Kanye West’s presidential campaign rally has brought the subject of Bipolar disorder into the spotlight. Having Bipolar myself, I understand some of Kanye’s apparent mania. I tried to watch the whole speech but I found it too distressing. Kanye scream I almost killed my daughter’ is uncomfortable viewing but when you know how it feels for thoughts to spiral and raw, unhinged emotion to take over, it’s painful.
When I analyse my behaviour prior to my diagnosis of Bipolar type 2, I recognise the patterns that I did not understand at the time. Before I was correctly medicated, my moods would cycle through mania and depression, undulating at breakneck speed, one day I would struggle to get out of bed and another I would feel invincible. The manic or depressed episodes would vary in length, but what went up would inevitably come down, shattering my fragile elation. When I was high, I felt that I had finally got a grip of myself, that I wouldn’t allow myself to be so pathetic and self-pitying again and I was finally in charge. I liked myself when I was manic, I was the life and soul; always first at the bar and the last to stagger home. My jokes were quick, my ideas abundant, assured that I would always make the right decisions. I now have to monitor my moods in the same way a diabetic pays attention to their blood glucose levels. I’m wary of feeling suddenly elated with no particular change in circumstances. In fact, if my responses to life’s unavoidable ups and downs seem disproportionate, it usually means my mental illness is becoming a nuisance and I have to initiate meticulous self-care. Mania can feel great, when I’m high I am confident, creative and productive. I’m also vulnerable to making rash, irresponsible choices. The consequences of my manic episodes usually come home to roost when my mood plummets and I find myself depressed again. Since I quit drinking last year, I’ve eliminated a whole category of problematic behaviour. Even with medication, regular therapy and acute self-awareness, I can still become manic or depressed. In fact, I spent a week in a psychiatric hospital in November 2018. If I am to stand any chance of staying well, I have to be vigilant. It can be exhausting, a well meaning friend once asked if it’s possible to give myself a break; maybe it is but I’ve yet to figure out how.
This is what it’s like to have Bipolar and live a fairly normal life, out of the spotlight and away from global scrutiny. It must be very hard to manage manic thoughts and delusions of grandeur when one is an actual superstar. Kanye West’s status, wealth and fame is rendered meaningless in the face of mental illness. Fortunately, he has access to the best care money can buy, providing he is ready to accept it. I wish him and his family well and I hope he makes a full recovery, but I also hope that something good might come from this. The subject of mental health is discussed far more openly than it was when I was diagnosed, back in 2013. We’ve come a long way, however we need to move the conversation forward. It is essential that we begin to talk about treatment, it is no longer enough to encourage people to talk and reach out if they are feeling low. There is still much potent shame and misunderstanding around medication and therapy, in an increasingly stressful world people are suffering, assuming that there is no solution. We need to make further, more meaningful change, because there are people just like Kanye West, but without the access to the resources and power.