If you’ve been on the internet within the past week, you’ve most likely heard about the Kanye West drama unfolding between him and Kim Kardashian. While his behavior that’s being exhibited is clear signs of a bipolar episode in addition to abuse, manipulation and stalking… what’s scarier to me is the amount of coverage the media is adding to the flames. I’m trying not to take it personally, but as someone who lives with Bipolar disorder, it’s really challenging to see headlines swirling that add harmful stigma to a mental health disorder that is grossly misunderstood.
Let me preface this by saying: I am not a mental health professional. I am not speaking for all people living with bipolar. I am not shaming or condoning any actions – I’m just getting my thoughts out on a page as a form of processing.
As someone who was very recently diagnosed with Bipolar 2 disorder, I felt a shocking amount of shame towards the news and fear of becoming what the media depicts… I don’t even have to describe it because I’m sure you already have an image in your head of what a “Bipolar person” acts like. For myself, I instantly thought to the 2009 era of Britney Spears and how she quickly became the villain and punchline simultaneously during her very public mental health crisis.
I am so fortunate that my many mental health crisis’ were less publicized – sure, I caused hurt in my family and partner’s lives… but not to the scale where the media got ahold of it or my actions became the standard of thought when referring to someone with my same disorder. I can also say from experience that with medication, therapy and accountability you CAN recover from even the most severe mental health crisis. The difference is the effort that you put in. The difference is consistency. The difference is building the mental strength to battle your own brain until it feels second nature. The difference is doing the work – even when it’s hard. (I’m very aware that access to all these avenues comes with a huge amount of privilege)
On to why I’m trying not to take things personally:
Have you ever said “this weather is so bipolar lately!”
Have you sung the lyrics “someone call the doctor, got a case of love bipolar. Stuck on a rollercoaster, I can’t get off this ride…“
Have you wondered to yourself if a person was “off their meds“?
I have. I didn’t know the damage I was causing before my diagnosis, even with having a family member that suffered within that community. After finding out I had bipolar disorder, my entire mindset was flipped on it’s head and I became incredibly sensitive to the stigmas and language used about the disorder. I was afraid of becoming that bipolar person the media can create as a villain in stories. I also quickly learned that my brain is chemically and fundamentally different or nuerodivergant… and that’s ok.
My therapist explained it to me as having two very extreme poles that my mind swings between. (an incredible video that breaks this down simply here) I always thought I had intense levels of empathy where I could feel at a 12/10 compared to others, but it turns out that was my disorder peeking through. People living with Bipolar “swing” between phases, called manic and depressive, that are more heightened than the average sad or happy. Your specific type of bipolar (either 1 or 2) determines were you spend most of your time within the episodes. These phases are exhausting and typically result in relapsing into the opposite phase, causing a cycle that feels never ending.
With these cycles, I coped with adopting extreme levels of manipulation and isolation. When I was in a depressive phase, I sequestered myself from the outside world and found it challenging to even brush my own teeth. My brain fed me false ideas that I was too complicated to love and people would be better off without me in their lives. These thoughts can quickly turn to suicidal ideation, but also on the level of just pushing away loved ones to “save them from dealing with you.” On the converse, experiencing those levels of isolation when swinging into a manic phase gave me extreme desire for attention. After I was done isolating myself, I would seek out any way to become the center of attention to gain back any relationships I lost during my depressive episode. Most of the time at a high cost – in my brain, any attention was better than nothing, even if it was negative. It became a destructive cycle and “rollercoaster” that felt like I couldn’t escape.
Here’s the point. These phases for me lasted anywhere from days to weeks or months, but they were not an excuse for my manipulative or at times verbally abusive behavior. I was unhealthy, unmedicated and wasn’t clued into the signs… but that did not make any of it okay. Often times I would drag friendships and partners down with me – when I felt them losing interest with my swings, I would manipulate emotions and love bomb to get them back. It was a cycle that I had to (and still am) actively work to break. You see, it wasn’t until I coupled therapy WITH proper medication and made my husband promise accountability that I found a recipe that worked for me.
It’s still challenging to look back on relationships I ruined while I was drowning in my mind. It’s tough to own up to the harm I caused. It’s cringy to think that for some people I don’t even have the right to insert myself back into their lives to apologize… but I’m making every effort to hold myself accountable for the present and actively work to change my future.
So back to the Kanye situation – when I got diagnosed I found it challenging to look up to a “healthy” bipolar person, because the media likes to talk about click bait moments when individuals snap. This disorder is one that comes with sticky connotations, as explained by experience above, but also has produced some of the most incredible minds. For example: Mariah Carey, Carrie Fisher, Mel Gibson, Demi Lovato, Ernest Hemingway and so many more.
I guess what I’m trying to get at is while it’s trendy in the media to comment on someone’s instability, I wish we were more concerned with the underlying causes… Mental health is a huge point of discussion and contention, but it needs to be approached in the proper way. We can’t make Britney the villain for “snapping” but defend Kanye saying “being off my meds is the real me, my artistry.” We can’t admire abusive behavior and chalk it up to a “man who is fighting for his family” like I’ve seen so many headlines note. We can’t as a society continue the hypocritical stigmas and not look inside towards our own prejudices and stereotypes we’ve adopted.
I’m frustrated. Mostly because I see a man succumbing to a mental disorder that steals the lives from so many and a world just watching from their screens… There’s real lives, a real family and real consequences at stake here and by splashing it across headlines, tweets and social media we’re adding fuel to the fire. I don’t have the answers, but I wish him the ability to find the help he needs before losing himself to the disorder.
I hope that by reading this you’ll take an extra second before comparing or describing something as bipolar – those words have weight and deserve to be in the spotlight with the proper connotations.
So here’s to surrounding myself with people actively doing the work (however challenging and ongoing) and creating role models within the mental health community. People with bipolar are just that: people. We are not scary, we are not broken, we are not less than – we are special and our brains can be our super power when loved and cherished.
I aim to continue using my voice and sharing my life with bipolar to break those stigmas of what a “bipolar person” can and can’t accomplish.