We’ve been speculating about Kanye West’s mental health for years – diagnosing him from afar with each of his outlandish tweets. His rants have sometimes had a seemingly manic quality to them. He often seemed to have illusions of grandeur and a disassociation from reality, both of which are typical of people who live with bipolar disorder. I could recognise that as someone who lives with the condition too, but I never felt comfortable speaking with any certainty about West’s mental health problems because he hadn’t disclosed them himself.
Until this week.
With the release of his new album, Ye, West has finally gone candid about his mental health. Until now, at which point he is obviously ready to talk about it openly, even the most famous rapper on the planet deserved privacy where his psyche was concerned. In several interviews, he’s spoken about his mental health status. He also rapped about it in some of his new songs – on the track “Yikes”, he says: “That’s my bipolar shit, n***a what/That’s my superpower, n***a ain’t no disability/I’m a superhero! I’m a superhero!”
Believing yourself to have a superpower is not just a typical trait of bipolar disorder (mania can cause someone to think they are untouchable or superhuman, increase the volume and pace of their speech, reduce their need to sleep, convince them their ideas are the greatest of all time and make them feel invincible). It is also a powerful, enchanting way to reframe an otherwise harrowing illness as something positive and empowering.
I have often thought that my bipolar disorder feels like a superpower – and not just during a manic episode. I know precisely what West is trying to say here. Bipolar disorder is a power of sorts: the power to see the extremes of human emotion.
The condition is characterised by an alternation between highs and lows; between mania and depression. A person can function, with the right treatment – I do, with medication, therapy and a huge amount of emotional support from friends and family. But knowing that you are susceptible to mood change, because of chemical reactions in your brain as well as external triggers, puts you in this state of constant emotional suspense, waiting to feel either ecstasy or numbness. It can be debilitating and dangerous, but it can also increase your empathy, make you see the world differently, trigger your creativity and make you an emotionally intelligent person.
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