Pete Davidson on Saturday posted a troubling message on his since-deleted Instagram page that led to concerns about his well-being. “i really don’t want to be on this earth anymore,” he wrote. “i’m doing my best to stay here for you but i actually don’t know how much longer i can last. all i’ve ever tried to do was help people. just remember i told you so.” The note prompted a well-being check by police and an outpouring of support from other celebrities, including Davidson’s former fiancée, Ariana Grande. He was found accounted for on the set of Saturday Night Liveand briefly appeared on that evening’s episode to introduce musical guest Miley Cyrus, but the note put mental health awareness and online bullying front and center.
As far as spectacle goes, the image of Kanye West embracing Donald Trump in the Oval Office this past October fell somewhere between the Krispy Kreme backflip Vine and the series finale of The Sopranos. It was confusing. It was compelling. It was unhinged. It was, in short, irresistible. The rapper’s widely broadcast ten-minute soliloquy was as rambling as it was enticing, touching on everything from male energy to Montessori to the 13th Amendment. West in the West Wing was the perfect storm of celebrity, power, and—for lack of a better word—content. You would not be alone if you periodically said, “Man, he’s crazy!” as you watched.
And you wouldn’t be wrong, either. In fact, you might be a little too right. West, who not too long ago discussed his diagnosis of bipolar disorder with the world, joins a list of celebrities who are open about their struggles with mental health and also struggle with their mental health openly. They include SNL’s Pete Davidson, who courageously (and hilariously) mined his borderline-personality-disorder diagnosis for material before engaging in a public, brief, and somewhat torrid love affair with Ariana Grande; Tesla cofounder Elon Musk, who tweeted about the corrosive effects of stress on his mental health even as he bore those out in a series of ill-advised (and possibly illegal) tweets about his company; and Roseanne Barr, who was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder years before she sent a racist tweet in May that scotched her comeback show. Their struggles have played out in the white water of popular culture, and it’s been a crazy ride indeed.
But when used to describe a person, crazy is halfway between a common adjective and an informal diagnosis. Toss it out with little thought and it’s fun and flirty. Think about it more—what it really means, what’s really going on when we say it, and what’s going on with those we say it about—and the word becomes heavier and heavier.
For the millions of Americans who, like me, live with mental illness, crazy is a heartbreaking and terrifying reality. Living in the tide pools of sanity, I can confidently say that whatever glimpse of crazy you catch in public is vastly outstripped by the private suffering you’ll never see. That’s the suffering that rends the fabric of primary relationships, that barges into the cockpit of the self and messes with the dials; it’s a suffering that doesn’t care if you’ve got a blue verified badge on Twitter, a sitcom, Yeezys, or millions in the bank. If you know what that suffering is like, there’s no way to just sit and watch a public meltdown with popcorn.