The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

What’s The Matter With Kanye?

Clearly something is amiss. Let the record show that, as we say in the south, “he ain’t right.” Kelly Clarkson wonders what happened to him as a child. Obama called him a “jackass.”

Well, he did behave like one.

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Seriously, though. I wonder if Kanye West really does have a problem, because I can very much identify with the trouble his mouth has gotten him into, again.

Taylor Swift barely had a chance to accept her award for Best Female Video at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 13 before Kanye West rushed the stage, grabbed the microphone out of the startled teen’s hands and aired his objections. “I’m sorry, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time!” the rapper complained, referring to the undeniably danceable “Single Ladies.” Swift, who had won the award for her high school love song “You Belong With Me,” was hurt. “I was standing onstage, and I was really excited because I’d just won the award, and then I was really excited because Kanye West was onstage,” she told People magazine. “And then I wasn’t excited anymore after that.”

West has made a habit of airing his displeasure at awards shows. He walked out of the 2004 American Music Awards after losing the Best New Artist title to country singer Gretchen Wilson. (“I was the best new artist this year,” he complained backstage.) Two years later, West crashed the stage of the 2006 MTV Europe Music Awards and launched into a profanity-laced rant after losing in the Best Hip-Hop Artist category to Justice and Simian. West said his “Touch the Sky” video was better because it “cost a million dollars. Pamela Anderson was in it. I was jumping across canyons.” He later apologized, explaining that he had enjoyed “a little sippy sippy” before the ceremony.

Goodness knows, I’ve been there. Not to try and diagnos West, but one of the joys of having ADD, especially untreated, is the “social difficulties” that come with the territory.

In fact, four of the five most common social problems experienced by kids with ADD/ADHD could easily apply to West.

2009 MTV Video Music Awards - Show

* Interrupting others – One of the primary symptoms associated with ADHD is impulsivity. The uncontrollable urge to speak makes it hard to listen. Additionally, kids with ADHD have difficulty focusing on one thought for very long, therefore getting their thought out may be more important than joining in the rhythm of the conversation.

* Failure to understand others anger – Kids with ADHD don’t perceive their inconsiderate actions as rude. They may not be able to understand why the schoolmate they interrupted 10 times in a five minute conversation was angry. After all what’s wrong with joining in on the conversation.

* Being Perceived as Self Centered – Self centeredness can be a serious problems both for kids and adults. The ADHD personality may come across as one that doesn’t understand the feelings or needs of others. If this trait is carried forward into adulthood it can be very problematic in personal relationships. For kid with ADHD it often causes problems with schoolmates, parents, and teachers.

* Not respecting others space – Little Johnny sat behind Sara in class. He continually bumps her chair and when no one is looking pulls her hair. Little Johnny doesn’t understand why he keeps getting in trouble, after all he likes little Sara. Kids with ADHD struggle with the concept of personal space. When you combine the disregard for others personal space with ADHD symptoms such as hyperactivity and inattention, classmate Sara should ask for a different seat assignment immediately!

* Poor sportsmanship – One of the common traits of ADHD children is becoming easily frustrated. Frustration can spill over into other activities such as sports; leading kids with ADHD to cheat if they fall behind and throw temper tantrums if the outcome isn’t acceptable. Often poor losers have trouble finding others to interact with socially thus adding to their already unpredictable behavior.

And in West’s behavior, I recognize at least one symptom of ADD/ADHD.

Blurt out inappropriate comments, show their emotions without restraint, and act without regard for consequences

I can’t count the number of times I’ve done the above, and paid a price for it. Before diagnosis and treatment, it was the kind of thing that got me into trouble at school, caused me problems at work, and probably cost me some relationships. You pay a price not only because the behavior comes across as inconsiderate and boorish — often because it is — but because people believe that you’re being inconsiderate and boorish on purpose. In other words, people think that you know better and can do better, but don’t care to.

But, often times you don’t want to be inconsiderate or boorish, and you want to do better, but it seems to happen before you realize what’s happening, or you don’t realize until it’s too late how its going to come across to other people.

It’s worse when you don’t know that you have a problem, or can’t name it and thus can’t find the right way to fix it. Everyone else wonders what’s wrong with you, and you wonder too.

Thanks to an anonymous manager at CNN, I have a new favorite word: “neurotypical.” Or maybe it’s “neuro-atypical.” I’m not sure, but I know which one I am. So, I knew I’d find something to identify with when I (finally) sat down to read her account of how diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome in adulthood left her feeling like an “earthbound alien.”

Like I said, there was a lot in her essay to identify with, but it was the end that really hit home.

I live with anxiety, because the world can be overwhelming and people have expectations that I always, sooner or later, fail to meet. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have been told that I am rude, inaccessible or cold, yet I have never purposely tried to harm anyone, nor do I mean to be, well, mean.

I could tell you so much more, but instead let me share one last insight. Don’t pity me or try to cure or change me. If you could live in my head for just one day, you might weep at how much beauty I perceive in the world with my exquisite senses. I would not trade one small bit of that beauty, as overwhelming and powerful as it can be, for “normalcy.”

That’s the big one, knowing that sooner or later you will fail to meet those expectations. And knowing that they’re perfectly reasonable expectations, for someone with a “neurotypical” brain. Some of us are very good at compensating. We’ve had to be in order to survive. But you can’t keep “dancing as fast as you can” indefinitely. (Even the most hyper of us are not perpetual motion machines.) The part that hurts is that when you disappoint people, they tend not to have noticed that — up until the inevitable failure — you’ve been really trying. You may, in fact, have tried as hard as you could.

My strategy, for those times, is to fall back on a rule I taught myself years ago: “If I don’t say anything, I can’t say the wrong thing. If I don’t do anything, I can’t do anythign wrong.”

I’m not saying that any of the above is true about West, because I don’t know. And I’m not saying that any of the above excuses his behavior. It never does. (Though people often forget the difference between explanation and excuse.) But I see some of my own difficulties reflected in the trouble West’s mouth and impulsiveness have gotten him into.

I also understand that West seems to be considering a similar strategy to the one above.

“So many celebrities, they never take the time off,” he said. “I’ve never taken the time off to really – you know, just music after music and tour after tour.

“I’m just ashamed that my hurt caused someone else’s hurt. My dream of what awards shows are supposed to be, ’cause, and I don’t try to justify it because I was just in the wrong. That’s period.

“But I need to, after this, take some time off and just analyse how I’m going to make it through the rest of this life, how I’m going to improve.”

It’s a good idea, because as some point it all adds up to a cumulative price that can be pretty big.

It’s just that sooner or later it won’t be enough. You’ll forget something important, miss some important detail, lose something important, forget to pay an important bill, etc. In fact, you’re guaranteed to do so, probably on an almost daily basis. And even if it turns out not to be all that important, the cumulative effect of having done so “umpteen” times can spell the end of a relationship, a job, a career. It’s all stuff that everyone does, from time to time. But most people don’t do it so often that it disrupts their lives completely.

Take some time, as much time as you need, to figure out what’s wrong and what to do about it. Go to a therapist or a psychiatrist, if you need to.

But do it. Because the truth is, if you “neuro-atypical” in a “neurotypical world,” at some point people won’t care. They won’t care what kind of problem you have. They won’t care what kind of help you need, or what kind of help you need to find the help you need. They’ll care only about one thing: making sure your problem is no longer their problem.

And that’s one problem that will dwarf just about any other problem you have.

It’ll make them worse, because you’ll have to solve them. Alone.

If you don’t, it’ll be your problem. Alone.


  1. OK well looking at Kanye through the A.D.D. glass gives me a better insight into his unrequested assistance to Taylor Swift. It explains a lot with him, and being an artist is probably a good career for him – as is emergency management or being a referee. Careers that reward a rapidly shifting attention.

    On the other hand, we hear about A.D.D. as a cop-out for so many things these days. As you say most of us are in the neurotypical world, and at some point we all need to learn the lesson that stealing someone’s thunder just to express your strong opinions is just plain rude.

  2. Oh, it’s definitely rude, and inexcusable. That’s why I try to parse the difference between an explanation and an excuse. I see the former as clarifying something so as to make it understandable, and the former as an attempt to avoid responsibility.

    It goes kinda like this:

    An explanation is an account of what happened without any attempt to avoid responsibility for ones actions. The person giving the explanation would preface and/or follow it up with something like, “what can I do to make it right?”

    An excuse is an account of what happened given in an attempt to avoid responsibility for ones actions. An excuse usually includes a sentiment along the lines of, “It not my fault.”

    What makes it difficult is that for many people — as was my case for 30+ years — there’s no explanation because you know there’s a problem, but you don’t know what it is.

    You can’t name it. And you can’t explain it. Unfortunately, neither can you fix it. Most of the time we want desperately to fix it because it causes an awful lot of pain, both in terms of consequences and in terms of our failed attempts to “fix” ourselves.

    I guarantee you that almost every adult with ADD can attest to having said countless times, “This time, I’m going to be organized,” or “This time I’m going to be more careful about what I say,” only to find themselves right back in trouble again.

    Unfortunately, it’s no one else’s job to figure out what the problem is, and the nature of the problem is such that few people will feel inclined to help because they’ve felt the consequences themselves. So, we’re responsible for fixing a problem we can’t name or identify. Not fair, but that’s life.

    That’s why I wrote this post. I could see a lot of myself in Kanye West, and I thought about the shame and embarrassment I’ve felt in the past. My hope is that maybe a few other people will catch a glimpse of themselves and take steps to get whatever help they need.

    Once we’re aware of what’s causing the problem, we really are responsible for doing something about it — because treatment doesn’t cure ADD. It “turns down the volume,” as I like to say, decreasing the severity of the symptoms so that I’m more able to recognize when they’re becoming a problem, and take steps to avoid trouble.

    It means that I can’t attribute something to my ADD as an excuse that absolves me of responsibility for it. I can explain my ADD as the source of the problem, or the reason why I have this difficulty or that, but then I become responsible for doing something about it.

    On the upside, I’ve found that if you are honest about whatever the problem is, and show people that you’re taking responsibility for it — perhaps developing tools and learning coping methods to reduce difficulties for yourself and otheres — they’re often inclined to help you.

    And they might be more forgiving of those times when, despite your best efforts, your ADD (in my case) manifests itself again.

  3. I’ll always remember him for “George Bush Dosen’t Like Black People:

  4. Thank you T, for this very very informative post – Not only has it increased my compassion for Kenye , but also myself. Indeed many of us compensate, never know what exactly our problem is – but have this odd feeling that something is not quite right and much of it , no matter what our intentions , slips seemingly out of our control – Maybe today Kenye and so many of us that suffer and cause suffering or at the very least mystifying people (as to what our problem exactly is) will be able to do better with this insight. As you also mention , many of us don’t have the funds for a full neurological work up. Me i was always cynical about the diagnosis of Adult ADD/ADHD – not anymore. My own life has been one mostly of compensation but that lasts only so long, also there was a birth injury (forcep birth) Its a wonder i have made it mostly in one piece , to my 50’s…

    thank you !

  5. I too can easily identify with Kanye’s outburst as a kid who suffered from the social awkwardness that accompanies ADD for almost 15 years without any explanation. (Of course, mine was never on a scale like this but if given a mic and a national audience…)

    I’m years away from a PhD and I have no personal interactions with Ye so I won’t pretend to be able to diagnose anything about him or anyone else but there are some pretty telltale signs he leans towards the impulsive side on the self-control scale.

    A diagnosis isn’t an excuse, just an explanation.