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Kid Cudi's 'Pursuit of Happiness' Still Helps Me Cope With My Mental Illness

Kid Cudi’s ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ Still Helps Me Cope With My Mental Illness

“Pursuit of Happiness” became an anthem for kids growing up with mental illness; like perhaps one day we, too, could find happiness. 

CW: suicide mention

By Raven Clark

I’ve recently discovered that a good way to measure my personal growth is to listen to the same music I did as a child and teenager. Maybe it could be useful for you too; the music will probably carry a different meaning to you now. The same song that used to make you cry could carry absolutely no weight anymore, because you’ve healed from the pain that once connected you to it. 

Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare)” was released in 2009 as part of his album, Man on the Moon: The End of Day. At the time of its release, I was only a 13 year-old kid who had just started showing symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as Bipolar Disorder—a mood disorder that consists of manic highs and depressive lows. It’s no secret that this album is about Kid Cudi’s battles with depression and substance abuse, as so much of his music is, and the recent Man on The Moon III: The Chosen continues his story. 

The emotions in “Pursuit of Happiness” were so raw. It became an anthem for kids who were growing up with mental illnesses; like perhaps one day we, too, could find happiness. It became the song that defined my “coming of age” story.

I'm on the pursuit of happiness and I know
Everything that shine ain't always gonna be gold (hey)
I'll be fine once I get it, get it in, I'll be good

I’m on the pursuit of happiness… but happiness was a foreign concept to me in my teens and early twenties. I wasn’t certain that I would ever be happy. I never realized how big of an impact that mental illness had on me until recently; I looked back on the “wild days” of my late teens and early twenties and realized just how much it affected me. Growing up with mental illnesses is traumatizing. I appeared to be happy, or at least okay, to the people around me, but I wasn’t. 

Stereotypes about people with mental illness say that we can’t function and our lives are a mess. Sometimes that’s true, and that’s okay too, but it’s not always the case. Stereotypes about disabled people say that there is something wrong with us that needs to be fixed. However, our disabilities and/or mental illnesses cannot be “fixed” because there is nothing wrong with us. It took me so long to come to that conclusion. 

Tell me what you know about dreams (dreams)
Tell me what you know about night terrors nothin'
You don't really care about the trials of tomorrow,
Rather lay awake in the bed full of sorrow

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Growing up, I dreamt of the day that my mental health problems would finally be solved. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely how things work. It wasn’t until I was 21 years-old that I received a bipolar diagnosis and began taking medications for my symptoms. I thought that moment would be the end of my struggles, but that just wasn’t the case; finding the right cocktail of medications and the right kind of cognitive therapy is difficult. Even with medication and therapy, manic or depressive symptoms, as well as anxiety, will still occur. 

The hardest pill for me to swallow was that there is no “cure” for my troubles. This will be my reality for the rest of my life. I can’t speak for every person with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses, but for me there was definitely a grieving period for all of the things I wasn’t able to do and might not be able to do in the future, and that’s valid. On the other hand, each and every person on this earth experiences life in a different way, and not everyone is capable of doing everything. The stigma surrounding disabilities hides the fact that just because someone is unable to do, or struggles with, some things doesn’t mean they can’t excel at other things.  

Crush a bit, little bit
Roll it up, take a hit
Feeling lit, feeling right
Two AM, summer night, 

I avoided my bipolar symptoms and trauma. I self-medicated almost to the point of self-destruction. I partied to keep my demons at bay. I was out of control. I was self-destructive because I thought I was supposed to be a wreck of a human being. 

Anyone living with a disability and/or chronic illness knows that non-disabled people often feel sorry for us. They assume that because we have disabilities, our lives must really suck. I punished myself for not being able to keep up with my peers in life. But I finally learned that I could not cope with my life while holding on to guilt and shame about it.   

People told me slow my roll
I'm screaming out fuck that 
I’ma do just what I want
Lookin ahead, no turning back

Slowing down was never part of my plan growing up. I only went faster and faster as I got older. “Live fast, die young” was my motto. When life feels abysmal, like a constant downward spiral, there is no slowing down. It was partially rebellion; rebellion against everything and everyone I had known, and against a society that told me I wasn’t good enough because of my mental illness. 

My perception of the future was gloomy and hopeful at the same time. Every single day I looked hopefully towards a future where I was finally healthy. I knew that I never wanted to come back to what I had experienced in my younger years. Receiving my diagnosis of bipolar disorder at 21 years-old finally gave me the answers that I was looking for. 

This is my life and I’m the only one who can make the most out of it on my pursuit of happiness, regardless of my situation. 

If I fall if I die
Know I lived it to the fullest
If I fall if I die
Know I lived and missed some bullets

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Bipolar disorder can be a deadly disease for many different reasons. According to research, it has been estimated that between 25-60% of individuals with Bipolar disorder will attempt suicide at least once in their lifetime, and between 4-19% will complete suicide (Frank et. al. 2010). It is a very debilitating disorder that leaves people absolutely drained from the ups and downs. Researchers have also observed a reduced life expectancy for people diagnosed with severe mental illness(es) due to increased likelihood of developing somatic health problems (Anderson et. al. 2019).  

People like me with severe mental illnesses are aware that it just might kill us one day. Life is especially harsh; although, some days are better than others. We do the best that we can with what we have at the time, and hope that it’s enough to see another day. Regardless of my chronic illness, I can manage to live a full life. 

I'm on the pursuit of happiness and I know
Everything that shine ain't always gonna be gold (hey)
I'll be fine once I get it, get it in, I'll be good

At 24 years-old, “Pursuit of Happiness” makes me cry tears of joy. It helps me to realize just how far I’ve come—that, not only is happiness attainable for me, but I am genuinely experiencing it right now. 

We’re all searching for happiness, but for some people, happiness may be a little harder to find. For those of us who grew up with disabilities or chronic illnesses, happiness may have felt like a distant dream. I struggled with school, extra curriculars, family, friends, and taking care of myself in general. I tried my best to keep my mental illnesses contained so that they wouldn’t affect others, but that’s just not realistic or fair.  

Now I know that being mentally ill doesn’t make me a burden, and that I deserve support just like anyone else. I deserve love just like anyone else. There is nothing wrong with the way that I am, and I am finally happy. 

Raven Clark is a Black woman and recent graduate from Allegheny College, where she studied political science and music. She is just now beginning her professional writing career and is excited for what the future has in store for her.

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