“He needs someone to treat him like the teacher treated Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker,” I said.
The “he” I was referring to was Kanye West and his latest “Make America great again”-fueled, “deep thoughts” tweets that scream mania, but he insists he’s fine. (That is so something a manic person would say. When you’re manic—depending on how it manifests in you—you often feel amazing. Or at least that’s how mania worked for me. It was like my brain produced its own crack that I got high off of.)
If you don’t know the story of The Miracle Worker and Helen Keller—a woman rendered deaf and blind by a childhood illness—then here’s the short version: Keller, as a child, was pitied by her family, who spoiled her instead of working with her to ensure that she’d be able to communicate. They brought in a teacher to work with Keller who basically didn’t have time for the bullshit, didn’t feel sorry for Keller and thought she was just as capable as anyone else of learning. Eventually, the teacher had a breakthrough and Keller was able to communicate. She went on to become the first deaf-blind woman to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree.
The moral of the story: No one benefits from being pitied. Or spoiled. Or coddled. No one. It’s fine to feel bad for someone for a little while, but at some point people have to pull it together if they can or seek the help of someone who can help them pull it together. The same goes for the highs and lows of bipolar disorder, an illness some have speculated may be the cause of Kanye’s behavior, and one I live with every day.
I want to empathize with Kanye because, once, I was Kanye—a person who wildly seesawed between thinking I was the hottest shit in the history of dookie, and a misery-addicted, drunken, emotional hurricane laying waste to all around me, a broken person scarred by trauma—in my case, it was the end of my very controlling marriage that triggered my illness, while Kanye West had a very public unraveling in the wake of his mother’s death.
But I can’t. Because I don’t believe in feeling sorry for a multimillionaire who has access to all the best care in the world but chooses to ride the wave of his emotions and pull stunts for album sales. A line needs to be drawn, and that line is somewhere between Twitter insanity and “Cut this shit out, bro.”
He needs to cut it out, but he probably won’t because too many people are dependent on him and are unlikely to hold him accountable for his actions.
Basically, he has succeeded his way into Howard Hughes territory. And while he’s unlikely to be saving his urine in jars yet, if he never gets beyond indulging this shit, he could be.
Years ago when I was 28 and a hot mess, I became belligerent with one of my superiors at the Bakersfield Californian newspaper where I was working. My editor wanted me to cover some Disney on Ice-type stuff and I bristled, even though I was the entertainment reporter and this was part of my beat.
I didn’t want to write—yet another—fluffy piece about some show nobody cared about. Or at least that’s what I thought in my mind at the time. I, who’d covered everything from bunny beauty contests at county fairs to grisly mass murders, wasn’t interested, and for the first time ever, I pushed back against covering a story.
My editor, a very polite woman, said that what I did bordered on being “insubordinate.” I don’t remember if I was reprimanded in any way or written up, but a month later, I was on sick leave after having a mental breakdown, and a month after that, I was in UCLA Medical Center, where I would stay for two-and-a-half weeks, over the Christmas holiday, being properly diagnosed as bipolar Type 2.
I always give my old newspaper, my friends in that newsroom and my former editors credit for seeing me for me and not seeing me as a sick person. Meaning, they repeatedly tried to help me or encouraged me to get help, no matter how weird or unhinged I got. But they also didn’t put up with my shit, either. When I once fell asleep in my editor’s face because of insomnia, they wouldn’t let me return to work until I saw a doctor.
After all, being mentally ill explained my erratic behavior, but it didn’t excuse it.
Being bipolar is both horrible and amazing, but it’s mostly an inconvenience. It’s like having a superpower that is also a burdensome mess. With every creativity-fueled high comes the crushing lows so devastating, you think you’ll never survive them.
Fortunately, for me, no one has ever really bothered to indulge me and my illness—not my friends, family or various jobs. By “indulge,” I mean baby me and encourage my occasional bipolar-fueled nonsense, choosing to ride the wave of my emotions with me, rather than encouraging me to get out of the damn water already.
I can’t say that I confront every one of my fears with the same vigor. I haven’t driven a car since 2013 because of how much anxiety I have around driving, and I’ve strategically chosen to live in cities—Washington, D.C., and New York City—where I don’t need a car.
I know how to get over my fear of driving—it’s by forcing myself to drive, over and over, until I get used to it and it becomes routine again, but who wants to go through that initial trauma of believing that just touching a steering wheel will lead to your untimely demise?
But other fears I confront daily—like leaving my house (I’ve had agoraphobia in the past) and walking down unfamiliar stairs or escalators, which gives me a sort of psychological vertigo. I confront them because I think it’s pretty stupid to be afraid of falling down the stairs or escalator, something I’ve never done in the history of my life. To be afraid of something that’s never actually happened is illogical. Also, I have things I need to do, places I need to be. And I can’t be at the mercy of my illness that chooses to be a dick at inopportune times.
I don’t pretend to know exactly what Kanye is feeling. If he is bipolar, it’s different for everyone. I just know I’m glad they didn’t have Twitter back in 2005. All I had was a MySpace page and a list of gripes.
If Ye claims he’s healthy and better now, more power to you, Yeezy, even though nothing about these tirades sounds healthy or better. And I question how much sense it makes to be so public when you’re contending with a possible illness that clouds your judgment. But we all have to choose our own paths in this—to recovery, to treatment, to stability.
But nobody has to put up with your shit as you screw up along the way, best believe it. Nobody has to listen. Nobody has to do anything.
I’m choosing to tune out Kanye for my own sanity. Unless you want all aboard the bipolar express of outsized ego and euphoric mania, I suggest you tune out Kanye, too.