reliably every week, suffers incredibly in his private life.

I experience terrible gastrointestinal issues and inflammation as a symptom of lupus. Davidson lives with Crohn’s disease, an illness of which I experience many similar symptoms. In 2017, he was mocked by a blogger for having “butthole eyes.” His fiancée at the time, Ariana Grande, rushed to his defense on social media. She retorted that he has an autoimmune disease, showing the blogger up to be a cowardly online bully.

Autoimmune disease causes the body to attack its own tissues, so people who live with disorders along this spectrum know how much of an effect a flare-up can have on our appearance. Everything from rashes, puffy eyes, open sores to hair loss can be an unpredictable part of our lives. These symptoms can be embarrassing to endure and I’d be lying if I said that sometimes, I don’t want to leave the house when I’m rocking a major lupus rash. Yet here was Pete Davidson, unabashedly himself, in the public eye and succeeding like nobody’s business.

Yet another way Davidson was publicly shamed for his autoimmune disease was because of the way he chooses to help treat the painful and debilitating symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Cannabis is a formally recognized treatment for this condition, but comedian Louis C.K. made statements to SNL producers that Davidson reportedly “smoked too much weed” and made people uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, living with an autoimmune disorder is exquisitely uncomfortable for the afflicted. Sometimes, talking about our daily lives or openly discussing treatments that aren’t common or popular makes people uncomfortable. However, disability and chronic illness aren’t issues that should be hidden for healthy folks’ comfort. The fact C.K felt entitled to discuss and pass judgment on someone’s individual medical choices with such a level of unprofessionalism is a common reality that many chronically ill people must often face.

Borderline personality disorder is highly stigmatized. I have been diagnosed with this disorder by more than one mental health professional, only to have later therapists and psychiatrists determine my symptoms were due to complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) or bipolar disorder. In fact, one therapist told me she “cared too much about me” to diagnose me with BPD, due to the fact many insurances won’t offer comprehensive coverage for personality disorders. Another psychiatrist told me I presented in a far too grounded manner to be a “true borderline.”

It’s true that psychiatry and the diagnosis of mental health disorders is a soft science, and the criteria for multiple disorders share commonalities with one another. Diagnosis can be open to interpretation in terms of a therapist’s personal style of practice, bias and other factors. However, anyone who is curious enough about BPD to perform some degree of personal research will soon become aware of the stigma surrounding this controversial diagnosis.

Borderlines are often unfairly scapegoated as manipulative, controlling, promiscuous and resistant to treatment. The stigma is so severe that there is a number of mental health professionals who deem people with BPD as untreatable and refuse to offer their services. Also, the majority of people who are diagnosed with BPD are female.

The fact Pete Davidson was so open with the public about his BPD diagnosis was, to me, quite frankly inspirational. Regardless of differing professional opinions about the diagnostic name for my mental health challenges, I have been suffering and struggling for as long as I can remember. An abusive childhood, an arranged teenage marriage, years of domestic abuse and fear of coming out as queer have all taken their toll on my emotional wellbeing. I’ve become used to minimizing my emotions, trying to hide my feelings and, above all else, trying to keep my mental health diagnoses tightly under wraps.

The fact Davidson came out with this stigmatized mental health issue while his career was taking off on flights of success really made me reconsider my own shame and secrecy surrounding my personal struggles. Also, I have to admit I was intrigued by the fact BPD finally had some public male representation. Due to the fact BPD is largely diagnosed within the female population, I can’t help but feel a lot of the ignominy of the diagnosis is due in part to institutionalized sexism.

Personally, I love Davidson’s gallows humor approach to his mental health struggles. In September 2018, SNL aired a skit called “A Whole New Kyle.”  In this skit, fellow cast member Kyle Mooney attempts to co-opt Davidson’s identity, going to hilarious lengths to steal his style, haircut, get a celebrity girlfriend of his own and hang out with rapper Kid Cudi (whose work Davidson has accredited to helping pull him through dark times).  In one moment of the skit, Pete pulls Kyle aside to ask him why he’s stealing his friends and style.

“Don’t you know I have mental problems?” Pete asks Kyle under his breath.

“Yo, so do I,” Kyle retorts, shaking a bottle of prescription psychiatric medicine in Pete’s face.

This skit is genius to me. It’s a send-up of the diagnostic criteria of borderlines having an unstable sense of self. As Kyle tries to absorb Pete’s identity, apparently by osmosis, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself a little bit as well. The humor of shaking a bottle of psychiatric meds as a component of Kyle’s “Pete-ness” had me in stitches. Emotional problems are hard. Mental health diagnoses sometimes feel like a personal cross to bear. Pete Davidson and SNL gave me four precious minutes of feeling relatable and related to through the universal language of laughter. I’ve never seen BPD portrayed in a humorous way with comedians I adore, admire — even “stan.”

Of course, Davidson’s journey through the challenges of living with BPD haven’t all been funny and endearing. Throughout his highly publicized engagement and breakup with singer Ariana Grande, he was subject to scrutiny and online bullying. I’ll admit, he said some risqué and probably inappropriate things about his fiancée, including making an ill-received joke about Grande’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to the terrorist attack at her 2017 Manchester show.

I can’t speak to the intricacies of their personal relationship, but I can totally identify with the remarks that seem inappropriate, over the top and deemed “too intense” by the media and public at large. Part of BPD and emotional disorders are the challenges with managing self-regulation, boundaries and intense personal relationships. Do I agree with all of the remarks Davidson made concerning his former fiancée? Absolutely not, but do I identify with the seemingly unavoidable predicament of making an ass of oneself publicly or amongst friends when discussing personal issues? I absolutely do, 100%! Being older and female, my ways of personal expression are far different than Pete Davidson’s, but I completely recognize and empathize with some of his inappropriate commentary.

A breakup is never easy, so imagine having to do so as a young 20-something who is famous, mentally ill and exposed in a vulnerable way on social media. Having every move dissected by hundreds of thousands of followers and fans of your former fiancée must have been so intimidating and invalidating. Davidson and Grande comported themselves far more maturely than people twice their age during their breakup, but I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for both of them to be under a public microscope. Grande has herself been open about the effects of PTSD upon her well-being.

To me, Pete Davidson is a marvel of representation in the media. He’s young, successful and yet also open about his struggles. BPD has now entered into the sphere of public knowledge, much like what Selena Gomez did for lupus awareness. Not everyone with BPD or emotional disorders are female, and males face a different kind of prejudice when it comes to being emotionally open. Pete Davidson advocates for mental health awareness among males by his continued public discourse concerning his struggles. His openness regarding his life with Crohn’s disease has helped people to realize not all physical disabilities are immediately visible, and not all treatments for serious illnesses are a one-size-fits-all approach.

Most importantly, Pete Davidson has shown me we can touch one another is ways we may never even be aware of. Little does he know that every week he’s on SNL, he’s part of one of my safe and happy places. Every time he publicly cries for help, I hear and feel him because I’ve been there too. The fact he refuses to hide his struggles makes him a shining beacon for people in both emotional and physical pain. It is completely possible for a person to be an advocate and inspiration just because of the fact they refuse to let their conditions keep them down — just because they get out of bed every morning. To Pete Davidson, and to every single person out there in the struggle, please keep on with doing you. I need you, and who knows how many other people are counting on the light you shine every day.

Image via YouTube/The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Originally published: April 19, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home