CN: Bipolar, drugs, suicide
“That’s my bipolar sh*t, n*gga what?
That’s my superpower, n*gga ain’t no disability
I’m a superhero! I’m a superhero!”
I can understand where Kanye West came from in one his songs, ‘Yikes’, from his new album ‘ye’. It is the first time he has spoken out about his diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, a diagnosis that I share, which he was only diagnosed with at the age of 39. For those who haven’t experienced manic highs of bipolar disorder, it can be quite easy to make a reductionist judgement of this being just a glamorisation of a serious mental illness. I mean, it is a glamorisation of a serious mental illness but it is also entirely indicative of what makes the illness what it is, and often so hard to treat.
When I’ve experienced mania, I’ve felt so high that, like West, I’ve thought I was beyond human and that it was a positive thing. When you see the world with extra colour, and speed, and with one hundred thoughts a second, and you just want to create, and you see yourself as special and capable of making great things; well, is that not what being a superhero is? It’s true that I’ve also engaged in some of my greatest achievements from manic impulsivity. If you feel you’re invincible then there’s nothing to stop you taking risks or having the confidence to start projects that otherwise you might not think you are capable of, or put yourself forward to try something new (for me that has been everything from writing philosophical memoirs, to learning everything about vaccinations). I can see why, as a creative, Kanye West can see his bipolar highs as beneficial – and his lyrics seem to come from quite a manic voice itself.
“Mania is disordered because your judgement is not always accurate. What you think is amazing at that time may be, at best, not great, at worst, nonsense”
But as anyone who has had a manic episode will tell you, mania is disordered because your judgement is not always accurate. What you think is amazing at that time may be, at best, not great, at worst, nonsense. We must also remember that this is a ‘disorder’. Bipolar Disorder is a mental health diagnosis for a reason. We are not just people experiencing periods of depression, and then other genuinely superhuman periods of creativity (like seriously, it’s not useful to posthumously diagnose Van Gogh or Mozart).
People have told me I should be grateful that I have bipolar and not unipolar depression. It means that I do get to experience euphoria beyond the capacities of most people, and that my mental illness can make me actually feel pretty good. But, I have experienced the depression side, which can feel almost worse when you’ve dropped there from such a high place. And then I have to deal with the side effects and actualities of manic behaviour. What Kanye West doesn’t mention, is that for every creative success of mania comes a number of things that are unfinished or rubbish. Or the danger that manic people can get themselves into when impulsively taking drugs, or driving too fast, or sleeping around. Or the embarrassment of having to explain why you thought you were the reincarnation of Da Vinci or Plato to friends and acquaintances. Or how scary it can be when you mind is moving too fast or you’re charged with suicidal energy, rather than euphoria.
“Someone on such a level of fame and power as Kanye West has a responsibility in how he engages in the mental health discourse”
Dealing with new mental health diagnoses can be difficult to navigate and make sense of on a personal level, yet I can’t help but feel that, whether fair or not, someone on such a level of fame and power as Kanye West has a responsibility in how he engages in the mental health discourse. It is perfectly fine to talk about the positives that have come about from having dealt with mental health difficulties, but it can’t speak over the acknowledgement of the fact that bipolar disorder can also destroy lives. In my view, I have learnt things from being mentally ill – although I wouldn’t necessarily call them ‘superpowers’. Mania may make me take risks that can sometimes (very occasionally and loosely) lead to positive output, but experiencing mental health problems has made me more sensitive to other people’s needs and how to prioritise wellbeing and fulfillment. West is wealthy and powerful, he can afford the best care and maybe his career has benefited from periods of mania, and he is allowed to speak about that, but he should also be aware of the effect that his words have, as someone in a position of power.
Listen to the album here: