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The Noisey Guide To Music and Mental Health

Lost in the World: How Kanye West Helped Me Stare Down Depression

Kanye West didn’t save my life, but when I decided to save my own it felt like he was there to thank me for doing it.

by John Hill
27 November 2015, 4:22pm


Image by Paul Raffaele

For the month of November, Noisey will be remembering the buildup to Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with a weekly series of G.O.O.D. Friday posts. Welcome to Noisey G.O.O.D. Fridays.

My senior year of high school, the only things I cared about were World of Warcraft and Kanye West. I’d count seconds on the clock and scrawl his verses into my notebook, like scripture. Images would pour into my head: beating the shit out of The Lich King to “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” exploring the open wastes of the world solo to “Coldest Winter,” gearing up for battles to the beat of “Jesus Walks.” While I was off in KanyeWarcraftCity, everyone else at school was stuck in college application craziness, worried about getting into whichever UC branches they applied to and sending in applications before the deadline date. I didn’t send any applications out, resigned to my fate of being another kid who would end up going to community college until I figured out some kind of plan. The only date that mattered to me was November 22, 2010, when Kanye would finally release his new album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

I became more indifferent to everything around me the closer that day came. At some point during in fall I completely stopped going to school on Fridays. I made excuses to myself that I was staying home to hear whatever new track was coming out through G.O.O.D. Fridays and that I could play Warcraft, when subconsciously I wanted to avoid all obligations and be alone. There was a growing sense of helplessness inside of me, creating a constant mountain of procrastination and nonparticipation, intensified by the fact I wasn’t on track for college. When I’d return to class on Mondays, all attempts to make conversations with other kids were null. They’d rather talk about why I was fucking them over in group projects and not doing my share of work than break down the new Kanye song that had dropped. Somehow, virtually no one at school gave a fuck about Kanye unless it was to talk about how much of a jackass he was. No amount of stanning or earbud sharing would convince them, and my desire to be alone felt further justified.

The mire I was digging myself into revealed a beast I thought I’d buried but that had never really left: depression. From the early age of eight I was in therapy, eventually hopping on Prozac at age 12. Body issues and difficulties being away from my parents manifested at an early age and followed me around for years. When I hit junior year of high school I felt I was in a good place and tapered off of the anti-depressants until I was clean. My emotions felt heightened, both in happiness and hurt, compared to the leveled daze of being on medication. When I realized these terrible feelings were manifesting themselves once again, I hesitated to tell my parents or therapist. Instead I focused all my energy into getting more excited for MBDTF.

Kanye’s good friend Jesus must have heard my prayers, because the record leaked in advance of its release date. I waited until night to listen to the record, stepping out into the light chill of my backyard. I lied on a lounge chair, staring into the skies listening to the record. And in that immediacy it was everything and more. I tried to picture all the work that went into creating all the intricate textures in “All Of The Lights,” to imagine some kind of future fight world to “Hell of a Life.” I hoped that if Heaven was real, the moments after I passed the keys to “Runaway” would accompany my soul being summoned into the clouds. Each song lead me into a path of wanting to learn more, wanting to reach out my arms and ascend. He had created his grandest work yet, but as I listened, nothing happened outside of my headphones. The music wasn’t lifting me into some greater state of understanding, it remained only sound.

After the shock, I got a grip and remembered it was just an album, and soon I realized I hadn’t given myself anything else to look forward to. No more G.O.O.D. Fridays, no impending masterpiece of an album, just an ever-expanding hole of vague sadness in my stomach. I had MBDTF, but in a year I’d be listening to it alone while my friends were off in college. It wasn’t the panacea I yearned for; Kanye didn’t have the answers for me. The depression magnified, and I felt powerless to all the shitty things going on. World of Warcraft was no longer the secret world I had for myself: I felt so fatigued that I couldn’t be bothered to open the program and explore. When I did, a kid at school went around calling me a faggot to other kids because I played a female character. From there it morphed to more bullying, with kids saying I had bitch tits and that I was a loser. It all ballooned into feeling like there wasn’t really a point to stick around anymore. No song could possibly pull me out of it.

Across the street from our house is a tree-lined high speed boulevard pushing people from the south end of the city into Golden Gate Park, and running into traffic seemed like the best way to take my life. I made the walk over one morning and sat down at a park bench, waiting for traffic to pick up. An 18-wheeler accelerated from down the street, and I stood up. As I walked toward the curb, I realized there was a pair of older women taking a stroll on the other side of the street, laughing in another language. The chain reaction I might cause started to form in my head. What if the truck swerved out of control, killing those women and the driver? What if it caused a pile up and more death? It was the most selfish thing I could do, to hurt innocent people like that.

I backed away, taking the bus to school because I didn’t want to be alone. At lunch, it was hard to pretend like nothing had happened, and eventually I told my best friend what I had nearly done and still contemplated doing. It frightened him, and two periods after lunch I was called into the guidance counselor’s office. My friend had alerted him, and I cried for a bit about what happened. At home I hid what happened from my parents until the morning, when I told my dad. He offered to take me to the hospital, but the thought of being in the hospital room made me want to wait to see if I felt better at home.

My dad spent the next few days out of work and hanging out with me to make sure I was all right. We took a trip down to Half Moon Bay, and I burned a copy of MBDTF to play in the car. The nature and stillness around us unpacked the record, making me feel his pain more than ever, but most importantly I could feel his resilience. I realized that in light of him becoming a running joke of celebrity culture, Kanye enlisted every motherfucker he could just to prove a point on “All Of The Lights.” He’d had the fearlessness to sample golden cows like King Crimson and to turn "Blame Game," one of the most melancholy songs on the record into a moment of off-color humor, eliciting laughter out of my dad. It was still only an album, but that didn’t mean you couldn’t draw strength from it.

Kanye West didn’t save my life, but when I decided to save my own it felt like he was there to thank me for doing it. Weeks later, I read about his speech during the screening of the “Runaway” film. He told the crowd he had contemplated suicide before making of the record, and he explained why he decided not to go through with it, saying "there's so many people that will never get the chance to have their voice heard. I do it for them.” It made everything stop feeling so helpless, that control wasn’t as abstract as I imagined. The depression wavered, giving way to hope. I applied to Pratt Institute, an art school in Brooklyn, and, despite my shitty grades, I was admitted. I graduated college in four years. And despite the usual spots that come with chronic depression, it never got as bad as it did then.

Kanye grew up a regular art kid, and through focus and patience he became Yeezus. And he wanted to teach us how to become our own gods. In my case, he showed me that it was possible to write the narrative of your own life, to pull control away from whatever external forces are trying to hold you back. To bear my own pain, and push it out of myself to create something better. That when it feels like the world and everyone is closing in, you can tell the critics to kiss your whole ass, more specifically your asshole.

John Hill is building a still to slow down the time. Follow him on Twitter.