I know by now much of the world has heard the sad news of Kate Spade taking her own life. This really struck a chord with me for a few reasons, and I felt the need to open up about my own story.
Kate was a self-made, successful business woman who created a vibrant brand that is loved by many across the world. By all appearances, she really had it all. A husband of 24 years, a precious 13-year-old daughter and great wealth. We always say “don’t read the comments on the internet” because they can be so divisive, ignorant and downright hurtful. Unfortunately, I did read a few and I feel like it’s understandably hard for people to grasp why she did this, but it doesn’t excuse the insensitivity. Some of the things I saw included: “How could she leave her daughter like that?” “How could she be so selfish?” “How can someone who’s surrounded by many people be so alone?” I do not claim to know her personal life, but I would like to share about my own experience. I may not be a fashion mogul and my story is from when I was younger — but I know from experience that when darkness falls, it’s heavy.
I grew up in a very unstable family situation. As a child, I experienced a great deal of neglect, abandonment and instability. This created such a palpable anxiety in me from a very young age, but of course, I had no idea what the heck that even meant at the time. I can remember my first anxiety attack at the age of six. There was a lot of verbal and physical abuse that led to an immense amount of sadness and unworthiness that wallowed deep in my soul. We know from studies done in mental health that a child’s brain is developed and molded around their experiences which then are carried with them throughout their life. It affects relationships, how we see the world and the choices that we make.
At the age of 13, I began a journal that I would write in and it usually went something like this “God, please take me from this world and stop this pain. I don’t belong here. What is love? I don’t feel that. I’m so sad and I know this isn’t right. I just want to leave.” I remember hoping that my mother would see it and change her ways because then she would REALLY know how all of this chaos affected me. At age 14, I started keeping a kitchen knife in my dresser drawer and the plan was that I would slit my wrists. I could envision laying in a bathtub of nothing but red, and it startled me but at the same time, it almost seemed like peace. I attempted it many times; however, I decided I just couldn’t go out that way. The jagged edges of that knife going across my wrists is what stopped me. At almost 16, things got worse in our home. I decided this was it. Leaving this world was what needed to happen to escape from this pain that I couldn’t control. Remember, as a minor, I was subjected to the authority of those around me even if it was corrupt authority. So, one night, I swallowed almost a whole bottle of Aleve. I was no expert in medicine, so I just grabbed what was closest. I felt incredible guilt after I swallowed it. I went into my mom’s room and told her what I did. She and her husband got me into the car and she drove to the hospital. At the time, her husband was in the running for a political position. Bringing me into the hospital to get my stomach pumped meant people would be able to find out what happened. So instead, they insisted that I vomit in the car on the floor board for nearly 3 hours. I vomited out as much as I could. This whole ordeal was traumatizing and my chest is heavy just writing about it.
It’s hard for some to understand how it can get to this place. It’s very dark and very lonely. Now that I’m an adult, I can be introspective about all that occurred and why. It’s like being at the bottom of a very dark pit and you can’t seem to find a ladder to help you get out. In this pit, there’s the absence of love, light and happiness.
Did I truly want to die? NO. Did I wanted to be seen and heard? YES. Did I need help? YES.
It is such a complex topic for many and sadly, the end result is not always positive. I ache when I see another story of an adolescent (or anyone) who felt suicide was the only way out. I did end up being okay and after this incident, I never attempted suicide again. At that time, I wasn’t put into therapy or referred to treatment. Instead, life continued to be chaos and all I could think about was turning 18 so I could get the hell out of this situation. It wasn’t until I was 20-years-old that I sought treatment and therapy on my own because I knew I needed some help to sort through all of this trauma in my life. I have since been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Complex PTSD stemming from the many traumatic episodes that altered my childhood (and adulthood if we’re being honest).
All this to say, mental illness can take shape in so many forms. Things can stem from your childhood, traumatic events in your life, chemical imbalances, hormonal imbalances, etc. It can be a shameful feeling but once there’s a chance to get past that, getting help can be a safe haven. Mental illness for most doesn’t look like a person in a strait jacket in a psychiatric ward (although I don’t dismiss the need for healthcare that requires those types of things where situations are severe). It can look like me, you, Kate Spade, Robin Williams and countless others. The truth is that trauma, stress and chaos does not discriminate based on wealth, social status, gender, age, race or religious beliefs. Success doesn’t exclude anyone from the happenings of real life situations. My hope is that loved ones can encourage those who need it to seek help. My hope is that we strip away the stigma and applaud people for seeking help versus labeling them “crazy” because they aren’t; they’re quite courageous. My hope is that access to mental health support becomes more available despite one’s financial status. We are all deserving of support and a hand to hold when our journey through the darkness becomes treacherous.
I am happy to report that my adult life has been shaped by seeking the appropriate mental health support for the past 10 years by way of individual therapy and an amazing psychiatrist. I’ve built a family unit and have tried to surround myself with people that I can be authentic with, even in the pain (I even got my first “therapy” dog 10 years ago … and she is still my baby!). I participate in a moms therapy group once a month, and I file all of these things into my proactive “self-care” category. Being on top of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health.
You’re not alone and there are people who want to help. If you or someone you know feels like they need help (children AND adults), here are a few resources to consider: