How I Feel About Kanye’s “Superpower” as Someone with Bipolar Disorder

Kanye West’s new album has it quite literally right on the cover: bipolar. The scenic backdrop of the Wyoming landscape captures much less attention than the words he wrote across the photo in vivid green: “I hate being Bi-Polar it’s awesome”, a reference to an overused mood disorder joke. In his album titled Ye, West addresses his mental health. At the end of one track, he reveals that he has bipolar disorder, calling his condition his “superpower”. He follows this by rapping that bipolar disorder “aint no disability- I’m a superhero.”

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I think that it is great [for those who are comfortable doing so] to share their mental health story, whether with those close to them or publicly. When celebrity figures share their stories, it can quickly reach millions. This can be an excellent platform in addressing stigma and how to combat it. However, even with good intentions, using the wrong words could have unintended consequences on its listeners.

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I think the aim of these lyrics was empowerment: Kanye is not limited by his diagnosis or illness. Rather, he sees it in a positive light. The bipolar disorder is something that builds him up rather than tears him down. At first glance, this may appear to be a wonderful message to those impacted by bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses. While there have been studies showing facets of people with mood disorders that are positive (i.e. creativity), limiting one’s view to only the positive side could be potentially dangerous, even deadly.

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At times, I wanted to see my own condition of Bipolar Disorder Type 1 as good, maybe even “a gift.” Glorifying an illness may make it easier to accept in the short-term, but does not really help in seeing the condition clearly. “Artistic temperament” or “creative genius” sounds so much better than “mentally ill” or “manic-depressive”. I’ve had the bursts of hypomania filled with feelings of happiness, creativity, and unlimited potential. I have never felt happier, smarter, funnier, sexier or more confident than when I was in that slightly elevated state. I could even argue that the depths of depression have given me more appreciation for the good times or more empathy.

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But to focus on only the positives is lying to myself…
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Ignoring the way that mania destroys my ability to function, sleep, eat, focus, or even slow down my chaotic, racing mind is lying to myself.
Ignoring the way that depression robs me of happiness for months at a time and destroys my will to live is lying to myself.
Ignoring the way that the course of the illness has been detrimental to my relationships, friendships, and academic life is lying to myself.

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I cannot tell someone how to see their mental illness. It impacts everyone differently. What I do know is that stating that bipolar disorder is a superpower without acknowledging its dark side is not only misleading, but has the potential to make fans less likely to seek treatment. Bipolar disorder can have severe, negative impacts on one’s life, with some cases even featuring psychotic symptoms or suicidality. If Kanye says not only that its not problematic but that it is a superpower, why would anyone want therapy or medications? Who wants to get rid of a superpower?

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From my experience, I think the best approach is a balanced one, seeing both the positives and negatives of one’s condition. No one should be ashamed of their diagnosis or their stories. It takes strength to battle a mental illness, and I think it is great to take pride in that strength and mental health journey. On the other hand, ignoring the way that the illness has the potential to destroy lives does no one any favors. If you share with the world that bipolar disorder is your superpower, be prepared to show how it also may be your curse.

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Article is now up on The Mighty!

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