Kate Spade Would Be Alive if We Took Care of Our Minds the Way We Take Care of Our Hearts

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.)

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*Google image search results for “Kate Spade.” Portraits.
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Kate Spade and family. Photo courtesy of @GettyImages

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.**

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**Repost from my Instagram account @lady_archivaion

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!)

But (!) when

you experience
anxiety,
depression,
bi-polar disorder,
body dysmorphia,
bulimia,
Flip through the enormous Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and pick a diagnosis.

…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.”

Huh?

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.

I digress.

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.

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A Kate Spade quote. Photo courtesy of @Pinterest.ption

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.

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A Kate Spade quote. Photo courtesy of @Pinterest

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.
Be direct.
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.

In the US, Canada and United Kingdom, you can text a trained Crisis Text Line counselor.

(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!)

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Originally posted on Medium.com.

Mind wellness recovery and loss.

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?

Mental Health Recovery
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.

Brain chemicals bounce around.

Every now and then, I go thru a —what I call— creative blitz.

I think it’s part of what we call “mental illness,” depression, anxiety.

Creating is survival when my brain chemicals bounce around, as they do on-the-reg.

Creating is survival for me and many others.

For some, incessant creativity is how we got through childhood.

It’s how we get through now, as well.

It’s how we(‘ll) get through life.

To smile at people. awkwardly

It took me 8-or-so years to finish undergrad.
I was in-and-out of university numerous times.

Over that period,
I experienced multiple:

  • bouts of depression —if it ever really let up—
  • a few suicide attempts
  • counselors (one of whom fell asleep as I was talking) Um.  #YESway
  • doctors, shrinks, medication (I couldn’t tell you what all of them were, off-hand)
  • quick starts-and-ends of relationships
  • friendships in limbo

…packing in and out of dorms, apartments, houses, Fairfax Hospital in-patient, a house on fire, stranger’s beds.

In that time, I cut my wrist with a Cutco knife while fighting with an ex.
My words didn’t feel like they were able to carry what I was feeling.
I was a #fRacturedGirl. living with a dizzying head on still shoulders.

I clawed through most days;   barely surviving,

just:

to open my eyes.

to get up.

to go outside.

to be normal.

to do work.

to smile at people.       awkwardly

to act unafraid.

It took me 8-or-so years to finish undergrad.
I was in-and-out of university numerous times.


And, now?

I’m trying to figure out where to hang my framed diploma from Antioch University Seattle for a master’s degree in Psychology. I couldn’t be more proud of me.


If you’re struggling and the future seems hopeless.
If you feel like there is no end to the excruciating battle.

I beg of you, please. DO NOT GIVE UP.

Reach out. You’re worth it. People love you. People care. I care!

All of those things that the trickster voice in your head tries to get you to believe – they’re lies.

You, my friend, are a fucking warrior.


This freewrite was inspired by a post that popped up in my Instagram feed:

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Image source: @Instagram screenshot of a repost by @mentalillnessquotesinfo

Note: Links to mental health resources are within text, i.e. “depression” hyperlinks to the 24-Hours Crisis Clinic site.


Bonus:  13 Mental Health Resources That Are Absolutely Free (Huffpost)

Buckle Up with Seattle’s Alt-Rock Band, Gypsy Temple, at The Funhouse Tonight!

I think you can’t have a conversation about powerful artistry without including one about mental health. For me and Gypsy Temple, music is an outlet for our physical, spiritual, and most critically, mental health.  — Cameron Lavi-Jones

Cameron Lavi-Jones
Gypsy Temple Frontman, Cameron Lavi-Jones. (Photo courtesy of Gypsy Temple website.)

Gypsy Temple
is the second

fantastical teen Seattle band

I’ll be hanging out with for my

Teen Music & Mind Wellness

project, &

they have a show TONIGHT!*
Wed., Feb. 7
6:30-10pm

Tix avail @ the door still! $12

@ The Funhouse
109 Eastlake Ave.

Gimme Directions!

 


Frontman, Cameron Lavi-Jones, reached out to me to participate in this project with an enthusiasm that inspired me.

I texted Cameron yesterday to ask if he could send me a quick line or two about mental health for this announcement.

Within minutes, he busted out a thoughtful, badass response that made my heart jiggle.

I’ll tease you with an excerpt.

You’re going to have to come back to read it all when I post our upcoming interview.  😉

“Our songs are based on negative emotions and experiences, but through the process of songwriting, performing, producing, and playing the music, those negative emotions become the guide for positivity. Those negative emotions become something we are proud of and something that makes us unique as artists.”


BUCKLE UP!

I have no doubt that this show is going to be fun as heck!

Come say hi, if ya like.

I don’t bite.      usually.

Psssst!  I’ll be streaming a bit of the show live on my Instagram @lady_archiva.

 



 

*The forthcoming post of my interview with Cameron Lavi-Jones will include more details about the other bands. This show is part of the Love vs. Logic West Coast Tour with AMOR.