I may not know many things for certain, but one thing I can say without a shadow of a doubt is that Kim Kardashian and I have very little in common. She’s one of the most visible women on the planet with thousands of online mentions of her at any given second, whilst I really start to lose my rag around the mark of 4 unopened whatsapps. She wakes up ready to slay all day, whereas this week I decided to do what I said I would and de-rust my birkenstocks. We were and always will be travelling down different highways, in our own lanes, or so I thought. A few days ago, as I sat idly reading the news in between episodes of Buckles in Distress: salt and lemon edition, I saw something that – with huge surprise – made me feel a deep affinity to her.
The past couple of weeks has seen a total eclipse of the news cycle in the form of Kanye West’s unusual public behaviour. The media has comfortably sat in a cat and mouse dynamic with the Kardashians and all in their orbit for years. They shoot out a shareable publicity flare, the press see it on the horizon and chase after it trying to catch it on the descent to sink their claws into. They as an entity are so overexposed, their lives orchestrated to a ludicrously high degree that it would have been easy to indulge in yet another schadenfreude-fuelled feeding frenzy when pictures of Kim Kardashian crying in a car emerged. The pictures, obtained by none other than the respectful, unproblematic outlet TMZ, felt shockingly intrusive. If distress and pain were personified, it could have been found in that moment sitting in the passenger seat of Kanye West’s car desperately trying to hide its face.
My initial thoughts on seeing them were total and utter contempt towards whoever was involved in the taking and publishing of those photographs. They felt grubby, voyeuristic and wrong. Like an old school peeping Tom trying to peer through the crack in the curtain, which to some extent, is exactly what they are.
By his own disclosure, Kanye West has Bipolar disorder, which might lead you to think all bets are off. A revelation as serious as this should be the safe word that slams the brakes on the double edged seduction between celebrity and press. But it isn’t. A video in which 10 ‘experts’ discuss the photos was viewed 192k times within 10 days of going live. The irony of me contributing to that number for the sake of writing this is not lost on me.
Seeing those pictures smacked me on one cheek with empathy, and on the other with a familiar feeling that felt like an old friend. After years of confusion, pain and sadness of my own, I discovered my mother was bipolar roughly 5 years ago and it changed everything and nothing. The former because we now had a hook on which to hang the hat of explanation, and the latter because, as is being mercilessly played out on the world stage as we speak, you are powerless unless the affected say otherwise. Whilst I think it’s unfair to discuss other people’s mental health speculatively, I believe it’s very fair to discuss your own lived experiences, and I am grateful that when I do it’s my choice. What I share is up to me, rather than being ruthlessly backed into the dreaded act of ‘speaking out’ via Instagram stories. The very fact such a private, painful matter had to be addressed on the same platform used to ‘spill the tea’ for the gossip hungry just makes me feel for her even more. A human being having to plead other human beings for empathy toward a serious mental health issue should be cause for a huge collective push on the social responsibility reset button. When it comes to the business of a stranger’s mental health, in some cases we really need to learn to mind our own.
I too, along with so many others who have a family member affected by a mental health disorder, have screamed, felt helpless and cried. I have sobbed in cars, on planes, at the gym and in the supermarket. I have sat on public benches, friend’s sofas and boyfriend’s laps weeping out of frustration, fear and everything in between, without a camera in my face. It is a fear that keeps you up at night and slows you down all day. One that sits in your head transmitting a constant panic powered tinnitus, tinting every area of your conscious mind like ink in water. Those pictures caused me to consider the sheer amount of time I have spent trying to determine where the next swing is coming from, how powerful it will be, how long it will last and what the repercussions will be.
Loving someone with bipolar in any capacity is one of the most exhilarating, exhausting things you can do. You can approach with caution, memorise triggers, assess signs, but when an episode starts all of that is futile. No amount of preparation can appease the feeling that you’ve been dropped into a room within an alternate reality where your high hopes and well meaning statements are swiftly smashed out of your hands, against the wall that used to be a door, that was once the window. It can feel as though you’re being pushed against your will down a hall of mirrors in a house of no fun, and that’s just for those observing the episode, let alone those living it.
Seeing such private pain in a public way humanised Kim and Kanye in a way that we are not used to. I suddenly felt compelled to approach my own collateral trauma with even more care than I already do, and felt so deeply grateful that I am able to consensually share my experiences when I want, where I want and on my own terms. It stands as a reminder that illness is discriminant of no one, and that if person A gets sick and subsequently refuses help, person B, no matter who they are, cannot do anything about it. We could all be person A, B, or possibly both at any point in our lives.
Not that it’s any of our business, but Kim is said to apparently be trying to get Kanye help. Whilst she is wealthy enough to pay for the best care on the planet, she wrongfully hasn’t been afforded the most basic of luxuries: the right to feel, process and heal in private.