A Celebrity’s Mental Health Crisis, Meets the Gift of Compassion


By Robyn Williams

I know what it feels like to struggle with deep bouts of depression. I know what it feels like to constantly push past the pain of emptiness. I know the impact of forcing oneself to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, because there is no alternative and no safety net. You keep going because you realize the cavalry is not coming. You are on your own, and you’re left to get your own prayers through.

My mother was 83 when she passed away from dementia. Although I thought I had closure, the pain of living without her threatened to take me under. There were days and weeks when the grief was unbearable; times when it left me mentally unbalanced. Still, I kept mustering my way through, smiling on the outside, dying on the inside. Why didn’t I seek professional or medical help? Why didn’t I ask for an intervention? Subconsciously, I feared the stigma associated with mental health illness. 

That was eight years ago. And although the passage of time has eased the pain of my grief, I still have moments when I grieve painfully hard for my mother. I have no doubt that if there was one person on this planet who loved me unconditionally, it was she. Unmatched and unrivaled, a mother’s love can be a warm embrace. My mother’s embrace was full of hope, acceptance and it harbored no judgment.

It is because of the fierce, unapologetic forcefulness of a mother’s unabashed love that I whisper the name of a former friend’s son: Kanye West. Whenever I read about Kanye’s latest antics; whenever I’m left shaking my head after hearing him wax poetic about his infatuation with #45; when I’m left speechless over his ill-informed remarks about African American heroine Harriet Tubman…I remember this one thing: The power of a mother’s love, and the levels of grief one can suffer without it.

In full disclosure, I knew his mother, Donda West well, long before Kanye came into his superstar status. I’ll never forget being invited by her to visit them when they traveled to China, and I will forever cherish the letters and postcards she sent me during their time overseas. What I can attest to is that Donda loved Kanye with immense passion, and with all her heart. She believed in him, and all she wanted for him was that he be happy and fulfilled. That is the essence of a mother’s love, and it belies comparison. But for Kanye, it’s gone now. All he is left with are fond remembrances of a dear woman who guided him and loved him unconditionally.

I believe that Kanye’s still seeking to fill that massive void. Complete with his own wife, children, family and entourage, he keeps putting one foot in front of the other. Nonetheless, unaddressed grief has a way of following us, swallowing us whole if we try to deny its existence. Some say Kanye has father-figure issues, and that may very well be true. But my personal belief is that Kanye has, among other things, grief issues. He misses and still grieves deeply for his mom—that one person who gave him the gift of life and longed only for his happiness and personal growth.

I can relate to that. That is why in lieu of derision and condemnation, I intercede on behalf of Kanye and offer him the gift of compassion. I implore others to do the same. As Kanye moves through grief to wholeness, may our collective compassion and spirit follow him. 

Robyn Williams is a Chicago-based, best-selling writer and author whose work has been featured in ESSENCE, Emerge, Heart & Soul, EBONY and EBONY MAN magazines. For more information, visit her website at www.robynwilliams.com.