Angela Souza, Case Western Reserve University
I couldn’t wait to text the funny meme that I’d created at Kanye West’s expense to my group of girlfriends. When I saw and read about his highly publicized interview and seemingly break from reality, or at the very least, the Kanye West that the world had grown used to, I was filled with a slew of emotions.
Exasperation. Shock. Annoyance. Confusion. Disgust. Like many others, I ridiculed him. Who was this fool? Who was this black man, just another among the laundry list of many, apparently ensnared by the siren Kardashian Klan (pun most certainly intended)?
His antics annoyed me. Kanye’s divergent (from the Kanye that I grew up knowing) commentary about Trump and American slavery frustrated me. I shook my head furiously. His extreme weight gain and admission of past opioid addiction shocked me but didn’t draw nearly as much of an emotional response from me as his outlandish statements did. And ultimately, I jumped at the chance to ridicule him and joke with my friends at his expense. I just about ran to my IG app just for the memes.
The fascinating part is that it was blatantly clear to me that Kanye is suffering from a mental health issue. And look - I’m not one to diagnose anyone, but what I will do is call a spade a spade. Ye is the King of Spades right about now. I’ve gotten to the point where it’s grown easier for me to identify mental illness in others. Why? Probably because I have mental illnesses. Yeah. Plural. Bipolar II, anxiety, depression, trichotillomania...it’s kind of a lengthy list. After a while, it gets easier to recognize our own (Welcome home, Mr. West. Come right on in!). It’s something of a sixth sense.
Even though I could recognize Kanye’s illness speaking on his behalf - through the outbursts, vulnerability, rage, desperation, and private admissions - I couldn’t bring myself to garner sympathy for him. Even though I’ve been there multiple times; and I’ve put my family through hard times with my own bipolar II symptoms of extreme irritation and rage, low-low depression, and (very) rapid cycling. During a particular hypomanic rage, I ran outside my house barefoot...a mess of anger and tears. When the episode subsided about two mins later, I called home and emphatically apologized, in high expectation that the people there would have recovered from the aftermath of the event just a few minutes earlier.
Individuals and families that deal with mental illnesses face a particular kind of hardship and pain. There’s the often invisible pain that the bearer of the disease must carry; there is the massive pain that family members and caretakers face when trying to help and love the family member. Then there is a shared pain when an individual feels like an added burden, and family members feel that they cannot help remedy or improve the situation.
Kanye isn’t unique. He’s only on display. So what is to be done about mental illness, and more specifically black pain, when it's ugly and doesn't draw on our heartstrings? When it only frustrates instead of draws compassion?
Kanye is a reminder of exactly why we need to embrace, have patience with, and move toward compassion with the ill among us. Far too many of us, we with mental health issues, end up homeless, ridiculed, or isolated from our families and friends because it’s easier to laugh about our pain than it is to understand it. It’s easier to shun us since we veer from what’s considered normal; we annoy and frustrate, and generally, we are not “easy” to be around. We are burdens. If Kanye West is mental illness on display, then let us have compassion. Let’s do it for our communities, our families, ourselves. Mental illness is often misunderstood or utterly unaddressed in black communities and families, so we need compassion now more than ever. Our lives depend on it.