A paraphrased conversation I had with a friend a few months after –
losing someone special to me in a drunk driving accident,
then losing my belongings in a house fire two weeks later:
(It sucked. A lot)
Friend: “How are you?”
Me: “Not so good. I’ve been really depressed and sad about what happened.”
Friend: “Still?!? That was four months ago!”
(…Now feeling really shitty about feeling shitty.)
This dynamic sums up my emotional experience as a child.
There are reasons why I and people who’ve had similar experiences are:
“depressed all the time”
Experiencing trauma, abuse, neglect as a child —when your brain and sense of self are still developing—fucks with your head, people. It feels like your brain is shattered.
You don’t need to study psychology, neurology or any kind of -ology to understand that some of us have had really stressful, lonely, intense, fractured childhoods.
So, as adults, we’re going to be/feel really stressed, lonely, intense and fractured sometimes.
The impact of trauma is permanent. Memories, thoughts, and emotions of the trauma regularly circle in your head. Forever more.
This happens every day. This is what we carry and what we fight through, regardless of how we appear on the outside — Every. Day. !!
It doesn’t mean we can’t also be happy and funny and easy going. We go through life’s regular stresses like everyone else; at the same time, we’re expending as much energy on regulating our internal worlds.
Yeah. Exhausting AF.
We’re trying to keep the bad memories, thoughts and emotions from distracting us from the lives we’re trying to live. Sometimes they break us down.
The next time you see someone who looks, sounds or acts “crazy,” I ask that you consider what they might have experienced in childhood. Try to tap into the compassion and empathy you feel toward people you love and send them to this “crazy” person.
What happens in childhood doesn’t stay in the past. For as many fond and fun memories you may have, there are some of us who can match your stories with shitty ones that we spend so much time and energy trying to forget. The mere topic of childhood in conversation can elicit PTSD.
So, when you think someone gets “soo upset” when you say or do something seemingly innocuous or mundane, there’s a reason for it.
All you have to do is put your judgement down, ask and listen.
How the culture of silence around suicide and mental health is killing us
I don’t recall where I came across a portrait of Kate Spade yesterday morning. There was no headline or descriptor but I had a feeling that she had killed herself.
There’s something about the photos selected for news articles about famous people who end their lives. They’re usually a portrait. A portrait of just them, by themselves. Alone.*
(Why not use a family photo or one in which we can see Kate Spade in a joyous time of her life? Just a thought.)
Mental Illness is Not Like Other Health Conditions – Not.
I’ve known of Kate Spade but don’t know much about her.
When I saw the photo of her, I thought,
She’s a celebrity and in front-page news…suicide, I bet.
People are born fighting to live, to thrive. Our will-to-live is in our DNA.
So, why would someone choose to end their life?!
That’s a big question and one that can’t be fully explained nor understood with words.
I’ve been fighting to manage depression and anxiety for over 25 years; in that time, I experienced a series of traumatic events, so I can tell you what it’s like to live with a mind illness (AKA mental health illness). I prefer to use the word “mind” vs. “mental” but I use them both.**
Having a ‘mind illness,’ no mater the diagnosis, makes you feel CRAZY.
Think about it, when you feel heart palpitations, you notice it, acknowledge it, you tell someone — they worry and make you go to a doctor, hopefully.
You break a bone. Everyone — whether or not they’ve broken a bone — can see that you have a broken bone and that breaking a bone fucking hurts.
Or, you acquire a cough that lasts for weeks. It’s your body telling you that something is up and you should probably tell someone and check it out (please!)
…your actions and words, e.g. sleeping a lot, eating a lot or very little, canceling plans all the time, yelling random things in public etc.
These are the parts of your mind illness experience that are detectable, tangible. These are what we call “symptoms.” These are the ones we can see.
But these kinds of symptoms don’t tend to elicit empathy or compassion from others.
People walk away.
They stop sending you invitations.
They are angry and annoyed with you for always being late and/or grumpy.
You get written up at work for ‘problem behavior and performance’ (true story for another time.)
You’re called any combination of “lazy,” “crazy,” “nuts”, “insane,” “immature,” “weird,” “overly dramatic,” “attention-seeking,” “unfocused,” “hopeless.”
These are the things people with mental illness tend to experience on the outside.
On the inside, inside our minds. That’s where the pain lies. Invisible to everyone else but yourself.
And your culture tells you to keep your invisible pain a secret.
Yeah. Carry it with you fully on your own shoulders. Don’t be a burden on others.
Ssssh. Keep a still tongue and hide your pain. No one is going to understand you, anyway.
Pretend to be OK and exhaust yourself more fully trying to act and appear “normal.”
While you’re at it, feel shameful and guilty about having a mental health condition.
Seriously, What is Wrong With Us?!
In an article in The Kansas City Star, Kate Spade’s sister shares some insight into Spade’s history of internal turmoil:
“Kate Spade’s older sister [Reta Saffo] told The Star on Tuesday that her famous designer sister suffered debilitating mental illness for the last three or four years and was self-medicating with alcohol.”
She shares how her sister was fixated on the news of Robin William’s suicide and speculates that her sister began planning to kill herself at that time.
Yet, in the next breathe, she says about Kate Spade’s suicide, “[it] was not unexpected by me.”
This seemingly conflicting response is a symptom of our inability to talk about mental health issues, including sharing our personal experiences with mind illness.
We’ve come a long way since ‘lunatic asylums,’ but we still ostracize and oppress “insane people.” We stigmatize mind illness through assumption, judgement and silence, and it’s reflected in our disappointingly inept mental healthcare system.
Is the Image of Being OK More Important to Us Than Our Own Lives?
From the same article, ““Spade seemed concerned how hospitalization might harm the image of the “happy-go-lucky” Kate Spade brand, [her sister] said.”
I’m here to tell you that emotions and moods aren’t black and white. You can be “happy-go-lucky” and live with depression; they’re not mutually exclusive.
I’m saddened — and pissed off, frankly — that people choose to end their lives because they’re worried about how the public will view them, how their friends and family will view them.
Our cultural stigma around mental health is so disgustingly powerful. Do we really value holding up the image of feeling OK over taking care of ourselves?
No. I don’t think so either. So, let’s do what we can to change the culture around mind wellness. Brain health. Mental health. Whatever you want to call it.
Sometimes it’s not enough to have a support system and resources. Kate Spade had a loving family who were attentive and caring of her mental illness. She also had the means to afford top-notch treatment.
“…in the end, the ‘image’ of her brand (happy-go-lucky Kate Spade) was more important for her to keep up. She was definitely worried about what people would say if they found out.” — Kate Spade’s sister, Reta Saffo
Saffo went on to say, “Sometimes you simply cannot SAVE people from themselves!”
I disagree. I think we can. But it’s going to entail saving people from our culture of judgment and prejudice against mental illness.
Enough of losing lives to the concern over public opinion. No more treating heart issues with worry and understanding, and treating mind illnesses with fear and alientation.
We can absolutely change the culture around mind wellness through compassion, curiosity and openness.
I have hope that we can support and save people like Kate Spade, who have been victims of an antiquated and out-of-touch societal and systemic stigma.
Kate Spade, thank you for bringing fun fashion, vibrant color and glittery sparkle to this world.
And thank you to the many individuals, groups and coalitions out there who are promoting or providing advocacy and support of mind wellness. And thank you to those who make yourselves vulnerable by sharing your mental illness stories. You are saving lives.
Are you experiencing thoughts of suicide?
Having suicidal feelings or thoughts is normal but they’re a frightening and a sign that you need care and support — and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!
Do you suspect someone may be suicidal?
Often, people make vague worrisome statements or gestures alluding to ending things.
Connect with them.
Ask if they want to kill themselves.
One question could save their life.
Suicide Prevention Resources
Find a list of suicide hotlines around the world here.
(I volunteered with the Crisis Text Line and can vouch for their thorough counselors training and compassionate approach. These are people giving up their time to support strangers in need. Use them. They want you to!)
Losing people due to having a “mental illness”* is difficult to swallow but it happens. I’ve lost people in my life because of my “mood disorder.”
Sometimes it’s only in hindsight that you realize your behavior was XYZ, but it is NEVER your fault and there is NOTHING wrong with you.
What IS wrong is the tendency for people to distance themselves from or make snap judgments about a person who seems “crazy” or “weird” or awkward.
People who care for you will take care of your relationship with them. People who care for you will ask if you’re OK and if you need support. People who care for you don’t say things or ask you questions that make you feel “other.”
You are not an other and you are not alone. 💖
Have you experienced loss due to your mind illness? How did people in your life respond to your mood disorder? What’s your experience?
Image courtesy of A Rich Mind (@mentalwhealth) via Instagram.
*in quotes because I think most of the clinical terminology we use is stigmatizing in the brain health world.
Tangie is a nickname for “Tangerine Dreams” – a track on the EP. This collection of songs depicts a rollercoaster of different musical emotions and inspirations and was designed to feel like a layer-revealing tour of how Foxy Apollo feels and embraces the expression of music. (Sam Ashkenazy)
The gentleman of Foxy Apollo, Sam Ashkenazy (vocals, guitar, bass) and Satchel Schwartz (drums), have an announcement:
Foxy Apollo is dropping a new EP, “Tangie.” (!)
“Tangie” is a collection of songs written, produced and recorded entirely by Ashkenazy and Schwartz.
When I sat down with Sam and Satchel a few months ago, I was struck by how attentive, inquisitive and thoughtful they are. It’s part of what makes their music so good.
In our interview, they talked about self-analysis and how it’s a key part of their creative and emotional processes, and it’s apparent in their lyrics.
“Tangie” is wrought with self-reflection and shared thoughts about life’s trials and tribulations.
Wanna get a taste of “Tangie”?
Click play on the Soundcloud player above and check out my song notes below!
The gents of Foxy Apollo seamlessly weave their crafts together in this funkified tune that has elements reminiscent of one of my favorite albums as a child, The Beatles’ “Abbey Road.”
The tune kicks off with a guitar solo and begins and ends with perfectly intriguing lyrics: She won’t mind / So blunt and receptive, respectively.
We hear more of Ashkenazy’s vocal range as he sings in a lower register versus his usual falsetto vocals. This song exemplifies Foxy Apollo’s use of sharps and flats that hit at all the right times.
Their watery wavy vocal filter used midway through the song reminds me of The Breeders “Mad Lucas” (on their album –and my first CD– “Last Splash.”) I get the 90’s nostalgic feels.
I hear a twinge of The Beatles again but the sound is more akin to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band“-ish.
(FKA “Donkey Kong”) With a more gritty and bare-boned sound than their other songs, this ditty has a live feel to it. I imagine Foxy Apollo playing in a cozy basement coffee shop that serves the best lattes, and has fluffy oversized sofas and a crackling fireplace.
I dig the playful organ, layered harmonic vocals, and Ashkenazy’s crooner “Aaaah’s” that close out the song.
This one showcases Ashkenazy’s vocal dynamism as he swings effortlessly between low and high notes.
Lyrics that struck me: Open your eyes and to your own surprise / Oh, the world keeps on changing while you’re frozen like ice / Baby, tell me something good, like I thought you never would / I think it’s time that we slap ourselves in line.
Overall, “Tangie” is comprised of words and sounds created by people who pay close attention to their inner and outer worlds, and what a mad world it is that teenagers live in.
Music is critically important in a lot of teenager’s lives.
It certainly was (and is!) in mine. [Alert: Stepping up onto my Teenagers-Are-Awesome-Yet-Underrated soapbox.]
With what teenagers are up against today, supporting bands like Foxy Apollo and youth arts programs like Arts Corps and Youth Speaks as well as encouraging creative expression are significant and relevant.
For some teenagers, playing and/or listening to music is the only way they cope with life’s stressors.
Whether or not you play an instrument, music is a form of expression and a mode of connecting with others that transcends words. Practicing creativity and innovation, and using our imaginations – humanity needs these things…
…and Foxy Apollo’s “Tangie” delivers. Per their FB band bio, Listening to Foxy Apollo’s music gives you a taste of the many emotions and stories that have come through the group, and is intended to give you the opportunity to go out and create yourself.
Foxy Apollo’s spirit and music capture the essence of what music can provide for individuals and society. Their music is fun, contemplative, honest, observant, vulnerable.
Teenagers like Sam and Satchel are ferociously creative humans with a fervor and hopefulness that we, adults, too often forget.
It’s time for us to listen up! Teenagers have some wisdom to impart.
Thank you, Foxy Apollo, for being teen music leaders in our community, and congratulations on releasing a new EP, “Tangie”!