In the past week, headlines have once again been focused on mental illness, depression, and shock, as the world reacts to the news of the passing of Kate Spade, followed 3 days later by Anthony Bourdain. For those of us that struggle through life on a daily basis, juggling bills and working too hard for not enough money, it reminds us that wealth and fame really don’t matter as much as we imagine they do.
- “If I could just afford a maid, maybe I wouldn’t be so tired and I could actually be nice to my husband and kids…”
- “If I had enough money to try some alternative treatments that insurance doesn’t cover, or even to get a second/third opinion, maybe I’d find some relief…”
- “How much better/easier would my life be if I was making a lot of money - and a household name besides - with my endless stream of ideas and designs?!”
The tragedy of Kate & Anthony's deaths, leaving behind young children (ages 13 &11 respectively), shows us that wealth and fame do not make everything better.
Most of us have at least an abstract awareness of this truth, but it does not stop us from thinking that it would be different if WE were the ones with the money. WE would handle it better. WE would do good things with it. WE wouldn’t let it affect our relationships.
But let’s forget about the money and fame for a few moments and talk about the deeper issues.
- Personality disorders.
Growing up I was taught that my attitude and feelings were either good or bad. Good attitudes and feelings included cheerful obedience, cheerfully sharing with my siblings, instantly and gladly forgiving people when they hurt me, and more.
Bad attitudes and feelings included things like sadness, hurt feelings, anger, depression, lust (what does that even mean to a little girl?!), anxiety, worry, and more.
Seeing as I’ve suffered from depression since I was a young child, I have always thought that there was something wrong with me. Growing up, I learned that I had a bad attitude.
No matter how hard I tried, I could not reach and maintain the standard of constant cheer that was expected to be considered a good girl.
I’ve lost track of how many times I sunk down into deep lows, thinking that the world would be so much better off without me.
I was in my mid-20’s when my father passed away. I was living on my own, working and supporting myself. I remember sitting in a routine physical and suddenly asking the doctor, “Is it normal to have times throughout the day when you can’t catch your breath?”
At that time I had a very caring, intuitive physician, and he began to ask gentle questions about my life. He knew I worked in an office and that trouble catching my breath had nothing to do with chasing kids or training for a marathon, as I was doing neither!
As he began to unearth the trauma of recently losing a parent, and my lifelong struggle with feelings of sadness, anxiety, inadequacy, and fear, he gently suggested that my brain chemistry might be unable to balance the enormity of my current circumstances, and that some medication - for a time - might help me find some balance and, quite literally, help me catch my breath.
I wasn’t really OK with medication but he didn’t really give me a choice. I tried it and gradually found that I could get through the days a little better. He also did some pulmonary function tests and confirmed that there was no breathing issue.
That was 13 years ago. Since then I have continued to wrestle with the fact that I am on medication for depression and anxiety. A year after I started it I asked him to wean me off because “it’s been long enough, I should be over it now.” (‘Cause, you know, it only takes a year to get over the loss of a parent.) Guess what. I wasn’t “over it.” Not that time, or the time after that. Or the time after THAT.
The last time I came off medication was about 2-3 years ago. I weaned down to the lowest dose and things seemed fine. The following week I went off it completely - and proceeded to cry every day for the next 10 days. And nothing “happened” in those 10 days that deserved daily tears, it was just my natural self, unable to find emotional balance. Thinking every day about how much better off the world would be without me in it. How much easier it would be to end the physical, mental, and emotional pain that was my life.
Thanks to my best friend, after 10 days I was gently reminded that maybe the medicine was a good idea. So I remain on a low-ish dose of medication, and am able to find more emotional balance. I feel the good stuff AND the bad stuff. But along with medication, I also have learned how to strengthen my mind. Kind of like someone who has lost a limb and chooses to get stronger to regain some quality of life.
There are functions of my brain chemistry that don’t do their job. Parts that are broken. Does this mean I am broken? In a way, yes, but not irreparably. I still have days when I sink down mentally, when I feel as though I am the entire cause of any issues with family or other relationships. When my brain tells me lies about my value in the world, and I begin to believe that it would all be so much better if I just wasn’t here.
I’ve learned that these days will always come. More importantly, I’ve begun to learn how to handle them without letting them break me. It’s a little like exercise. The more faithful we are at keeping our bodies strong, the better we can handle it when the day demands physical strength.
The same is true with our minds. The better we get at catching the lies, and processing and filtering our emotions, the better we can make it through those days when it is all too much and we want to sink into oblivion.
Negative emotions are not bad. They are symptoms. Hurt feelings mean something hurt us. It is our choice how we are going to respond. Anger usually indicates that we’ve experienced or witnessed injustice. It is our choice how we are going to respond. Depression, anxiety, and addiction are also indicators that something is wrong. It is up to us to have the courage to get to the root of it and deal with the true cause so that we can face another day.
The world IS better with you in it.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or others, or of taking their own life, please get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) provides free, confidential support 24/7 for people in distress. You can also text TALK to 741741, or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for help.