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Where the Only Pain Is Champagne

Kanye West performs onstage during his “Jesus Is King” album and film experience at The Forum on October 23, 2019 in Inglewood, California.
Kanye West performs onstage during his “Jesus Is King” album and film experience at The Forum on October 23, 2019 in Inglewood, California.
Photo: Kevin Winter (Getty Images)
AntisocialThe society column for people afraid of society, written by The Root's Editor-in-Chief and resident Bipolar Disorder expert/sufferer.

I once threw a party for myself that lasted 10 years.

I want to say it was a celebration, or at least that’s how it started out. I wanted to celebrate life after so many years of being held back and held down by my illness, so I started going out and drinking almost every night around 2010. But in reality, I had traded one extreme for the other, and that “celebration” morphed into pity. But the pity party I had for 10 years? It was a rager.

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Every day was like a parade, and just like after a parade there was clean up, but I didn’t sweep up the ribbons and streamers, I didn’t throw away the food waste and confetti. I ignored the horse manure, or where the band had trampled on my flowers. I let the debris pile up until I was having that party in a garbage heap of emotion that I was uninterested and unwilling to deal with because I wanted to “feel good” in the moment and not build towards a healthier tomorrow.

As someone who suffers from Bipolar Type II Disorder and was first diagnosed in 2005, there’s a part of me that totally gets Kanye West, who reportedly also suffers from a version of this illness. He too has been throwing himself a party, pretty much since he survived that car crash he rapped about on 2003’s “Through the Wire.” And that party was also quite impressive—much more grand, gilded and glamorous than my little personal parade of cheap vodka and club soda with lime. It was impressive. But as in life and Bipolar Disorder, what goes up—with mania—always comes down into depression if you aren’t regulated by mood stabilizers. And parties turn into funerals.

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I mourned the old manic me for years after I got “stable.” I thought she was the real me. The one who talked a mile a minute. Who felt like she was struck by lightning and touched by God. Who thought her writing and creativity were fueled by this illness. But ultimately, I gave Bipolar too much credit and me, not enough. I didn’t see, nor did I acknowledge the damage it did in its wake—to me, to my relationships, to the people I loved. And, believe me, Kanye doesn’t see it either. He’s too busy having “fun” at his party, after party, parade and funeral where, as he once rapped, may our only “pain” be champagne.

I hate to break it to everyone, but an actual psychiatrist and Married to Medicine LA cast member Dr. Imani Walker posted to Twitter, “this is what Bipolar Disorder can look like” if it goes untreated for large swaths of time. This is what it is. The delusions. The victimization. The persecution complexes. The unusual, nonlinear thoughts. The only difference is when someone typically exhibits these traits and goes untreated for the long-term they lose everything—if they ever had anything in the first place. It’s not rare to see someone afflicted with this illness ranting on the streets of any American city, battling homelessness and loneliness, screaming to anyone who will listen about their “genius.” The difference with Kanye is he’s rich and surrounded by enablers who need him to stay rich if they are to survive. There is no real incentive to break ties; to demand that he get better or lose them from his lives. There are no real consequences—not ones obvious to him, anyway—for his behavior.

Sure, people hate it. People complain about it. People shake their heads and mutter under their breath, people rage on Twitter at him, but they don’t look away and they still drop hundreds of dollars on some Yeezys slides while rocking out to his gospel albums. We’re sending the man mixed messages, screaming “You’re sick in the head, get help!” while wearing some of the fugliest hospital/prison shoes ever to be designed.

When I was very young, my parents did me a favor that didn’t feel like one at the time. They told me to “knock it off” when I screamed and cried about how bugs were crawling all over me, a sensory hallucination brought on by stress that I did not understand at age 5. Sure, in the beginning, they were coddling and concerned, looking for the bugs, reassuring me that there were none there while I cried and cried, inconsolable and unable to process what was happening to me. But over time they just got sick of it and told me it wasn’t real and there was nothing there. They stopped coddling me completely and let me figure out how to cope on my own. Was that the best approach? Probably not, in some respects; but this was the 1980s and back then people didn’t rush their kids to therapists or put them on medication just because they freaked out a lot. It was understood that I was a kid and would probably outgrow it. And I did. Sort of. It was more like I learned how to turn the volume down on my formication. But the idea was planted in my head from an early age that sometimes my emotions lie to me. Sometimes the things that afflict me simply are not real, no matter how real or scary they feel, and I would need to learn how to cope if I were to be a productive member of society.

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But Kanye, in his 20s, became rich and famous beyond his dreams just as Bipolar started to manifest in his life, seemingly confirming every belief he ever uttered about himself, no matter how nonsensical. He was a genius. He was the greatest “since Michael.” He was a visionary.

He was also a very, very sick man, but that didn’t matter. There was a party to be had and he, quite desperately, wanted to have it.

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I don’t pretend to know Kanye’s home life, how his mother raised him or what things are like between him and his wife, reality TV star Kim Kardashian West. He tweeted that she tried to get him placed on an emergency 51-50 hold and in paranoid, classic “everyone is against me” Bipolar fashion, he tweeted about things that were nobody’s business but him and his wife. As someone who has tried to help other Black men who have struggled with this disease, that was a familiar sting.

Still, I’m not going to begin to unpack what had to be some pretty hurtful rantings—but I also can’t find the muster to feel sorry for anyone. The only difference between the Kanye who said “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” and the one who wore a MAGA hat is the reality that Kanye is only as politically astute as whoever he’s enamored with at the moment. At this moment, it’s Candace Owens. Before, it was his mother, Donda, or Chicago rapper Rhymefest. Or Jay-Z. It’s not that he doesn’t have his own “ideas.” But he’s bragged about his disinterest in reading and put out a whole album of the futility of higher learning well before he completely lost the plot. He’s beyond anti-intellectualism. He’s an intellectual nihilist. And an emotional black hole.

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I want to believe that one day, like me, he’ll stop having this party. My party finally stopped, completely, when coronavirus hit, slamming me with a clarity I hadn’t had in decades of drinking and numbing my senses, self-medicating my moods via alcohol. But even before the coronavirus, at my party, the music was off, the lights were turning on and people were looking for the exits. I had found stability, even though I had to lose some to get to it.

Kanye’s going to have to lose something, but I don’t know if or when that will happen. Because Kanye West, Inc. is too big to fail right now. His harmful rants about Harriet Tubman and being an alleged “free thinker” while spouting man-shouting-at-moon talking points aren’t the best look for those who look up to him, follow him and admire him. It’s an unnecessary distraction in a 2020 political race that’s also too important to fail. So, maybe we just shouldn’t look. You don’t have to go to Kanye’s party. You don’t have to buy his shoes. You don’t have to listen to his music. You don’t have to engage. After all, you don’t bother with the poor person on the corner screaming about the government tapping their phone or putting chips in their head. You avoid them. You pray for them. You hope one day they find clarity and get help. But mostly they’re just invisible to you, another part of the city cacophony along with the police sirens and dump trucks.

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You wouldn’t go to this person’s party. You definitely wouldn’t have enjoyed my pity parade. Why indulge Kanye’s spectacle? That’s all it is, after all. And if you wouldn’t gawk at the local moon ranter, you shouldn’t entertain this man.

I hope he gets the help he needs, and I wish him well. But the lights are on, and for me, this party is over.

Editor-in-Chief of The Root. Nerd. AKA "The Black Snob."

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DISCUSSION

failuretolunch2
failuretolunch2

This was extremely enlightening. I have two nieces (sisters) who both are bi-polar. When the older one started experiencing the symptoms she was in university. She began to ‘act out’ in inexplicable ways. A diagnosis was a long time coming for her but eventually she received the help she needed. The younger sister was luckier (I guess) in that we all picked up on the symptoms at a much earlier stage so she received intervention much sooner and didn’t blow up her post secondary education years.

I did not know about there being a bi polar 2 - how does that differ from 1?