Trying to put a manic episode into words has been my latest challenge. You feel as if you are ripping away from yourself, forced to watch yourself get higher and higher, buzzier and buzzier, while the Other You is anchored to the floor. You become a witness to yourself, an endangered self. There is an unnatural frenzy to the manic moments. They feel so… manufactured and wrong. The world tears before your eyes, slips of color overtake your vision, and you can’t stop moving. Can’t stop doing. If you stop, you might die. At least, that’s how it feels for me. I’m painfully aware of my manic episodes. And I can’t do shit about them. I have to see myself reach heights no person is meant to experience.
In some ways, though, I’m lucky. At least when I get manic, I get creative. The gift of my Bipolar II diagnosis is the highs aren’t as high as they could be. I don’t go on benders, spend all my money, and attempt to ruin my life for the thrill. I don’t have delusions—anymore—and I don’t rush to kill myself—anymore. I just write 20,000 words in a week. It sounds great, I guess. It seems perfect for my career and the content cycle. But it’s scary. It’s so scary to have no control of your energy, to feel your aura flit away from you without warning, and without a return date.
The music industry demands so much of us writers, us content creators, and from that comes desperation to create. Desperation gets me manic. The moment I feel the urge to do something artistic, and the moment a wall is presented to me, something fires in my brain. For lack of more descriptive language: I go crazy. Imagine me zipping around in a tight circle, burrowing deeper and deeper underground by virtue of my speed until I’m so far down, it’s pitch black, and I’m burnt out. Usually, too, I’m crying. This is what the work does to me, but I am not the only one.
Kiana Fitzgerald, Texas-based hip-hop head, culture writer, formerly of Complex, and as seen in FADER, NPR, and on Genius’ “For The Record,” has been wonderfully open about her Bipolar diagnosis. She’s penned heartfelt pieces about her disorder, her struggles, and how we make lessons and triumphs out of challenges. Speaking with Kiana, I found a world of similarities between how we experience hypomania and depression—I also encountered a sea of difference. Without question, too, in speaking with Kiana, I encountered a wealth of knowledge and empathy—and a deep passion for creating.
Kiana was first diagnosed with Bipolar I back in 2017. “I was hospitalized for the first time in October 2016, and I didn’t know why I was there,” Kiana tells me. “Nobody ever sat me down, that I can recall, and said, ‘Kiana, you’re Bipolar.’ When I left the hospital, I wasn’t given a diagnosis then, either. I was just given some pills and went about my way. It wasn’t until the following year—October 2017—a psychiatrist in a hospital was like, ‘You are Bipolar I, it’s severe, you need help.’”
Kiana Fitzgerald’s story reminded me of my own—multiple diagnoses, little information, and much ado without being taken into account as a human being. It was not until my worst manic episode, which culminated in a suicide attempt in October of 2018 that I was given a proper Bipolar diagnosis, medication, and serious treatment. Through the highs and lows leading up and following official diagnosis, both for Kiana and for myself, music was the saving grace.
“When I’m not manic, music is the only thing keeping me stable,” Kiana says. “It’s the only thing I can listen to and feel like I have a grip on reality.” To be a dedicated music fan and Bipolar is to invest heavily in the music—sometimes to an unhealthy degree. Obsession overruns balance. Passion morphs into something more sinister. The high of being a Bipolar music fan is heart-stoppingly breathtaking, but as Kiana tells me, there is more going on than simple fandom.
“It’s done wonders, and it’s been difficult,” Kiana says of being a Bipolar music fan. “The second to last time I [had an episode] in April of last year, I was listening to Robb Bank$, my favorite rapper. I was listening to ScHoolboy Q, and I was listening to [Tyler, the Creator’s] IGOR. It just feels like the music was made for me. Like it was put together, ideated, executed, literally made for me. That’s the high of it.
“Also, when I’m manic, I try to find clues and mysteries within the music, and I end up spiraling and try to make up a story that’s not there. I can either be fully in love with the music and be like, ‘Thank you, God, for bringing this music into my life. It was created for my purpose.’ Or, I could feel like, ‘Yo, the world is coming to an end. It’s my job to figure out the clues and patterns in these songs and solve the mystery of the universe.’ And that’s not healthy.”
Of course, Kiana Fitzgerald is no plain music fan. She is a celebrated writer with a miles-long rap sheet of which anyone would be rightfully envious. Her work, for all its brilliance, does not go untouched by Bipolar I, however.
“When I’m hypomanic, leading up into the mania, I wanna write my ass off,” Kiana tells me. “I feel like I have the best ideas—the Kanye piece I wrote for VIBE about his Bipolar and how Jesus Is King might’ve been impacted by it, I was hypomanic when I wrote that. It was one of the best pieces I’ve written in the past year.”
Kiana’s note on hypomania brings me back to myself. I recall times where I penned thousands upon thousands of words in a week for work, or 100 poems in a month, or 50,000 words of a novel in a month, only for them to make not a lick of sense. There was a sickness to the frenzy of my work—I knew something unnatural was happening, but I couldn’t stop myself. In truth, I did not want to stop. When I get manic, I want to work myself into the ground. I have the sense I am tapping into some unspoken power, and I must make the most of it because I have been granted this incredible level of consciousness.
Of course, as with all avenues of my life, there is guilt. As Kiana mentions, some of our best work comes from a place of hypomania or mania. For me, this means great guilt in knowing my best work comes from an unhealthy and unsustainable place. For Kiana, this realization comes with a twinge of embarrassment: “I don’t have any guilt, and it’s because I’m still struggling with my relationship to Bipolar,” she tells me. “I feel a tinge of embarrassment because I don’t like for people to know some of my best work was produced in a state I shouldn’t be in.”
Though both myself and Kiana understand our work can come from an unhealthy place, the demands of the music writing industry do not give us time to dwell on this fact. “It’s unrelenting,” Kiana says of the music industry. “It’s a place I struggled to keep up with before my diagnosis, and since my diagnosis, it’s become… I don’t wanna say it’s become easier, but I kind of have a fall-back if I can’t produce. Not to say it’s a cop-out, but it is an issue: either I’m depressed, or I’m manic, or I’m hypomanic. I rarely am in a ‘normal’ state. I’m always vacillating between one end or the other. Working in an industry like music journalism, which is operating on the fastest news cycle I’m aware of, it’s difficult to keep up.”
“I take this disorder and I say: ‘I can’t produce what I normally could produce, at this moment. I need to take a backseat. At Complex, I was always able to talk to a manager or an editor and tell them what was going on, and they’d understand. That doesn’t take away from the fact the work is still there, and needs to be done. I just know I cannot force myself to work if I am not in a state where I am capable of working. If that means I am not a top dog in journalism, so be it. That’s something I’m coming to terms with after this most recent episode. I haven’t written a piece that was published in four months—that’s a long time for me.
“In some ways, it’s painful, because I do wanna be out there and get my shit poppin’ and get people to read what I have to say. [I want to] help people understand artists better. And understand music better, at large. But when I first got out of the hospital, I couldn’t do that. I was just trying to move out of New York, come home to Texas, and rest. I’ve learned, with this disorder, it’s okay for me to say: ‘I can’t do that right now.’”
The pace of the industry cares very little about the “can’t” or “shouldn’t” of our situations. Despite this, Kiana has found ways to stake her claim in culture writing by being as open as possible about her disorder. She hopes that openness can, in some ways, help people understand her life as a Black woman living with Bipolar I.
“I’ve produced some great work through this disorder,” Kiana explains. “Beyond that, it’s helped people to understand what we are going through. All I want is to help people understand XYZ—whether it’s J. Cole, Bipolar Disorder, or what it’s like to be a Black woman. I’ve been writing about [Bipolar] since 2017. I write so openly about it because it’s my life. I want to work through the Bipolar, the mania, the depression, so people can understand what it’s like to be in it. That’s the upside of writing and working through what we have.”
Of course, with every pro, there is a con. “On the other side—it’s really personal,” Kiana continues. “People treat you, not like a celebrity, but: ‘Oh, you’re the girl who’s Bipolar!’ And, yeah, I am, but I’m also the girl who killed this piece—someone who DJs. There are things about me I would prefer for people to know before [Bipolar]. I love [being open], but it’s also difficult because it is something everybody knows now. I don’t wanna hide it, but if I wanted to, I couldn’t.”
Kiana’s openness is sometimes met with demands from strangers for her time and emotional labor—this is the price we pay for trying to bring empathy into the world through penning our own experiences. Whenever Kanye West or Bipolar Disorder is in the headlines, people tweet at Kiana, looking for her take. The truth? She does not always have one, nor is she required to. There is more to Kiana Fitzgerald than her Bipolar I, just like there is more to myself than my disorder. No matter how open a writer is about their struggles, no reader is entitled to them or their time.
“I used to get the shakes and get sick when I was about to put out a piece about being Bipolar,” Kiana admits. “Now, I’m like.. Okay! Another one out the gate. Now and then, people will come at me and be like, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?!’ and I typically don’t respond. I let it sit there in the ether and simmer.”
Lately, as things simmer, Kiana has been listening to Young Nudy to feel human. She loves his whimsical voice, the way he bends words in his mouth. She appreciates being able to listen to him without searching for clues or attempting to find a pattern. Young Nudy brings Kiana a sense of presentness often missing during a manic episode. It’s refreshing and freeing, and something I find in my artists: Jack Harlow, Mac Miller, and the like.
“I don’t know what it is, but when I got out of the hospital this most recent time, I gravitated directly to him,” Kiana says of Nudy. “I didn’t really take him seriously, and then when I got out [of the hospital], I listened to ‘Extendo’ like, ‘Oh, my God! This is so beautiful!’ For about a month, I was listening to straight-up Nudy. That was a transitional point when I was coming out of a depression. He just helped me feel normal.”
That’s the sum of it for Kiana Fitzgerald. For all her openness about her illness, she is not her diagnosis. She is a human being. Everything she gives in her work—everything the industry demands she give in her work—pales in comparison to her organic ethos as a human being.
“I wish people understood I’m a Black woman first,” Kiana concludes. “I see the way our media industry treats Black women, and we collectively see it, and we’re coming for ours. [If] we have to create our own spaces, we’re gonna do that. I am a Black woman who is focused on creating in any way, shape, or form that I can. Just be aware you won’t always see me as a writer. I might be an editor. I might be a social media strategist. I want people to know I contain multitudes.”