If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, seek professional medical help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available with trained professionals, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (1-800-273-8255).
My best friend in high school tried to kill herself on my nineteenth birthday. But for passersby on the bridge, she likely would have been successful. Finding out I almost lost her tortured me for years; how could I be so close to someone, but have absolutely no idea she was dealing with something so serious?
I am not writing this piece because I think that my experiences are any more important than another’s.
I am not writing about this because I think I have all of the answers.
I am writing this because I believe with my entire being that the stigma our society places on depression and suicide needs to end (like, yesterday). It wasn’t until I started sharing my own experiences that I began to realize how many people in my life have silently dealt with their own demons. It was jarring to realize loved ones who I thought were the happiest souls on the planet had experienced similar periods of tortured darkness and hopelessness to my own.
Personally, I’ve found myself in the throes of suicidal depression a few times in my short twenty-something years. The first time I experienced the beginnings of it was when I was younger and got bullied nearly every day at school about my height, appearance, and academic abilities. (I had curly hair, freckles, and got good grades before it was cool). I wouldn’t call it “suicidal” then, but it definitely was a heavy onset of depression to the point that I’d beg my parents to let me stay home “sick” any opportunity I got, and at one point, the taunting was so bad I tried to fail out of school. That plan didn’t exactly work out, as I’ve been in school almost twenty years since then; thanks, Mom and Dad.
As far as “grown-up” experiences, I seriously considered ending everything when I got raped in college, and then again when I was diagnosed with a chronic health condition during law school following a traumatic experience. Both times I became consumed with this unfathomable guilt for being alive. I was inconsolably unhappy with my past and felt undeserving of a future.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with discussing the tangible reality of depression, and how, for some, it can escalate to become something more permanent. The second you acknowledge this phenomenon exists, you’re already bringing about positive change. There are so many people who feel ashamed, embarrassed, uncomfortable, whatever it may be, about having these conversations. I know I have and it’s a huge reason why I want to get people talking about it.
Personally, I think talking about it has helped me find strength in making those moments of helplessness a part of my past and something I will do everything in my power to not let get the best of me, if and when those feelings resurface in my future.
I hope my words can help someone out there who might feel like they’re dealing with this alone. You’re not. Let’s start the conversation that mental health is just as, if not more important, than physical health. The two are inextricably connected; so if you start taking better care of your mind, you’ll probably notice a huge difference in your body (e.g. sleep, eating, energy, and mood).
This isn’t to say that issues like this can be solved overnight though. For many of us, we will spend a lifetime acknowledging our demons exist, but learn to create support systems to catch us if we fall into old habits. If I haven’t scared you away already, please keep reading.
“She was quick and curious and playful and strong.”
Katherine Noel Brosnahan (“Kate Spade”), 12/24/62-6/5/18
This is a well-known Kate Spade quote. You’ll find it painted across the walls of many of its flagship stores. You’ll find it printed on cardstock inserts carefully tucked in their packaging. You’ll find it etched onto bracelets that girls, like myself, wear proudly because we aspire to be that girl; that strong woman who inspires curiosity and creativity in ourselves and others, with seamless grace and effortlessness.
Known for her whimsical designs and bold colors, Kate Spade’s eponymous brand quickly rose in the 1990’s to become a staple in American fashion. In the days following her death, there was a flurry of articles that tried to parse together a sound reason why such an accomplished and talented designer would want to end her life at 55.
From outward appearances, she had so much to live for and celebrate: fame, fortune, a beautiful family. But for anyone who’s dealt with mental health head-on (whether that be yourself, a loved one, or someone else in your life), you know these things mean nothing when you’re tortured in ways others cannot see.
I want to preface that suicide is not “an easy way out” or a “coward’s choice.”
Since her death, news outlets have tried to pinpoint why she did what she did. Some say it was a mix of anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder that she didn’t want to publicly treat because “sad” things like that don’t resonate with the “happy” brand she’d spent years creating. Others say it was marital problems with her spouse of 24 years.
To be completely honest, I’d be surprised if she didn’t have anything stressful going on in her life. We all struggle with things; just some of us don’t hashtag and upload the shitty moments. That’s why a lot of people call social media a “highlight reel,” because who wants to look at posts about panic attacks, divorce, miscarriage, and other “sad” things.
But whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says suicide is the tenth leading cause of death, and the reality is suicidal depression can make itself known in someone’s life without warning or provocation. I read an article about Kate that said it was unfathomable how someone so colorful could exist in such a dark place, but from my own experiences, suicide only feels like a viable option when you feel like your world is closing in on you and you don’t want to burden the loved ones you’ll ultimately leave behind.
Your world may not literally “be closing in” on you, but a quote I’ve held close when I’ve found myself in situations where it feels like it is, is “this is a permanent solution to a temporary situation.”
It never felt like a temporary situation to me in those moments, but each and every occasion I felt backed into a corner, with enough time, a door appeared; that, or I saw the situation from a different perspective and was able to come up with other solutions for whatever my problem was.
If you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist, right? WRONG. So damn wrong.
The issue with depression, suicide, and other mental health-related conditions in our society is that people hardly talk about them, and when they do, it’s almost always in a negative light.
If you had a broken arm, your friends would tell you to go to the doctor to get it fixed, right? I’d hope your answer would be yes, because most people would need that arm reset and casted so it could heal properly. Mental health should be looked at the same way – seek the treatment you need, stick to it, and create a system of people that help you stay accountable.
The difficult reality, though, is that most people refuse to acknowledge mental health is something that needs treatment, and oftentimes just sweep it under the rug and hope it never rears its ugly head ever again. Whether it’s talking about what happened to Kate Spade, a family member, or your own internal demons, I think it’s futile to not address the impact stress and societal expectations have on our own mental wellbeing.
Maybe for some people the sweeping method works; but for most of us, it only exacerbates the anxiety and dark thoughts because they go unnoticed and untreated.
I remember when I first used to have really bad panic attacks, I thought it was all my fault. I couldn’t understand how my mind could reel to such dark places; I had a happy family life. I was doing well in school. I had friends. What gave? I changed my diet. I exercised every day. I tried a gaggle of healthy supplements. I practiced daily positive thinking and meditation.
I DID IT ALL AND I WAS STILL SUFFERING
(albeit silently; those close to me had no know idea what I was dealing with).
I kept blaming myself until I took a genetic test that showed my brain chemistry was imbalanced. It wasn’t something herbal teas and magnesium supplements could fix. It was in that moment I realized the first step to dealing with my mental health was to let go of my type-A need to control everything and put my faith in trained professionals.
I fought them. I went off my pills cold-turkey one Thanksgiving (I know, pun-tastic) and the withdrawals were REAL. Like, night sweats so bad it looked like I peed the sheets. Crazy headaches that lasted for days. Uncontrollable irritability (you could say I was like a mini-hulk without the green complexion). The list of random (but not so random when I remembered I hadn’t weaned off the meds like a doctor would have insisted I do) symptoms was ridiculous.
I thought it was stupid. Why wasn’t I like my friends who didn’t need medication or therapy? Well, once you acknowledge everybody is a little different and everyone’s brain makeup is different than your own, it gets a little easier to accept the idea that asking for help isn’t a bad thing.
While I no longer need medication to cope with my symptoms today, I know if and when I’m ever in that dark place again, it is an option that helped me when everything else didn’t. Talking to a trained professional(s) also helped tremendously; they aren’t your friend or family member or coworker. That person is there to be your sounding board and help you work through whatever you may be going through.
The best piece of advice I got about therapists is – the first one you go to may not be the right one for you. I remember right after my PTSD diagnosis, I went to this guy who spent our entire session tapping his pen and telling me I wasn’t trying hard enough to work through what had happened to me. I left the session in tears and begged my mom to help me find a different one, and we did, and it made the WORLD of difference.
I’m not trying to preach therapy and meds, but if you’re actually dealing with this, please seek resources and help from people who treat this professionally. A huge reason why I’m here today is because I swallowed my pride that “I knew better” and sought help from others who knew more than I did about dealing with this.
Our society needs to distance itself from blaming external causes for suicide. The truth of the matter is mental health is something more people should talk about. The first time I really noticed open discussions about mental health was in law school, probably because it beat the shit out of us and many of my friends (myself included), had at least one (or ten) breakdowns in the three years we were there. It shouldn’t have taken until my mid-twenties to have my first open and authentic conversations about mental health with my friends. This should be something kids can openly talk about with their parents, young adults with their friends, and students with their teachers.
One you start the conversation that mental health is something almost everyone deals with in one capacity or another (be it themselves or someone they know), the stigma about getting help and treatment fades away.
Think about it – HIV and AIDS weren’t talked about initially in the 1980s and 90s because it was taboo to talk about; now it’s common place to get tested for STDs when you’re with a new partner (or at least I hope it is; if not, GOOO GET TESTED!).
I was going to publish this post shortly after Kate’s death, and then the news of Anthony Bourdain broke. Two magnanimous souls gone in a matter of three days. What gives?
Again, from the outside looking in, Tony had it all too – a loving girlfriend, a beautiful daughter, a very successful show and slew of other cooking accomplishments (he’d won almost every award possible in the world for a chef); what did he have to be sad about?
Some articles have said he was a recovering drug addict, so maybe he relapsed. Others have said his filming schedule for “Parts Unknown,” which he was amidst filming at the time of his death, was so rigorous, it left very little time for him to decompress after the cameras turned off. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. He was suffering in one way or another.
In an interview, Antony Bourdain remarked how he would find himself “in an airport, for instance, and I’ll order an airport hamburger. It’s an insignificant thing, it’s a small thing, it’s a hamburger, but it’s not a good one. Suddenly I look at the hamburger and I find myself in a spiral of depression that can last for days.”
Anthony Michael Bourdain, 6/25/56-6/8/18
I think this is a really powerful quote, because it juxtaposes how something so pedestrian and mundane as a shitty airport burger can inexplicably manifest into something much more serious like suicidal depression.
If you’re still reading this, I hope this all makes sense. That’s probably ironic, because to many, the mere concept of suicide is unfathomable. Why would anyone want to end their life before it’s actually over?
American novelist, David Foster Wallace, puts it well:
“The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e., the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
This is me sharing my story and telling you sometimes the flames will singe you. They will make you want to jump without delay, but don’t. You need to hang on a little longer.
You’re not doing it for anyone else but yourself, but that’s enough.
You are enough…and I bet you, in a year, five years from now, your story could help someone else hold on a little bit longer when they don’t believe in themselves.
I know it did for me.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (comprehensive list of organizations for help about: drug/alcohol, anxiety, bipolar, borderline personality, cutting, depression, eating disorders, emotional health, schizophrenia, stress, and suicide)
International Suicide Resources (hotlines and country-specific organizations)
Project Semicolon (American mental health non-profit with suicide prevention emphasis)
SAVE (Suicide Voices Voices of Education; American non-profit with suicide prevention emphasis, grief support, survivor coping resources, and a peer support program)
Suicide Prevention Resource Center (links national organizations with resources around the US)
Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program (Non-profit network that educates and brings awareness about suicide in youth, teens, and young adults)
This is by no means an exhaustive list of resources; it’s just to provide a baseline that there are people and organizations out there with FREE help; you just have to ask for it.
If you have another organization you’d like me to add to the list, please let me know!