Last week, Kanye West released his new album Ye, and with it, the information (confirmation, really) that he has bipolar disorder. And Kanye West doesn’t just say he has bipolar disorder, he screams in his album all about it including:
“Ain’t no disability! I’m a superhero. I’m a SUPERHERO!”
Bipolar disorder also features prominently on Kanye West’s album cover which reads:
“I hate being bi-polar [sic] it’s awesome.”
* Note that below I use a naughty word. I warned you.
Awesome Bipolar Superheroes and Kanye West
Kayne West is not the first person to claim to be a superhero thanks to bipolar disorder; I’ve heard many others claim the same thing. It’s generally a part of the grandiosity that is typical of mania. However, bipolar disorder does not make one a superhero, at least not when one thinks about it rationally.
And as for bipolar being “awesome,” his take is not unique there either. Again, when a person is either manic or hypomanic, it can sure feel “awesome” for some, for a while. But the reason it’s called bipolar disorder is because of the harmful effects it has on a person’s life. These effects range from hypersexuality and overspending in hypomania or mania and suicidal ideation and even death when depressed. Sound “awesome?” Want to sign up for that?
Kanye West Gets to Say He’s a Bipolar Superhero – And Maybe Even Mean It
As I said above, thinking that bipolar is “awesome” and one is a “superhero” isn’t unique. What’s unique about Kanye West is that he can possibly mine those feelings and make a multi-million-dollar album out of them. Most of us are not in that position.
And let’s not forget that bipolar comes in cycles. Kanye West may be feeling all high right now but then again, he may not be in a year. But most people don’t like to look ahead to oncoming storms when they’re so busy enjoying the sunshine.
The Problem with Kanye West Being an Awesome Superhero
Now here’s the thing, Kanye West has the right to express his experience of bipolar disorder as much as anyone else. That’s fine. And if he wants to espouse self-indulgent grandiosity and the “benefits” of a life-threatening disorder, well, I guess he can do that.
The problem lies with the fact that Kanye West is now (arguably) the most famous creative with (confirmed) bipolar disorder. This means that for many people, Kanye West is going to be the one they think of when they think “bipolar.” This means the experience that he shares about bipolar disorder is going to be the one people are going to think is accurate and all-encompassing. This means his words about bipolar disorder not being a “disability” are going to ring out with angelic clarity to the masses.
Now, on the one hand, Kanye West is just a musician and he has no responsibility to anyone. He’s responsible for album sales. That’s it.
On the other hand, if he were a reasoned and responsible human being, he would understand that his statements, while creatively true for him, are not the experience most people have with bipolar disorder. Most people don’t have an unlimited bank account and nearly no accountability for their actions thanks to obscene fame. Kanye West ought to take some responsibility to spreading an accurate message about bipolar disorder apart from his creative output for the millions of us who actually do suffer from this chronic, life-threatening illness.
And for fuck’s sake, don’t say it’s not a disability – talk about invalidating years of work on advocate’s parts to get people help for this hellish issue. I face people every day who say bipolar isn’t real and now they have this handy Kanye quote to back them up. His words make it harder for everyone who actually is suffering.
Now clearly, Kanye West isn’t currently experiencing bipolar disorder as a disability and perhaps never will, but he should reevaluate that notion the next time he’s in a hospital.
Kanye West Needs to Stop Minimizing Bipolar Disorder
Because it’s critical bipolar disorder not get minimized and be thought of as just an offshoot of creativity. It’s not. It’s the farthest thing from that. It’s a brain disorder that fucks with your life until it’s unrecognizable. It’s a disorder that steals relationships, jobs, kids and even years of life. It’s a disorder that regularly tries to kill you. Unless, perhaps, you are a very rich, very famous rapper who can afford to be seen for “exhaustion” by the finest doctors in the nicest hospitals at any time you like.
I don’t wish my experience of bipolar disorder on Kanye West or anyone else. It’s hell and if it were up to me, no one would have to experience it, least of all me. But it’s a very real experience and one indicative of what millions of others around the globe face; and it’s critical that our, very prevalent experience with a very real illness not get forgotten just because we’re not famous rappers.
Banner image by Flickr user Alpha.