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Throughout the first four episodes of Lil Dicky’s new FXX show “Dave,” the rapper’s designated hype man, GaTa, is featured as a source of nonstop energy. From the beginning, his presence in just about any situation is turnt up several notches higher than anybody else’s. Watchers finally learn in the fifth episode that, that source of inextinguishable energy stems from GaTa’s bipolar disorder—specifically, the manic side of the condition’s spectrum.
It was fully convincing because the actor portraying GaTa, who goes by the moniker IRL, is actually bipolar himself. The distinct portrayal of the character’s erratic behavior, which was capped off by an unsustainable zest for life, reminded me a lot of myself. I was diagnosed as bipolar in 2016, and on more than one occasion, I’ve found myself caught up in the heights of mania: lit beyond reason, doing the absolute most, and alarming those around me who were used to seeing me as an emotionally stable person.
“Dave’s” depiction of the condition is one of the latest in a long line of attempts to represent mental illness in the entertainment industry. Shows like “Empire” and “Modern Love” position bipolar characters front and center, but don’t always hit the nail on the head in terms of proper representation. In addition to GaTa, arguably the most visible figure bringing an accurate light to bipolar disorder through art is someone who also lives with the condition, a rapper you might have heard of: Kanye West.
Since 2018’s ye album, which featured the phrase “I hate being bipolar, it’s awesome” on the cover, Kanye has thrust his own mental health into the spotlight. By being so open, he has blown the door off the hinges for fans, casual listeners, and others to discuss the ins and outs of what it means to live life with a brain that works differently.
While Kanye has created a new kind of dialogue, he actually hasn’t contributed much to the bigger conversation about what it means to feel manic, as a bipolar person. Aside from calling bipolar disorder “awesome,” and a “superpower” (as he does in the ye song “Yikes”), the artist has been fairly vague in his descriptions of the mental state.
In my own episodes, I feel connected to a divine source, almost like a chosen one selected to communicate grand plans for the world on behalf of God Himself. It’s these sets of experiences that influenced me to write about the connection between mania and hyperreligiosity for various outlets since 2018. In a piece I wrote last September, I connected the dots between Kanye’s bipolar disorder and his newfound commitment to a higher power—specifically, through his album Jesus Is King.
Upon the publishing of that feature, I received dozens of emails and direct messages from people thanking me for providing a detailed explanation of something that was previously clouded from understanding. A significant portion of those people were bipolar, and felt like they were thoroughly comprehended, some for the first time. They were eager to share their own experiences with me. The only thing is, I was hospitalized shortly after writing the piece—ironically, I was ramping up into mania while working on it—so I missed the immediate opportunity to respond.
Upon being released from the hospital in November 2019, I made the decision to interview several of those people about their bipolar disorder and the state of mania. Through said conversations, these individuals provided illumination on a condition that many people, including Kanye’s fans, simply don’t understand because of the supreme lack of a meaningful conversation around the subject.
In one of his more direct descriptions on “Yikes,” Kanye raps, “See, this a type of high that won’t come down / This the type of high that get you gunned down.” In an interview with a 44-year-old talent manager based in L.A. (who asked to remain anonymous), she recalled her first and only manic episode, which mirrored that description. “You feel high,” she said. “It’s a high you can’t get from smoking weed, you can’t get it from drugs. It’s a natural high that nothing can top. It’s crazy. It’s literally crazy.”
Brandon Rohe, a YouTuber, works through his bipolar disorder by regularly uploading videos about his journey. “‘Spiritual awakening’ was the language I initially used to describe it,” the Indiana-based real estate/property manager said in our conversation, regarding the overwhelming feeling that comes over many manic people.
In the lead-up to his ye album, Kanye tweeted a photo of a whiteboard on which he had written the words “spiritual awakening” above the tentative tracklist.
A 2019 study titled “‘The Awful Rowing toward God’: Interpretation of Religious Experiences by Individuals with Bipolar Disorder” analyzed the experiences of 34 people with bipolar disorder. A section within the research, under the subhead “spiritual growth and meaningful coherence,” indicated the following: “Many participants had experienced a feeling of coherence, of a meaningful connectedness during mania. This was described as a mystical experience of unity and, in the interpretation of apparently coincidental events, as having a cause and purpose or message.”
“I don’t think we have accurate words to describe in English that feeling,” Rohe, 24, continued. “But, what I would say is you do feel some type of spiritual sense. It just comes to you. When I started feeling the positivity and such happiness, it felt like, ‘This is so great!’ There’s no other rational way to conceive of it other than there’s some type of spiritual energy, God or something. It was pretty intuitive to make that jump.”
A 27-year-old law student based in Fort Worth, Texas, who also prefers anonymity, had grandiose experiences that soared beyond a high into something otherworldly, experiences that seemed to match Rohe’s, and frankly, my own.
“It was a spirituality,” he explained. “It was just a raw happiness, and you could just see the beauty in everything. It was vain, almost pure hubris. I did feel messianic. I did feel literally in touch with God.”
Gobari Idamkue, a Connecticut-based pharmacy supervisor and technician, felt somewhat prepared for the godly experience of mania. “I’m a very spiritual person—I grew up in the black church, in a Pentecostal background,” he explained. “Hearing from God on the regular isn’t an extraordinary thing. So with mania, it was like, ‘Oh okay, God’s just kicking it up a notch.’”
When Idamkue, 23, attempted to share his seemingly God-given directives with other students in his campus ministry, he was met with opposition. “‘This is God,’” he recalled saying. “‘Are you really trying to get in the way of what God is trying to do right now?’”
Kanye is known for challenging those around him who don’t readily identify his mission of being a musical savior. “Jesus has won the victory; I told you about my arrogance and cockiness already,” he told the worshippers of the Houston Lakewood Church in November 2019. “Now, the greatest artist that God has ever created is working for Him,” he concluded, referring to himself.
Sinclair Ceasar III, a 32-year-old writer and speaker based in Baltimore, said his mania felt like transitioning into a new way of being. “It was a super spiritual experience,” he said. “It felt like this new person had arrived. I tell people it was akin to jumping out of an airplane with no parachute, and then realizing that there was no airplane, or a need for a parachute, and that right there was encountering the divine.”
Mania can feel like a clean, impenetrable happiness, like breathing the freshest air on the brightest, most beautiful day the earth has ever produced. I empathize with those who are drawn to it because I know how personalized mania can feel; how close you can feel to glory and ascension. But, that’s just one side of it. “I personally don’t want to experience mania again because of how destructive it was in my own life,” Ceasar III said. Nearly everyone I spoke with had similar reflections.
Luyando Malawo, a 30-year-old retail banker and mental health advocate based in the U.K., shared a YouTube video in 2016 detailing her manic episode and subsequent hospitalization. When we spoke, she described the ups and downs that preceded and permeated the episode. “I felt like I was a chosen one, the purest person, and God was protecting me from all these evil people,” she said. “When the energy started, it was instant. I had racing thoughts about the world ending. I was linking world events to my life. The Malaysian airline that went missing, I was like, ‘That’s the Rapture. So, I need to lay down and wait for my turn.’ The only way to calm down was to write.”
Similarly, while manic, I’ve felt as though the human race is nearing its end, and it’s my job to sound the alarm and point people toward God for guidance. I fight my way through those feelings by writing — for myself and for the public.
Kanye isn’t the first, nor will he be the last person to draw attention to the path of a bipolar person—but he comes fully equipped with a megaphone, and is quick to alert all within earshot of his spiritual transformation. Malawo summarized my feelings about the Kanye effect best: “Everyone thinks, ‘Oh my God, he’s saved!’” she said. “Honey… you have no idea where the inspiration is coming from.”
The ultralight beam of mania is strong enough to eclipse virtually any other influence in one’s life. Through his bipolar experiences, Kanye may very well have seen “the light.” He’s not the only one who’s spotted it. He’s just an emboldened example of what can happen if you choose to act on it.