Handbag maven Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain have both died from suicide this week. Very sad. Any death by suicide is sad and touches my heart.
The usual “if you’re depressed, please get help” noises have been made. Someone I follow online has angrily and rightfully reminded us that sometimes the help people need, well, it’s me. They need an ear or a babysitter so they can get a break for a while or a place to take a shower or someone to bring dinner over. There is real concrete help that we can give each other, that might just be the break someone needs, or the reminder that their life is valuable.
Here’s another thing. When successful people commit suicide, the response tends to be, “They had everything to live for, they must have had problems we don’t know about.” Odds are, the problem they had was depression. When life is good, when things are going well, when there is no obvious cause (grief, for example, or stress) and you still feel like life is not worth living, well that’s depression. That’s pretty much the definition of depression.
Sure there are things you can do to combat depression. You can take medicine if you’re so inclined (I take it myself). You can try prayer or meditation or biofeedback. Physical activity is good. Being sure you are properly fed and hydrated is good. Do some things that you enjoy, for me that would be making art or spending time with my cats. Be kind to yourself. Socialize if that helps, spend time alone if that’s better for you. Be sure that you are doing what’s better not simply what’s easier; easier could reflect your energy level which is likely low when you’re depressed. Sometimes you have to make the effort. Not always, but you know for yourself when you’re just too overwhelmed and when you really could do it. Balance, balance, balance. Not pushing yourself too hard to socialize but not isolating either.
Depression is when getting out of bed seems like too much. Have you ever had a flu so bad that you are just physically worn out and it feels like your brain isn’t working? You don’t need any stimulation, just breathing is enough? Depression feels like that. You just don’t want to do anything. Only it’s worse, because the illness lies to you. With nothing to distract you, you find yourself thinking what a failure you are, how socially awkward you are, that you are all alone and will be alone forever. Why am I here? I am useless. I am a drain on people. I can’t even take a shower. I wish this was over.
And often “I wish this was over” feels like “I wish I was dead”. The idea of being dead feels like a relief.
I’m thinking of my ex husband, who also completed a suicide, about 2 years ago. His life looked good. He was married to a woman who loved him, he had a nice house full of children, he was driving a Porsche, he had a job he enjoyed. What’s not to be happy about? Except he wasn’t. His relationship with his daughter was strained, he was searching for his place in an industry that was changing around him, he’d had to file bankruptcy with his second wife, he felt his financial responsibilities keenly. And he was bipolar. So the stresses that make life difficult met his depression and he couldn’t see his way out of it. I believe he could have handled the stresses if he hadn’t become depressed, though I also believe the stress exacerbated the depression. For him it was a deadly cocktail of emotion, one that felt like there was only one way out. But really I am speculating. I can only guess, I will never know what was actually going on for him and I choose to believe the thing that gives me sympathy for him.
Why guess at all? Because suicide is such a drastic solution and to a person who is not depressed, it seems like life is not that bad. Maybe it’s not good but it’s still worth living. And with these two famous people dying so close together, we are looking for answers. We want to know why. We can’t know why, because each suicide has a different root cause. So we are shocked and saddened. We think, if that fabulous life was not worth living, what about my average life? I have it worse than they did. Maybe, but your inner self is probably resilient in a way theirs wasn’t.
Because the opposite of suicide is resilience, the ability to bounce back. Bad things happen to people, to all people, but many of us manage to get along anyway. I have a friend who says I am an inspiration because of all the times life has kicked me in the teeth and still I keep going. I don’t feel inspirational. Sometimes I feel like quitting. But what I am is resilient. I am an optimist at heart. For all the times I’ve battled depression, I know it will pass and I don’t get suicidal. I’m lucky. And I work at maintaining that luck.
How do I do that? Well, that goes back to my list above. I try to eat and drink enough, to get the right amount of sleep, to exercise. Yeah, I suck at the exercise part of it, but I still try. I pet the cat and write letters, make art and visit friends. The things that make me happy. For me the meds are the biggest part, but not for everybody.
So that’s what I’m thinking. So long, Kate and Anthony. I believe we’ll see you again. I hope you found what you were seeking.