You’ve probably seen the news. The latest celebrity gossip is that Kanye West has had another outburst (he’s had a few over the last few years) and is having problems with his marriage. His latest public episode took place on Twitter where he unleashed a number of tweets revealing very personal details. He said he has been trying to divorce Kim Kardashian and implied she was cheating on him. He has also accused Kim and her mother, Kris, of trying to get him admitted a hospital. What is going on?
This blog is not a gossip column and not a celebrity news website, but I thought I would write about this story because of how it has started a dialogue about mental health. I don’t think the conversation would have focused so much on mental health a few years ago. He would be skewered, insulted and laughed at by the public and the media. Do you remember Britney’s meltdown over 10 years ago? Do you remember how much people made fun of her? Do you remember Chris Crocker’s infamous “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE” video? He became a joke and the backlash was huge. She was a joke and a laughing stock.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of people who are skewering and ridiculing Kanye. He has lost a lot of respect with people in general over the years. Whenever I hear his old songs I am kind of amazed at how far he’s fallen and it’s hard to separate the man from the music. Now Kim has come out with a statement about Kanye’s mental health problems and has asked the public to treat them with compassion and empathy.
When I first read the statement, my first reaction was skepticism. The way he tweeted and talked about her and her family always made me doubt the authenticity of her feelings and their marriage. It was always a weird pairing to me, I didn’t think they were a good match. I started thinking maybe they were trying to control him. It’s not unheard of; the #FreeBritney movement is revealing the total hold and control her family have managed to engineer over her because of her mental health. I saw some implications about the Kardashians scheming to do something similar.
It’s hard to tell, isn’t it? I think the natural reaction is to dismiss everything he says and write him off as “crazy”. But the unusual nature of the relationship he has with the Kardashians paired with the “brand” they have cultivated make you wonder. Is the relationship not working anymore, he’s had enough and is he just trying to separate himself? Or is it that this is just another one of his “episodes”?
I have thought about it a bit more and have softened my stance towards them. Kim’s statement is absolutely true and meaningful. I don’t have bipolar disorder, but I know a few people who do and I also have been battling with my own mental health challenges. It is so hard to control the symptoms. I’ve had a moment of “manic” behaviour here and there where I am full of energy and I want to take over the world and I have a million and one ideas – my mind races faster than I can write or speak. This is in complete contrast to my depressive periods where I have no energy.
I lived on my own for a long time before I got married. The first year or so of marriage was hard. I was under a lot of stress at work. Suicidal ideations started creeping into my mind after they had been non-existent for a very long time. I still remember those thoughts and how they would creep in when I was stuck in the office at 10 pm with no hope of leaving anytime soon. I was miserable.
What I never appreciated was the effect it was having on my husband. The effect your mental illness and moods have on the people around you. I just thought that the emotions only affected me and he’s not feeling them so he is ok. But I have learned through a lot of discussions with him and through therapy how exhausting being with someone whose default mood is “sad”. I’m the one feeling sad, why should you feel sad?
I put my foot down last year when I was signed off from work for the second time. I thought if I changed jobs it would fix me. It didn’t – once the pressure started and I felt out of my depth again it was a downward spiral. Since I got married (which coincided with a promotion to a more difficult position at work) I had put on 20kgs. My husband was often frustrated with my behaviour and inability to do anything and constant complaining. I took a long hard look at myself and my marriage and I decided I needed to get better help.
I am lucky I am paid well – I found a really good psychiatrist who has helped me find medication that works much better for me. I found a therapist that could understand me and helped me better myself. Before that, I had been seeing a therapist for a whole year and I didn’t change at all.
Learning to manage my mental health (I don’t think it’s something you can “recover” from or “cure”) has opened my eyes to a lot of things and helped me see things objectively. I am able to see now and understand why it’s so hard being with someone who has a mental health disorder. I do feel for Kim, my condition is relatively mild and I know it’s still hard to deal with. I can’t imagine how awful it is for these outbursts to be so public and for your spouse to say such nasty things about you for the whole world to read.
It is up to Kanye to get help for his condition, his family is powerless. Nothing changed for me until I decided to get the help I needed. I wonder how much of his condition he understands and if he knows what he needs to be healthy. What I learned through therapy is not how to “fix” myself, but what I need to do when I get “sick” again. I have started treating it like a sickness: when my symptoms start getting worse I know I need to attend to myself. Find help, check in with my doctor, do things that make me feel better.
I used to depend on everyone else. My husband should make me feel better. My family should make me feel better. Why aren’t they fixing me? I got my dream job, why aren’t I happy? I got married to the love of my life, why aren’t I happy? It is totally unfair to put that whole burden on another person who also has wants and needs. You will never find happiness in a person or a thing. The only person that can help you is yourself. If you don’t want to get better, you won’t. I stopped waiting for someone else to fix me and decided I have to take things into my own hands.
Sometimes I do feel sad – I want my husband to make me feel better and to give me attention and take care of me when I fall into those lows. I want my mom to feel sorry for me and tell me I’m perfect and it’s just everyone else who is the problem. But I know I can’t expect this and wait around for it to happen so I just deal with it myself. That’s the only way it can work, your family and loved ones will be there to support you but there isn’t much more they can do to make you feel better.
All that said, mental illness cannot be used as an excuse. You can’t blame the alcohol or drugs if you’ve driven under the influence. You can’t blame your anger if you physically hurt someone. Likewise, you can’t use mental illness as an excuse. It’s important to understand that mental illness is debilitating, but it does not excuse that person’s problematic behaviour.
Once Kanye West admitted he suffers from bipolar disorder, I starting excusing his behaviour in my head. I would be shocked and upset by some of the things he would say especially when he started supporting Trump and made insensitive and racist statements. I would tell myself, “it’s his disorder talking”. I respected him, I liked his music, I wanted to explain away his actions.
Again, I had the same reaction with his latest outbursts. Then I realised, no. He has hurt so many people, he has slut-shamed and disrespected his wife and family, he has disappointed his community and fans, he has been racist and ignorant. While his mental illness has definitely spurred these episodes, it doesn’t absolve him of responsibility.
His views are problematic. He’s said misogynistic things in the past, he’s made bizarre and harmful statements about black people and he viciously attacked his ex, Amber Rose, in the media. It’s more than mental illness. If he wasn’t bipolar, he probably wouldn’t say such awful and non-sensical things on the scale that he does, but I think he would be holding some of these views nontheless.
So what do we think? Kanye or Kan-nay? Is he sick or is he just an asshole? I think it’s a bit of both. He clearly is having issues and his family are struggling to deal with him. Pictures have been released of Kim having a tearful conversation with him in the car. I do feel sorry for her, I’ve been in that place before. The rumours around what it was about varies, but it looks like she wants him to get help before he comes back home.
Bipolar disorder is very serious. Symptoms range from being energetic and elated to being delusional, hallucinating and having thoughts of suicide. People who suffer from the disorder can experience rapid cycling between highs and lows. It’s alarming to those around you and the unpredictability is hard to deal with. Experiencing such extreme emotions is exhausting. He probably can’t hear what his family and friends are saying to him and doesn’t have the mental space to consider that he might need help (I’ve been there before).
But there are many people who have this disorder and are not assholes. There are many people who are able to get help, manage their symptoms and stop putting their family and themselves through such turmoil. It takes time, it takes effort and it takes strength that you don’t have because of your illness. He doesn’t seem to be hearing what his loved ones are saying and isn’t acknowledging his illness and the toll it is taking on him and his family. Again, I can’t stress enough how hard it is for men to get help – I feel like this is another example of toxic masculinity holding a man back from getting healthy.
I think we all have to remember that “mental illness is not an excuse but it is a reason“. He is responsible for the consequences of his actions, but we should remember how much his illness spurs his behaviour. Sometimes, you know you need to stop what you are doing but you just can’t. It’s very hard to gain control of your actions and thoughts. It’s easy to judge and vilify a public figure, but it’s also important to recognise illness when you see it. The internet has made us very cruel (I am guilty of this), so whenever we can extend some compassion and understanding we should try.
Until next time,