A conversation about mental illness through the psyche of Kanye West.

Does the world excuse the behavior of Kanye West if he is diagnosed with a mental illness?

It’s no debate Kanye West has always been different.

An outcast. An outlier — statistically and figuratively.

He stands as one of the most recognized famous men on this planet. Millions adore him. Millions despise him.

It was easy to be a fan of Kanye West in 2004 as the world watched him alter the landscape of what defined hiphop. At the time radio and TV endorsed the ever popular gangsta rap wave symbolized by bullet holes and over sized white tee’s.

The cocky college dropout showed up with a “pink-ass polo with a fuckin’ backpack“ to bring real rap back as he rhymed about the more relatable side of hiphop through the struggle and grind of growing up in the South Side of Chicago. He fought against the odds, breaking free of the shackles of conformity.

“Although he had never been shot he wasn’t soft. He fought and clawed his way to opportunity through hard work, determination and bombastic vulnerability. His music reached mass appeal because it viscerally appealed to the masses. The Louis Vuitton done began as the people’s champ.” — Justin Hunte (HipHopDX)

It’s clear West’s outspoken, confident cocky, arrogant nature — whatever adjective you want to use, has been alive in him from the beginning. He’s always had an infectious belief in himself like no other. This belief only grew, or rather morphed as the years went on. We can see reflections of this change in his magnum opus ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ and once again in his arguably most sonically experimental body of work ‘Yeezus’.

If everything we knew about West only came from his music, and there were no photographs, interviews, music videos, or award show appearances, it would seem natural to conclude that the creator of that music was undergoing a fairly radical psychological change as each album passed.

Art by Steven Klein

The leap from the humility and calmness of The College Dropout’s ‘Spaceship’ to repeating ‘I Am A God’ to exhaustion doesn’t seem like a jump that could happen by accident. Kanye West has gone through Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” many times throughout his life. We witness this through each new iteration of art.

Pain changes people. Pain has changed Kanye West. Whether it be as a result of his mother Donda passing away from complications related to cosmetic surgery that West paid for himself. Or the sudden cancellation of his engagement with Alexis Phifer and their subsequent break up.

“If I had never moved to L.A. she’d be alive,” West told Qmagazine “I don’t want to go far into it because it will bring me to tears.”

808s & Heartbreak Tour (2015)

Everyone experiences pain. But not everyone experiences their pain in the face of millions of screaming admirers and advertisers. Some would argue it’s the price you pay for success and fame. Regardless, there’s a reason Kanye created ‘I Miss The Old Kanye’. He get’s it. His music demonstrates his self-awareness. He understands how he has changed and what many miss about the ‘old Kanye’. He understands how to conform within societies norms, he just refuses to play that game. It’s not in his DNA to conform the way his detractors want him to. West need’s to be different, it’s part of his identity.

Was it this identity he created for himself that trapped him? Did West get so trapped in the chaos of his own mind that he finally spiraled out of control? Love him or hate him Kanye West is a human being who has clearly been struggling with something serious for long time, likely since his mother died.

After abruptly cancelling his biggest world tour yet, West was hospitalized on the 21st of November. The details are sparse but to hear that “no criminal activity was involved; the decision to hospitalize West was for his own health and safety“ only creates more questions.

Update 1: A new report suggests he’s feeling “much better” “It was a combination of a lot of issues: stress, anxiety, paranoia. He just broke,” the same source had previously told ET. “There have been signs recently of him just overwhelmed. Kanye hasn’t been himself for a while. ” [Source]

This is great news if accurate. But from my perspective there is likely an underlying mental health issue here that Kanye needs to address within himself. Otherwise it’s just a matter of time before the cycle of manic episodes eventually repeat itself. Hopefully he can find figure out.

Update 2: “ Despite rumors that West would check out after the holiday weekend under the care of his personal physician, people “with direct knowledge of the situation” told TMZ on Monday that West still wasn’t stable enough leave Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. Since he’s been there, sources told TMZ, he’s also dealt with depression and paranoia.” [Source]

Update 3: After a week, reports emerged that he was going to remain admitted without a release date because he was “still not stable.” He is now reportedly back home in the care of his wife Kim Kardashian West and his personal physician, TMZ reports.

Update 4: 15th Feb 17′: Malik Yusef provided an update about West’s condition, claiming the father of two was still suffering from memory loss following his week-long hospitalization last November. “I’ve been to his house, sat down with him for about six, seven hours, just walking through his health and recovery,” Yusef told Popsugar. “His memory is coming back, which is super good. [He’s] just healing, spending time with his family. Saint is getting big and is walking, playing with toys, so that invigorates [Kanye].”

Additionally, the anniversary of his mothers death was November 10th. Very soon after this date we saw a recent wave of concert “rant’s” appear in our feeds. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, but all the information is trending in a concerning direction. Especially when we take into consideration years of chaotic strange behaviour. In light of this, it’s not a reach to suspect some type of mental issue at play, as many are already doing.

So here’s the question…

Does the conversation about people like Kanye West change if we suddenly discover he has suffered from a mental illness for many years?

To me, it shifts the conversation from one man’s “genius” (or lack thereof), to being about how we interpret, judge and accept each others behaviour in relation to their mental state.

How do our judgments and considerations change in light of someone suffering from mental illness compared to someone who doesn’t? If West is diagnosed with a mental illness such as bipolar, do people reconsider years of erratic behavior and reform their opinions?

What if this information is not revealed to the public and there is no confirmation nor denial of any mental illness? Do we all just go about our merry way as we continue to laugh and point at someone potentially destroying themselves through repetitive manic episodes?

The media loves to portray Kanye West as the bad guy — as some type of villain. It’s weird to feel compelled to defend or rationalize his actions with the defense of a potential mental illness when he hasn’t done anything criminal or evil that justifies forgiveness from the world. Though I understand many may not see it that way, hence the purpose of this article.

The majority of fans have likely not watched or heard one of Kanye West’s most vulnerable song’s ‘I Feel Like That’ because it was never officially released.

West appears to be talking to himself in the video below asking questions almost identical to the Hopkins Symptom Checklist a psychiatrist may ask in order to measure symptoms of anxiety or depression.

“Do you experience nervousness or shakiness inside, faintness and dizziness? The idea that someone else can control your thoughts. Feeling others are to blame for most of your thoughts. Trouble remembering things, feeling easily annoyed and irritated. Feeling afraid in open spaces or in public.Thoughts of ending your life. Feeling that most people could not be trusted. Poor appetite, heart or chest pain … I feel like that”

It’s clear West is experiencing a level of pain associated with a mental illness.

Another example of West’s relationship with drugs can be found most recently in ‘FML’. It’s unclear whether West is referencing himself or another using the antidepressant drug Lexapro.

“You ain’t never seen nothing crazier than this nigga when he off his Lexapro. Remember that last time in Mexico? Remember that last time, the episode?” — Kanye West (FML)

One of Kanye’s close friends Malik Yusef who has played an instrumental role in West’s musical career previously revealed that West may have been diagnosed with a mental disorder, although it’s unclear which one.

“[Kanye] doesn’t take his medication because he chooses not to, and I applaud him for that. Whatever they prescribe you for like bipolar or schizophrenia, whatever they diagnosed him as but that doesn’t mean anything,” Yusef continued. “You know, they can diagnose you as all kind of stuff, that doesn’t mean you have to adhere to those principles. And Kanye doesn’t adhere to it.”[Source]

In an effort to make sure the quote above is accurate here is Yusef’s later clarified statement:

“For the record, Kanye West has never been medically diagnosed as being bipolar or schizophrenic. I wouldn’t change who Kanye is as a person and because people are always making disparaging comments about his behavior, I was simply stating that regardless of what anyone says (including medical professionals), is that Kanye is fine just the way he is and doesn’t need medication. He also doesn’t need to change a single thing about himself. Staying true to his character is what gives him the priceless ability to create art.” [Source]

Did Yusef misspeak or did he later need to clarify himself in order to protect his friends privacy?

The reality is we do not know the reality. At the end of the day as much as we may think we are entitled to information on West’s personal health, we are not. But it’s clear the evidence suggests West may have been suffering from a mental illness for many years. In any case, even the mere suspicion of a mental illness should not be taken lightly.

An interesting perspective…

“As a medical professional I’m just going to throw my (unofficial) two cents in. His behavior seems reminiscent of a manic episode. People often think that the mentally ill are all homeless people screaming at trash cans under a highway overpass but a lot of people with mental illness are super talented. Ernest Hemingway was bipolar and he was super talented, hell the only billionaire I’ve ever personally met was in an involuntary admission to the pysch ward during my med school rotations. (Before I get tons of hate, this could be a lot of things a manic episode is only one possible diagnosis, it could be many other things.)” [Source]

More questions arise …

Does the narcissistic, egomaniac god-complex delusion come as the result of an underling mental illness? Or did his natural tendencies get too inflated in light of his success? Perhaps the Kanye West we see today a product of the very environment he created?

Keep in mind it is not uncommon for exceptional creatives throughout history to suffer from a mental illness. Vincent Van Gogh, Buzz Aldrin, Emily Dickinson, Ernest Hemingway and Jackson Pollock were all bipolar.

“Name one genius that ain’t crazy” — Kanye West (Feedback)

The link between “madness” and “genius” dates back to the time of Aristotle. Though it’s interesting that only now the wide spread conversation of a man’s mental health is being considered instead of being brushed off aside as “typical Kanye” behaviour. A camp I will admit to being a part in an effort to justify confusing behaviour.

‘Controversial’ and ‘Kanye West’ have become synonyms. It’s clear his life has been riddled with events that have stirred up hate and even disgust in millions. Whether West was talking about George Bush, Taylor Swift, Donald Trump, classicism or racism. It’s clear everyone has an opinion on Kanye West’s opinion.

So do these opinions change if we find out West suffers from a mental illness?

Does the opinion of anyone we have either loved or hated change in the light of mental illness? If so, how? This conversation isn’t so much about Kanye West anymore. He has become a vehicle for the message. It can effect anyone and be about anyone. If your mother or father abandoned you as a child does your opinion change of them if you find out tomorrow they were also mentally ill?

Just like Sway…I ain’t got the answers.

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