Bebe Rexha Shares Her Personal Struggle With Bipolar Disorder, Offering Hope to Millions
"I didn’t want to think there was something wrong with me," the singer told Self.com.
March 9, 2020
Bebe Rexha, the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter who’s worked with Selena Gomez, Florida Georgia Line and Eminem, is the latest pop star to shine a light on bipolar disorder by sharing her struggles with it. Also known as manic depression, the mental illness is characterized by mood swings of varying degrees and can include symptoms like lethargy, sadness, euphoria or mania.
In April 2019, Rexha tweeted to her 1.6 million fans that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, only days after her doctor gave her the official word. The 30-year-old follows in the footsteps of Demi Lovato and other celebrities in coming forward to make their mental illness a part of their public narrative — at the risk of being seen as “crazy.” For years, she assumed she’d had it, but she told “her family and therapist that she didn’t want to know,” according to a February 25 profile in Self.com. But as soon as she confirmed it for herself, there was no longer a reason to hide.
Following last year’s social media revelation, her artistic method for addressing bipolar disorder will be through an upcoming album, naturally— a personal look at her travails. Rexha gave Self.com a lyrical preview of the song “Break My Heart Myself,” which mentions common medications, like “Klonopin, my friend,” as well as “5.7 of Americans,” a reference to a statistic that claims nearly 6 million adult Americans suffer from bipolar disorder. (Estimates vary, going as low as 2 million, but the National Institutes for Mental Health puts the number at 7 million).
The Self.com piece is its own form of exposé on bipolar disorder. In it, Rexha admits that getting diagnosed with bipolar “fucked her up for a little bit.” She admits that she had a breakdown for a couple of days, saying, “I was very fearful,” and “I didn’t want to think there was something wrong with me.” Why did she decide to open up? It wasn’t just to help others, it was mental self-care. “That was my worst fear all my life: going crazy….” she told Self.com, “I felt like me opening up to my fans was me finally saying, ‘I’m not going to be imprisoned by this.’ And maybe it’ll make somebody not feel imprisoned, in that moment, if they feel like they’re going through a rough time. That’s why I decided to really open up and to free myself from that.”
Rexha’s 2018 single “I’m a Mess” touched on her mental health issues, but her April 2019 tweet was the first time she’d referenced bipolar disorder specifically.
CELEBRITY AND BIPOLAR AWARENESS
Throughout pop culture over the last decade, a combination of pressure to perform and hypercritical social media have compelled many young musicians and actors to speak up about their panic disorders, depression, anxiety and other potentially harmful psychological struggles, exacerbated by the unique stress of their jobs. Pop singer Demi Lovato, a onetime Disney child star, is well-known for being candid about her struggles and for her mental health advocacy. After her stay at a treatment center for anorexia, bulimia and cutting, she revealed her bipolar disorder diagnosis in an April 2011 interview with People magazine, at just 18, saying, “There were times when I was so manic, I was writing seven songs in one night and I’d be up until 5:30 in the morning.” In the 2012 MTV documentary Stay Strong, Lovato says, “I didn’t really realize I was sick,” and that it was difficult for her to come to grips with the diagnosis when “there’s always someone sicker than you.” Lovato later praised Catherine Zeta-Jones as an inspiration. Just a week before Lovato spoke up, Zeta-Jones had come forward, saying manic depression had been brought on by stress and she had checked into a treatment facility. Lovato would go on to release a self-help book about her battles with depression and drug addiction, “Staying Strong: 365 Days a Year,” which made the the New York Times best-seller list in December 2013. She did another documentary on YouTube in 2017, during which she revealed that she was actually on cocaine during the filming of “Stay Strong.” In 2018, she had a high-profile overdose from opioids.
In a 2018 People magazine cover story, Mariah Carey became perhaps the biggest celebrity of late to reveal her bipolar disorder diagnosis, which she received in 2001. The married diva, who has 8-year-old twins and turns 50 in March, told People, “I’m hopeful we can get to a place where the stigma is lifted from people going through anything alone. It can be incredibly isolating. It does not have to define you and I refuse to allow it to define me or control me.”
Male pop stars who have opened up include Russell Brand, who has credited his bipolar disorder with helping his career as a comedian, host and author, and Pete Wentz, a frontman for the band Fall Out Boy, who admitted to self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.
WHAT YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT BIPOLAR DISORDER
There are three major categories of bipolar disorder based on the duration and frequency of manic and depressive episodes that can include hallucinations or delusions (I, II and cyclothymia). Carey’s bipolar II disorder, for example, is marked by a relatively high level of depression. Although there are claims that diet and exercise and maintaining low stress can mitigate the symptoms, there is no known cure.
There are several common myths. For instance, it is not true that sufferers are always either in a manic or a depressive state. They may often be in a balanced state, called euthymia, or can experience a “mixed episode,” both manic and depressive at the same time. Bipolar disorder is often associated with talented artists, including those noted above. But it’s not true that being in a manic state is a particularly productive or positive time—sufferers of mania can become highly agitated and can lose control and harm themselves in various ways. As Rexha admitted to Self.com, mood swings “made me feel just weird feelings, weird emotions, weird thoughts all the time…. I’d be in the passenger seat of the car and I would want to open the door and jump out and just get fucking squashed.”
Another artist-related myth around the disease is that treatment will suffocate creativity and imagination. In fact, authors and artists, including Rexha, have proffered the opposite: “[Medication has] maybe helped me be a little bit more insightful and learn things about the world and also allowed me to be a little bit more centered so that I can actually write about my feelings,” she told Self.com.
To help you spot signs of the disorder in yourself, a friend or family member, look out for usual mood swings (from euphoric highs to devastating lows), unusual behavior like increased risk-taking and impulsivity, and difficulty falling asleep. Consult a medical professional, like a psychiatrist, to help you or your loved one come up with an effective treatment plan.
About the Writer:
Michael Quiñones is a freelance storyteller/journalist/editor with decades of experience developing content for everything word-related from sci-fi novels and plays to major lifestyle brands, hard news and pop media. Born in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio, he makes frequent trips back there from his home base in New York City, where his two young daughters and two cats keep him up nights.
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