Summary: After the deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Space by suicide, it has led to led to a slew of reactions online. But as someone who has suffered from it, it can be difficult to see these running rampant across the Internet.
In elementary school, we were shown a video that depicted two people. One was a normal guy in high school and the other is suffering from depression and at risk of suicide. The only thing I remember from the video is that the depressed guy, rather than carrying how his hair looked, he just cut the lock that was sticking up. Apparently, a sign of depression to look for is random bald spots in teenagers who can’t be bothered to do their hair for school.
The topic of suicide has been everywhere in the last week. The world was shocked by a pair of celebrity deaths. Designer Kate Spade and Chef Anthony Bourdain both died of suicide. The reactions were swift and loud, and it has led me to retreat from the Internet until things calm down.
As someone who had struggled with clinically diagnoses anxiety issues, this hit close to home. The reason it hit so close to home? I have been in the same position and Spade and Bourdain – twice, in fact – when I was younger.
I have struggled with anxiety for a long time. A perfect mixture of self-worth and esteem issues and the ability to overthink EVERYTHING, usually pontificating on the worst possible outcomes, can lead to spiraling into some very dark places. It didn’t help that I never really had healthy or proper coping mechanisms. I would always isolate myself and, well, when left to my own devices, I would lean into less than healthy things.
Let’s be real: at times your twenties can be amazing. But it can also be a strange place to be in and when you aren’t great at coping, and also hate change with every fiber of your being, it can also get the best of you. At times, it can feel like the second coming of puberty as you try to move into adulthood and establish yourself.
I began going to weekly therapy sessions. But I was very clear with my therapist; I didn’t want to be placed on medication because I was worried about how the pills might affect my overall demeanor. When everything except for this one little part of you is pretty much perfect, why would you want to mess with it? Am I right?
Through my experiences, there are a few things that I have learned. These are things specific to my journey and I wouldn’t want to try to speak for anyone else or what they are going through.
Appearances Can Be Deceiving
You know how the neighbors on the news are always so shocked when the quiet person living next door gets arrested for chopping up 20 people? Well, the same can be said for those struggling with anxiety, depression, and having suicidal thoughts. We don’t walk around looking like Sadness in “Inside Out”. And despite what you might think, no amount of Tori Amos or Sarah McLachlan music can push someone over the edge.
Moreso, it’s a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness, which can be harder to detect. We are still able to laugh and we can put a mask on so that people might not be able to tell what is happening below the surface. Many people will comment about who the person is leaving behind and that it is selfish of them. But what they don’t understand, is when you’re at that place, you feel like they will be better off without you there.
Why Don’t We Just Reach Out
Over the last week, social media has flooded with people reacting to the suicides and offering supportive status updates. Most of the reactions are knee-jerk posts on social media, that are equal to politicians offering “thoughts and prayers” after every mass shooting.
With Kate Spade’s death, I was struck by how everyone was posting pictures of the items of hers that they owned and how those items made them feel. Personally, it made me feel icky. Although unintentional, these people were trying to pay tribute to the designer by making it about themselves. It was how they were made to feel, rather than how she must have been feeling.
The reaction from more than a few of my Facebook friends was to say “if you are feeling depressed, reach out to them because they’re a good listener.” Again, well-intentioned, but it misses the point. When I was at my lowest point, I didn’t want to bother anyone with my problems because I felt that no one would care and they had their own problems anyway. People who are struggling are trying hard enough to get through the day. We aren’t always able to think clearly as to reach out or even think that it might help.
There’s also the fear of what the reaction will be. Until now, I’ve only told two or three people. One of the people I told was completely dismissive. We were walking to see a movie when I told her I had something to tell her. So I blurted it out and just then her phone rang. She answered it and had a 15-minute conversation with her friend on the other line, whose boyfriend had just broken up with her. When the call ended, my friend turned to me and simply said, “Don’t do that again.” As if she was ordering me and I was to simply obey. We never said another word about it.
When you open up about a suicide attempt, you might as well be telling someone that you have Ebola. A lot of people want to help, but don’t know how. So, they end up treating you with kid gloves. As if you’re in the Serengeti and one false move or statement could get you swallowed whole by a hungry lion.
It’s also important to note that, this really is a difficult dance. We don’t reach out because we don’t think we are worth it or don’t want to bother anyone. But also, the responsibility shouldn’t be placed on anyone else. It’s not their fault if they don’t reach out. But if you truly are concerned about someone, or if you see them acting different, don’t wait for them to come to you. Even if they aren’t able to verbalize it at the time, they will be appreciative that you reached out.
I am lucky that I have come out the other side, unscathed. I woke up the next morning each time as if nothing had happened – which in itself can be quite confusing. I don’t want to say that I am “cured” because I don’t know if it is something that you ever fully able to recover from. But I have achieved contentment in life. Sure, I still go to some negative places at times, but I am a work in progress.
I’ve learned better coping mechanisms, like mindfulness, and listening to myself and warning signs. Because of this, there are times where I need to take a step back and friends will occasionally get upset that I am “being a shitty friend,” as one claimed a year or so ago when I needed to take a break for a bit. But I also know my limits and what I need to do to take care of myself.