Lean on your friends. It’s what we’re here for. You are not a burden.
When I heard about Kate Spade’s suicide, my knee jerk reaction was to say, “My heart goes out to her family.” Though well-intended, it felt too hollow and dismissive of something so tragic — and yet anything more personal felt wholly inauthentic, because I knew nothing of her beyond her iconic brand that I adore so much. To define her as something she moved on from [over a decade ago] only proves just how little I know of the woman behind the name; she is not a novelty bag or shoe, she is not a lifestyle brand. I can only assume how lonely, how polarizing a feeling it must be to have a household name but not be seen, to be dismissed as a “has it all” while struggling to cope with living. Because sometimes living is the hardest part, isn’t it? And yet, I know nothing.
And with the news of Anthony Bourdain, the larger-than-life, culinary diplomat and charming bad boy with oh-so-good taste — oof. I don’t personally know him either, but that one felt so close to home because he was in so many of our homes. He inspired us to try new-to-us foods, to walk in others’ shoes, to travel and explore parts unknown and to live beyond our self-imposed boundaries. To me and many others, he was the embodiment of life being lived to its fullest, stretched to its capacity in every direction: the highest of highs, the lowest of lows. His willingness to share made it feel as though we, too, were dining at his table. He was a friend we were eager to catch up with, to soak up his nomadic tales and culinary escapades for our vicarious pleasure. We rooted him on and he did the same for us (me, too). And yet, we know nothing.
Depression does not discriminate, and no two experiences are exactly alike. One may look like a Zoloft ad and one may look like a healthy, functional human being who seemingly has it all. We all have our struggles, and we all deal with them differently. It has often surprised people to know I’ve had a lifelong struggle with depression and anxiety, because I tend to compartmentalize it in a way that allows me to function — for the most part — and even when it’s really bad, I hole myself up and deal with it on my own. There are days when I physically can’t get myself out of bed, when it seems a perfectly sound decision to take permanent residence under the covers and soak in my own tears. There are also days when I force myself to get up and dressed and have lunch with my friends, and I’m perfectly happy and present in those moments, then come home and start that cycle all over again. There are days when I cannot function; there are days/weeks/months when I’m perfectly fine. I’ve learned to cope in a healthier, less destructive way because I received help at my lowest of lows, but it was difficult and embarrassing and still a learning process.
It wasn’t easy to admit I needed help, and it was even harder to ask for it — and when I think back on my lowest points, help usually came because the right people were paying attention and offered it when I needed it most. I’m incredibly grateful for that. Vulnerability is a learned state of being (for me). Quite frankly, I’m still too embarrassed to talk about depression with friends and family — and I’m one of the lucky ones who has the best support system a person can ask for. I can come up with many reasons not to talk to anyone, if I want to make excuses: because I can see it on someone’s face when they just don’t get it, or maybe I just don’t want to be a burden, or it’s just “easier” to go it alone when that feeling hits. Sometimes I need someone to break me open; I’m a tough nut to crack. Sometimes it feels worse to say it out loud. Sometimes it makes me feel silly, because sometimes my depression doesn’t have a reason. There are times when I have a legitimate, heavy-as-they-come personal problem that could bring the most resilient to their knees, and I handle it with grace. There are times when I just start crying out of nowhere and I cannot stop, cannot breathe, cannot feel my fingers and toes. There’s little logic to when and why I sink so low. You may (or may not, if you’re a longtime reader) be surprised to read this, since I tend to look pretty happy in my photos. I am happy. But I am also prone to depression, and the two are not mutually exclusive. It’s just not something that I love to document and put on display. Not because I’m trying to portray a picture-perfect image, but because some things are too painful, too difficult to explain, and I just want to keep it private. I don’t like living it, so why would I highlight and immortalize it? I’m only comfortable doing it now because I’m in a healthy state of mind. Though I know that won’t stick around forever, it feels more retrospective and less like stewing in my own melancholy. But I felt like it was important to discuss in this moment in time, just in case any of you are feeling alone. You are not alone.
We pay tribute to those who are no longer here to feel our kind words, to take them in and let them soothe whatever part of them is burning. We do to alleviate our own suffering: an arnica of platitudes for our guilty conscience, a heartfelt remembrance to temporarily fill their permanent void. We often wait until it’s too late to say all of the things we wanted to say — much like rushing to use the milk before its expiration date, only to find it has already curdled. This is not to say that withholding praise is the reason for one’s pain and suffering; nor is giving it the sole solution. But I often wonder why we wait, why we save tribute for the past-tense and withhold in the present. How often have you said or thought, “I wish I had the chance to say _____” or “I wish I spent more time with _____”? There’s no real closure in life, and death all but never comes wrapped in a pretty bow. But in this short, tempestuous, fickle, and often merely mundane time we have on Earth, you have to be mindful in the present — don’t wait until “I should’ve” rears its regretful head. Keep track of your loose ends. Reel them in if they’re important to you; cut them loose if they are killing you. Pay someone a compliment and mean it. Lend a peer your support and guidance and expect nothing in return. Call your family and tell them you love them. Schedule time with friends whose lives have gone down a different path from yours. Ask them how they are, and listen when they tell you. Lean on your friends and let them know they can lean on you. Hug your loved ones so tightly, and never leave the room or go to sleep on bad terms, if you can help it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t hesitate to give it.
Be kind to everyone you meet — it’s so much easier to choose kindness. You never know what someone is going through. Your kindness might just save their life. I can’t tell you how many times it has saved mine.
If you’re struggling, you are not alone. Talk to your friends, family, find a support group on the internet (something that helped me a lot when I was a teenager) — or call 1-800-273-TALK or text TALK to 741741 to speak to someone who can help.