I was diagnosed with borderline/bipolar disorder in late 2017 after a manic episode that, for all intents and purposes, ruined my life at the time. I was set to attend college for my junior year, I had just finished my thesis on Daoism and was looking forward to becoming a more complete person. The previous 20 years of my life were happy at first glance, until I thought back to my mood swings as an adolescent, my tendency to retreat into myself for long periods of time, my short bouts of explosive rage, and so on. I had been diagnosed with depression in January of 2016, but the medication had not done enough. The pressures of university continued to mount, in addition to my own personal struggles with finding myself, experimentation with substances, and relationships. I was getting very little sleep and became a sort of skeleton of a person. I ended up almost killing myself a few times in 2017. I got in the car once with the full intent to drive to the top of a parking garage I knew, Park the car, and jump off. That seemed like the easiest way out.
I knew I wasn’t strong enough to do it as soon as I got there so I just sat in the car and cried. I eventually sold my parents car, got a tattoo with the money and hopped a bus to Chicago before getting on a plane to check myself into a mental health facility. Since then, I’ve been on medication consistently and have seen medical professionals consistently as well. I am no longer a shell of a person, and I am able to function on a day to day basis. I have a very healthy and loving relationship with my fiancé, and I am able to say the same about my relationship with my parents. That does not mean life makes sense to me. My brain short circuits almost every day, and I spiral into brief depression or paranoia. It is very hard for me to keep track of time, or to complete tasks in a timely manner. I let things build up to a crisis point because the thought of action is overwhelming, only to be overwhelmed by the massive action I have to take after my own procrastination. I make irrational decisions, I have irrational fears, and my mind never stays planted on a single thought.
Sometimes I think the world is ending and I must do something that day to fix it. All of it. I have grandiose thoughts and dreams and ideas, some of which I take action on in the spur of the moment. My mania leaves me to work through the night on ideas that never come to fruition. I decided that I was going to be a fucking rapper this year and I’m 23. A grown ass man. I’ve started and ended more than one hob in the last 6 weeks because of paranoia. The list goes on. It is very difficult for me to function as a regular person, but I am not crazy. Millions of people struggle with some form of mental illness that effects their day to day interactions with society. These people are your neighbors, your siblings, your coworkers. These are normal people with brains that make it a little harder for them to maintain a sense of normalcy but that does not mean they are insane.
It is important, when we talk about mental illness, to frame that discussion in a way that focuses on the person and not the disease. It’s very easy to slip into academic terms and impersonal verbiage, especially in an impersonal world. Mental illness presents differently from person to person, so it does more harm than good to throw blanket labels at depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and so on. Now to Kanye, who at this moment is the most famous mentally ill person on the planet who has at least been open about his diagnosis. When he came out and said initially that he had bipolar disorder, I was ecstatic that he would even make the admission. A hero of mine since I was a boy was dealing with the same shit I was! And he wasn’t afraid to talk about it!
In 2018, West repeatedly referred to bipolar disorder as his “superpower”. It was an interesting way to reframe the discussion and I thought it was going to end up being a positive force in ending the stigma surrounding the illness. And then later on he announce he had stopped taking his medication. That is a ticking time bomb. Once you start medication for something like Bipolar, you are not able to go off that medication and return to any semblance of normalcy. Your swings come back, you oscillate even faster, your mania takes you places you shouldn’t go. Kanye has been having public manic episodes for the last 2 years. He’s had public meltdowns on TMZ, Twitter, and most recently at a campaign rally today for a presidential campaign that he clearly thought up during a manic episode. All of this has been occurring with the world watching, and not a single solitary soul standing in his way.
When mania gets a hold of you for an extended period of time, you do some extremely dumb shit. I’ve been extremely manic for months at a time, and I’ve done extremely dumb shit. Kanye has been having increasingly intense manic episodes for the last few months, culminating in announcing a presidential run. When I saw the Kanye 2020 tweet, I immediately thought of it as a manic moment where you can’t sleep and you write a bunch of things down and put them into the universe. I’ve written a whole book that way. When Kanye has a mania flare up, he’s liable to say shit like “I’m running for president”, and it actually matters because it’s Kanye West. You would think this would make his family and the people around him more concerned for his well being, because he could say something that could irrevocably damage his finances, his legacy, and his relationship with the community that keeps him paid. He’s arguably already done that. But he’s held on to enough acolytes to build a billion dollar business, which is dangerous when a guy already has delusions of grandeur.
Kanye isn’t done unraveling either. This manic slide is going to end in an unpredictable and messy way, because that’s the way they usually end. It’ll be public, and it’ll have a large impact on the way we talk about mental illness. Right now, Kanye is doing a ridiculous amount of damage to the stigma surrounding Bipolar. He’s in public, talking like a crazy person, so when people think of Bipolar they think crazy. That is going to stop people with Bipolar from getting help, because they don’t want to be labeled the same way. When we call Kanye crazy publicly, we’re reinforcing the harmful stigma that hurts every day people. This public mania is going to result in further harm, and as much as I want to lash out In anger at the man, I’m saddened that his family, his wife, his team, don’t have the wherewithal or sense to tell him no. His career is going to end eventually, but at this point it’s his life that I’m more concerned about.
Anyways, when you tweet about the crazy shit Kanye did today, remember that real people have BPD/Bipolar too, and that you might be contributing to stigmatizing them as well. If you have BPD/Bipolar and you need assistance, reach out to me directly whether or not we know each other and I will direct you to resources that are right for you, I’ll share my own experience and I’ll listen to yours. Life is hard and it’s a little harder for us but we can do it together. Peace and love.