Unless you’ve been living under a rock I’m sure you are aware Kanye West has recently released his new album ‘ye’ (pronounced ‘yay’ as in his first name). Amongst other themes, ‘ye’ explores West’s suicidal thoughts and his relationship with his Bipolar Disorder. Now I must confess that I am not a fan of West. But don’t be alarmed. I don’t want this to this to turn into a post bashing him. Quite the contrary. As much as I disagree with a lot of what he says and does I want to applaud West for sharing his experiences with mental illness. That takes courage. And not enough people do it.
What interested me more than the album itself was the reaction the mental health community has had to it online. ‘ye’ caused quite a stir amongst Bipolar forums and social media pages with many people directly attacking West for expressing differing views to their own. I know even for myself I had a sort of visceral reaction similar to #notmypresident. I didn’t want West to speak for me: #notmyspokesperson. And it caused me to reflect on myself and the way I engage with content online. Here’s how my thought tangent went.
Do I agree with West’s portrayal of Bipolar? No.
Does West’s portrayal of Bipolar represent my own? No.
Do I find the pseudo-empowering message of Bipolar as a super power twite and offensive? Slightly, yes.
Am I concerned that West is a potentially bad Bipolar role model to have in the public eye (considering he often brags about being off his meds)? Yes, it’s a terrifying thought.
Am I concerned that West being public about his Bipolar will lead to misconceptions and stereotypes about Bipolar being perpetuated? Yes. I honestly don’t want people thinking we are all like West.
Am I concerned that West’s being public about his Bipolar will contribute to the popular narrative of the tortured Bipolar genius? Absolutely.
But does any of the give me the right to tear another Bipolar person down for sharing their experiences? No, it simply does not.
I saw a lot of people online writing that West had no idea what ‘real’ (whatever that is) Bipolar is like because he is rich. Which is simply absurd. I talked to my brother about it and we came to the conclusion that my mania episodes would be a hell of a lot worse if I had access to the money West does. West’s experiences are not better or worse, they are simply different.
And I think difference is something that should be celebrated. With a diagnosis like Bipolar many people experience the symptoms differently. I know people have often invalidated my experiences because of my propensity to dysphoric manias and mixed episodes simply because it isn’t what they experience. It feels horrible to have people invalidate your experiences just because they are different to their own. And I am seeing this happen more and more in mental health circles that were originally designed to be supportive and lift people up.
It is a trend I have noticed a lot. It’s almost like we are in competition with each other to prove who is the most fucked up. People often seem to reject articles and comments simply because they don’t mirror their own. They will comment saying things like ‘well, what about this?’ rather than celebrating what has been said and learning from it. And the fact is just because you didn’t find something like ‘ye’ useful doesn’t mean that others wont. It is something I find very frustrating. It has often made me think about leaving some of my online communities. And that would be a shame.
And that is because I think diversity is so important. You don’t have to agree to learn from each other. Forums and online communities but also life in general would be boring if it was just an echo chamber. I, for one, feel grateful to have heard West’s experiences, which are different to my own, because it made me reflect on my Bipolar as well as the general human condition. I think we as human beings need to be challenged. And that is never going to happen if we surround ourselves with voices identical to our own. Diversity of voices is important. I may not agree with a great deal of what West says but I will defend his right to say it. Diversity of voices makes us strong.
P.S: Even if you don’t like what he said, how bloody cool is it to have a mainstream, famous rapper speak out about mental illness? Let’s just reflect on that for a second. We’ve come a long way!