For the past few years, we've cringed as we've watched Kanye West go on countless rants, most recently against Beyonce, Jay-Z and Hillary Clinton at a concert in Sacramento. We've covered our eyes whenever he's said something offensive, and we've often been left to wonder if he's OK. Earlier this week, Kayne West was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, with some reporting that he was behaving "erratically." While its unclear what specific mental health issues he suffers from, it seems like he was in need of a much needed break.
It's easy for us to forget that celebrities are human, and that they're vulnerable to the same mental health conditions that we are. It's also easy for us to mock Kanye West's outbursts, because they happen on such a public stage; we tend to brush them off and roll our eyes.
But as someone who suffers from a mental illness, I know that mocking Kanye West doesn't help anyone. We need to keep in mind that just because money is a huge part of celebrities' lives, that doesn't mean that mental illness isn't.
I have severe depression and anxiety. I also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, as the result of different assaults I've experienced in my life. That has altered my brain chemistry, leaving me with a brain I sometimes think I understand, and then other times, feel like I know nothing about.
Despite the advances our culture has made in eradicating mental illness stigma and giving space to the voices of those with mental illness, there are still expectations placed on the mentally ill to behave a certain way, to adopt a "stiff upper lip" and pretend like everything is OK. It still takes immense bravery to admit to someone that you are mentally ill and need extra help and support. For this reason, I have a lot of empathy for anyone suffering from mental illness. A lot of concern and a lot of love.
Last month, I had a psychotic break and locked myself in a bathroom with a knife. The door to that bathroom is now broken, a reminder of my partner panicking and trying to stop me from harming myself. Although my community is well-aware of my depression, I didn't talk about it for a few days afterward.
I still struggle to admit to myself that I have moments of suicidal ideation, that I have moments where my brain overrides all logic. I'm afraid of the discomfort that I bring to those around me. I feel guilty and try to remind myself that people in my life accept that depression is just a part of my narrative, but it's hard to exist as yourself amongst people, when you don't feel that you can talk openly about how you're doing.
Nine times out of 10, I'm struggling, simply trying to survive, and hoping someone will give me a little extra support. Yet I struggle with asking for this support because I still feel some shame about it. I feel as if I am failing because my brain is failing me.
When I heard about Kanye, I wondered if he similarly struggled to be open about his own demons. He's a genius, he says — in fact, he tells us this often. Does he allow himself to ask for help, to admit that he can't actually handle this on his own?
When I read that Kanye was admitted into the hospital after a wellness check, I breathed a sigh of relief, hoping that maybe he would have the opportunity to talk to someone, or get the break that he needed. I also felt a bit of pride for him. Admitting that you need help, that you aren't feeling strong enough, is actually evidence of how strong you actually are. It's easy to stuff the suffering deep down, to overlook it, to pretend it doesn't exist. Yet to admit it's taking over who you are takes great strength.
Living with a mental illness is difficult. Some days are much better than the ones you lived through last week, and tomorrow may be more of an uphill battle than what you imagined. But it's never, ever something to be ashamed of, especially when you're pursuing a healthier way to live with your mental illness.
If you're struggling with depression or thoughts of self-harm, please call the Samaritans' 24-hour help hotline at (212) 673-3000 or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.