Talk, Listen, Respond, Repeat

It’s been a tough week. Two high-profile suicides in the span of a few days that have wrecked a lot of hearts around the world, including my own. I couldn’t let this week go by without using this platform as a means to spread awareness about mental health. So if you are one of those, the ones who wear a cloak of invisibility when confronted with the harsh reality of addiction, anxiety, depression, or other forms of mental illness, please stay, but leave the cloak at the door. Shit’s about to get real.

On Tuesday we lost one of the most recognizable names in fashion, Kate Spade. Every girl growing up where I lived had a Kate Spade backpack purse, a Kate Spade wallet, a Kate Spade everything. To me she symbolized bright color, bold femininity, and loud confidence. At the ripe age of 13, a Kate Spade purse made me feel like a woman. What I never knew was that this same woman who burst onto the fashion scene with Scotch-taped paper designs and turned them into a booming handbag brand also battled anxiety and depression. Her family knew about it, she talked to some friends about it, but it was not enough. On Tuesday it cost her her life.

Today we lost one of the brightest minds in the culinary and cultural world, Anthony Bourdain. He is known for traveling all over the world, mingling with presidents and street vendors, using a plate of food to pull a treasure trove of stories from deep inside strangers who quickly turned into friends. He was quoted once saying,

“If you sit down with people and just say, ‘Hey, what makes you happy? What do you like to eat?’ They’ll tell you extraordinary things.”

For years we were able to reap the benefits of those beautiful conversations made possible by a man who allowed food to do what it does best: bring people together.

My favorite description of him came from CNN’s Chief International Correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, on Twitter today, when she described Bourdain as “deeply, deeply human.” What an authentically moving testimony of an authentically lived life.

But his life was not all culinary dreams and cultural pursuits. He battled an addiction to cocaine and heroin, and though he managed to outrun his habits for a while, it was not enough. Today it cost him his life.

While Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain are exceptional losses, they are not an anomaly. According to an article released by NPR yesterday, “Suicide rates have increased in nearly every state over the past two decades, and half of all states have seen rates increase by more than 30%.” This is reality. The numbers don’t lie.

I reached out to three people in my life who have battled one or more of the big three, and I asked them to share a little bit about what it looks like, what it feels like, to suffer from a mental health issue. I can’t express enough my admiration for their immediate willingness, humble bravery, and complete transparency. They will remain anonymous below, not by fear of being known, but for the purpose of providing a glimpse into mental health with no strings attached, no background information, just the facts.

Addiction:

“Addiction wasn’t part of my life plan. I grew up in a happy home with two wonderful parents and was on the path to success until my freshman year of college, when I discovered Adderall. Over the course of four years, I lost most of my friends, found myself in a severely unhealthy relationship, and lost 45 pounds. I abused prescription after prescription. My dependence morphed itself into an addiction to not only Adderall but also Xanax and alcohol. I was no longer the goofy, sweet, loving person who people knew me to be. I was a shell of myself: isolated, violent, numb. I saw demons. I didn’t care about my future, only where my next fix was coming from. After college I tried many, many times to break free of my habits. Although I made slight progress, most of my efforts were to no avail. I ended up overdosing four different times. Although suicide wasn’t my goal, I genuinely couldn’t keep myself from taking all those pills. I had zero control.

My last overdose consisted of me taking 60 Xanax and washing it down with alcohol. I knew I was lucky to come out alive. I knew I needed a change or I would die. So, for the first time, I became willing. I became willing to go to an AA meeting every day for my first 90 days of sobriety. I became willing to get a sponsor and actually listen to what she told me to do. I became willing to give my life over to my God. And I haven’t looked back since. God LITERALLY has taken away my desire to drink and do drugs. Like, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! That is NOTHING short of a miracle. I continue to go to meetings three times a week. I have been clean and sober coming up on a year in August.

There is hope. There is a way out. You just have to be willing to find it.”

Anxiety:

“Sometimes it feels like you’re dying, like your organs are actually failing. Other times it feels like you’re trapped—it’s as if you get claustrophobic in your own body. It’s not rational; it’s terrifying. And when you finally come out of it, you feel like you’ve run a marathon, but you’re confused as to how you made it to the finish line.”

Depression:

“I would never use the term sadness to describe depression. Depression is not sad. Depression is black, empty. It’s a deep, dark hole with no way out. It can make you feel like the smallest person in the world, underserving of every ounce of your life, whether it’s in regard to your marriage, career, happiness, or even your own right to these dark emotions. You feel inadequate, incapable of even the smallest tasks like cleaning your house or making a phone call. It makes you doubt your self-worth; it makes you self-destruct. It breeds isolation. It’s quicksand.

I’ve learned we each only have so much resilience in ourselves. We can’t be the hero of every single chapter in the book of our lives. Part of succeeding is being vulnerable, accepting that you are flawed, that you are imperfect, that you are a human being with weaknesses, and that sometimes you need help. It can become a habit to put on a suit of armor every time you walk into the office, the house, the party, etc., but when you are open and honest with others, when you talk and when you listen, it allows everyone to be open and honest, it allows everyone to be human, and we all become stronger because of that.”

The stigma around mental health silences those seeking treatment and dismisses the authority they should have to ask for help in fighting their own inner battles. By ignoring the existence of mental illnesses, we eliminate any possibility of treating them.

We can do better; we must do better. It is a choice of empathy, compassion, patience, understanding, support, love, and kindness. We all could use more of that.

If you are battling addiction, anxiety, depression, or any form of mental illness, you are not alone.

There is a way out. There are hands to hold. There are ears to listen. There is love to be felt. There is life for you yet. Please, choose it.

If you or a loved one is suffering from suicidal thoughts or actions, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8355).

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