Yesterday, like many American women, I was shocked to hear of the death by suicide of iconic handbag designer Kate Spade. I’ve never owned a Kate Spade handbag, but I’ve salivated over more than a few. This woman, who built her own brand and business with her husband Andy in the 90s and sold it for an astronomical figure in 2007, was a household name: a professional success with a 24-year-marriage and a 13-year-old daughter.
And yet, mental illness.
I have been depressed before. I weaned my second child just before her 2nd birthday and then went back on the birth control pill. I had never had problems taking the pill before but had been off of it at that time for over five years. The combination of the hormone changes from stopping breastfeeding and starting the hormones of the pill WRECKED me – I was blindsided by a terrible depression I had never felt before, nor have I sense.
Meds. Trying another BC pill. And another. Another anti-depressant because the first one made me have chest tightness that sent me to the ER. Excruciating emotional pain. The thought of my kids needing me – and the FACT of my kids needing me – made me despair. Being needed was SO terrifying. Making a peanut butter sandwich or changing a diaper was so emotionally painful that it was physically painful. I know that sounds “crazy” – but this is mental illness I’m talking about. It was anything but rational, and it was every kind of painful. After my husband came home from work, I would run to my room and just hide there for the rest of the night. Tears were constant. Despair was my companion. I prayed and I prayed, but that didn’t fix it.
And yet, I never had a a suicidal thought. I had thoughts like “I don’t want to feel this way. I want this to end.” I would dread waking up in the morning, dread the despair that was to come. But I truly never thought of ending my life. That is just God’s grace and provision for me. I don’t know why it doesn’t go that way for everyone. I wish it did.
So even though I went through a year of this…I still can’t imagine the depth of Kate Spade’s pain. Surely she had all the financial resources to seek the very best in mental health care. But it wasn’t enough. Because, mental illness. Mental illness can trick you into believing that you’re not even WORTH seeking the care, that the care WON’T WORK, that trying to get better is IMPOSSIBLE.
Because I am a writer, I have a written record of some of that time. Almost nine years ago to the day I wrote this:
But the truth is I am tired. Tired of trying to get better, tired of waiting to get better, tired of not being better. Tired of feeling totally awesome for a couple of days and then the crushing disappointment of feeling the opposite of awesome the next day.
Getting better, my friends, was a long, hard, emotional rollercoaster, one that at times seemed never ending. When I read those words and the entire article that they were in, I have both an emotional and physical reaction to them. Tears spring to my eyes and my chest clenches. Just the thought of going back to that time inspires overwhelming anxiety.
I have so much empathy for Kate Spade, and my heart hurts SO BADLY for her daughter. I cannot imagine losing my mom at 13. My daughter is 11, and she needs needs needs me. I imagine she will even more so during her teen years. I pray Kate’s daughter can be surrounded by those who will tell her that her mother’s choice to leave her was not made by a healthy mind.
I wanted to tell my story to encourage you to seek help if you are struggling with depression. It is NOT your fault, and it is EVERY bit as deadly as any disease you could contract. For me, it took medication (I think I tried three before I found the right one) and the cessation of birth control pills for me to even begin to start to feel better. After about a year, I felt more like myself again. When I became pregnant with my third child, I was able to wean myself off of my medications and on the other side of that pregnancy, I never needed them again. But, I got my tubes tied at age 33 because I did not ever want to have to even consider taking birth control ever again, and blood pressure problems in my last pregnancy also made me too scared to become pregnant again.
Last night, as I was perusing Facebook, reading status after status about Kate Spade, I read and shared this beautiful, haunting poem by mom, writer, and mental health advocate Bunmi Laditan.
The tweets regarding Kate Spade’s death are showing how much people still don’t understand mental illness. “Just goes to…
In the post accompanying the poem, she says,
The tweets regarding Kate Spade’s death are showing how much people still don’t understand mental illness. “Just goes to show you money can’t buy happiness.” “Just goes to show you money doesn’t cure heart disease.” See how silly that sounds? I’m not talking wealth disparities in treating mental illness, I’m talking viewing mental illness as a simple mood, emotion, or case of the sads that a box of chocolates and spa day can fix.
When people discuss suicide as morally wrong behaviour, it’s obvious they don’t understand mental illness. The brain, the part of the body that chooses suicide, is malfunctioning.
Getting help for mental illness while mentally ill is difficult because the part of the body that makes such decisions is sick. It’s like asking someone with a broken leg to walk to the hospital. Not always impossible, but very hard and not a matter of moral failure.
I am religious and understand that mental illness is a spectrum. One person being healthy enough to decide not to die is a place on the spectrum. Some people have the same convictions but still die because their sickness progressed beyond rational thought.
A person with strong morals who loves their family can die from suicide. Maybe that’s a hard pill to swallow but it happens every day.
There are people who think making suicide a moral issue and shaming those who fall victim is an effective method of prevention. WRONG. Mentally ill people already feel like crap. Shame only prevents them from speaking up and getting help which increases their risk of death.
It’s not your fault you’re sick. We want you to win this battle. We want you to stay. Tell us how we can help. Tell me how I can help. Fight with whatever you have left.
I’m obviously not a doctor, I speak only from experience in terms of what has helped me and harmed me. I don’t know anything about Kate Spade- whether she suffered from illness and how, but I hope her soul is at rest and wish healing for her loved ones. I’m only talking about this because when suicide makes headlines, my first thought is my mental struggling people, you’re my people.
I wrote a poem called “A Little Longer” and wanted to save it for a book of poetry about mental illness, but I want to share it now for anyone who’s struggling to be here.
Please fight for yourself.
Mamas, let me appeal to you. If you struggle with depression, tell yourself NOW, before it gets bad, that depression is a LIAR. Your kids need you to stay a little longer. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please say them OUT LOUD. Say them out loud to your doctor. Say them out loud to your husband, your sister, your mother, your best friend. Say them out loud to the Lord. Say them and then ask for HELP. Tell whoever you said them to, that you don’t want to give in.
Please, stay a little longer with us.