I’ve been a Kanye West fan since College Dropout. There was no doubt that he’d save his best beats for himself, but his open and honest lyrics set him apart from other artists. In addition, Kanye was easier to relate to because his public persona and music were so unfiltered. Now, even Kanye himself would admit he’s become a bigger superstar than anyone expected. His forays in shoe design and fashion, as well as his marriage to Kim Kardashian, have made him a cultural icon.
However, during the album cycle for The Life of Pablo, it seems like Kanye has come apart at the seams. As I’ve observed his behavior from afar, it reminds me of my own struggles with mental illness.
Before I begin, let’s be clear: No one except for Kanye and possibly Kim really knows what’s going on in his head. It’s tempting to use WebMD in attempts to diagnose him with a mental disorder, but doing so is speculation at best. That being said, I’ve recognized a pattern which reminds me of my own past manic behavior while battling bi-polar disorder.
One of the most talked about lines on TLOP comes from “FML,” when Kanye says, “You ain’t never seen nothing crazier than, this n*gga when he off his Lexapro.” Because this wasn’t Kanye’s first reference to the anti-depressant (he also mentioned it on Vic Mensa’s “U Mad”) and he’s admitted to depression in the past, there’s a natural instinct to take a literal interpretation. However, that’s not the point of this piece. The mention of going off meds reminds me of what happened one time when I decided it was a good idea to stop taking my mood stabilizers.
As someone with bi-polar disorder, I take medication to prevent me from swinging between depression and mania. However, major life events can cause me to move into either direction without warning. Normally, I tend to go through periods of clinical depression — watch the second season of the excellent TV show You’re the Worst to get an understanding of what that’s like. My psychiatrist and I have worked together over the course of more than 15 years to adjust dosages to treat depressive episodes, and most of the time we’ve been successful. However, there have been times when I’ve flat out decided I’m feeling well enough to stop taking my meds and it almost always leads to a manic episode.
Let me stress that each person has different symptoms to varying degrees, but personally I tend to go through an extended period of decreased need for sleep, rambling speech, irritability, racing thoughts, impulsive spending, and delusional behavior. A few of these things don’t necessarily qualify as a manic episode, but some sort of combination for at least a week does. For me, it usually starts with a grand plan.
During one particular manic episode, I believed I could easily become a successful rapper without previous dedication to rapping. Admittedly, that’s not an impossible goal if you make music your entire life, but in my delusions, I thought I could do it in a matter of months — or even weeks — because I literally didn’t need sleep and would learn to rhyme by freestyling over popular beats. Not only that, I would start my own record label to distribute my music.
It all seemed like a realistic possibility at the time because my thoughts were racing and I actually believed it was my destiny. I was convinced that I could follow my perfect plan to reach my goal, and anyone who didn’t understand was standing in my way. I was going to become one of the best rappers that easily.
Unfortunately, I felt so good and had such deep belief in my actions that I lacked the self awareness to realize something was wrong. And while my loved ones may have felt something was off with me, it’s truly difficult to understand unless you know exactly what the signs are. I didn’t recognize the extent of my behavior until the inevitable crash. After seeing my psychiatrist, he convinced me to start taking my meds again, and we found the right dosages to keep me stable.
As I think about my behavior during that manic episode, it reminds me of what Kanye seems to be going through right now. Again, I’m neither in the place to know what’s happening nor am I a mental health professional, but certain behaviors remind me of my own. In particular, I refer to Kanye’s grandiosity, impulsive behavior, temper tantrums, and debt.