What A Depressed Friend Might Need Right Now
Two weeks ago my daughter’s boyfriend bought her a Kate Spade wallet in NYC. We had wandered around touching all the pretty things, basking in the happy glow that surrounds Kate Spade stores. I had texted my friend Tracy a picture of the flagship store in NYC because I knew of her passion for bows and all things Kate.
Although Kate had sold her brand to Neiman Marcus in 2006 (the brand has had several owners since) and was currently working on building other brands, she remained the iconic founder and figure behind the beloved brand.
I read just today that the last marketing campaign launched by the Kate Spade brand before her death was called “Where’s Kate?” All videos have been pulled from the internet for obvious reasons, but the eerieness of it remains. Apparently it included an actress portraying Kate herself trying to be found by a detective.
Let that sink in.
The questions that we have all been collectively asking since Tuesday when we learned that she hung herself with a red scarf in her gorgeous NYC apartment are all a form of:
Where was Kate, really?
Where were her friends?
Where were the meds?
And we ask WHY:
Why didn’t she call someone?
Why didn’t we know about her private struggle?
Why didn’t someone see signs?
A couple of days later we found ourselves asking the same questions about Anthony Bourdine.
The real question we need to be asking is:
Why don’t we talk about mental illness like we talk about cancer, diabetes and heart disease?
And also, we might want to refer to the fact that there are some questions that will never ever be answered in this lifetime.
I am familiar with the wrong questions. When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 29 I got doozies like these: “Were you a heavy smoker?” “Do you have a history of cancer in your family?” “Didn’t you FEEL something or have symptoms before that grapefruit-sized tumor was removed?”
No. No. No.
Rumors flew as far as Texas that the cancer had moved to my brain, that I was dying and would leave my daughter orphaned.
People will talk. And they will scrutinize. Especially when things are hard to believe and come seemingly out of nowhere. It’s how we distance ourselves. It’s how we swallow the belief that “it could never happen to me or someone I love.” So we stand at a distance and calculate the many clues to its happening and the ways OTHERS could have prevented it.
I’m not sure what we’ve done with the disease of mental illness. We all seem to have a retrospective opinion when the monster called depression takes one of our own: Robin Williams, Kate Spade, a friend’s son. We want answers to impossible questions. We want a finger to point. We want an explanation, a reason. A way that we could have prevented it, single-handedly and collectively.
It has got to be excruciatingly painful for those close to Kate and anyone who has been lost to suicide and depression. The way we want to make sense of it. The way we flounder with our questions and our near accusations. How we put hotlines and solutions up online. As if we can solve this.
Don’t you think they are asking all the same questions?
I’m not implying we don’t offer help and resources and medications and ALL the things. Not just during a storm of awareness that celebrity deaths bring. But maybe these spotlight cases of what happens daily can bring us together to mourn a little bit together. Can we hold out a hand?
Cancer is a disease too and it has very few rules that it follows. Just today I ran into an old friend at lunch who is one of the lead cancer researchers in the world. She spends every day all day trying to figure this thing out.
I have know women who were diagnosed on Friday and died on the following Tuesday. Or those with cancer who sought all the treatments: the chemo, the homeopathic ways, yoga, wheatgrass, the clinical trials. And still they lost the earthly battle. Sometimes after years of public battles, but often in silent, steady ways that even those closest to them never knew. I used to hear from these women at the ministry I co-founded. I became the “stranger on the airplane,” the ones women struggling with cancer could trust with all their insecurities. They would share the fears that would never be uttered to their spouses or children.
They suffered in literal silence while every resource surrounded them.
I had fought a similar, silent, deadly monster. And I know it could return. It’s a precarious place to live.
Monsters like cancer and mental illness can strike silent and deadly at any time. It’s time we call it what it is: a disease. Dis ease. Lack of ease. There is no easy treatment, cure, answer, prevention.
Can we do things that help? Yes.
Do we have guarantees that it will not kill us? No.
If someone with epilepsy has a seizure and loses consciousness in a matter of minutes then couldn’t it also be true that suicidal episodes are like this? One moment the person is on the phone or laughing, and the next they are gone, eaten by the disease, with no clues at all?
Can we call mental illness what it is? A monster. A liar. Capable of eating up perfectly good (and especially perfectly creative, brilliant, artistant, high-achieving people?)
Can we get mad enough at the DISEASE
Can we have enough dis-ease about this to stop pointing fingers at family members who “must have known” and coworkers “should have said something.”
Because I believe that when those close to the ones we have lost say there was “ no indication in the last few days,” they mean it.
Just like there was no indication that an ovarian tumor the size of a grapefruit was growing on my left ovary.
And don’t think I don’t live in a place where I know it can come back again. It came silently once before. Today, if you didn’t know about that time in my life, you might wonder why a tear streaks down my cheek in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. It’s a routine visit, after all, and needles are only used to draw blood to test my hormone and cholesterol levels. My reaction might make you think that I have too much anxiety. I am being ridiculous. I am overreacting.
You would be wrong. I am reacting to my truth and my pain and my history and my present fears.I know a teeny-tiny bit about how it feels to have history with a disease that threatens to define me. But my scars don’t show on the outside. I can hide them and wear the painful truth on the inside. I can cover it all with clothing and makeup and a smile.
I want to remember what it felt like to be offered platitudes, explanations, theories, and even cold-hard facts during my own season of intense pain.
So I feebly try to do the thing that my best friend did during my horrible bout with cancer.
She didn’t have cancer and she didn’t understand, but she grabbed my hand and she squeezed it hard.
She picked me up in her car and drove me to get my favorite meal. She looked me straight in the eye and didn’t look away or try to manufacture words. She showed me the ministry of presence.
And her presence was the one thing I desperately needed in the midst of the strongest identity crisis and most intense pain of my life.
And so I offer here the ministry of my presence. Maybe we can sit and you could tell me some of the battles, of the loss, the fear, and the stories that have injured you and that make up the patchwork of your life. And maybe I could tell you mine.
You will not try to pick up and walk in my cancer shoes, and I would not try to put on yours.
Dear friend with depressive episodes or anxiety that claws at your life,
I don’t know what darkness you have faced as a little girl or just yesterday. What black hole you felt down deep inside with no way out. But I do know that that pain floods like a dam that has been broken when given the right set of circumstances.
So I quietly acknowledge these recent losses are rightfully painful for you even more so than for me. And I kneel with you and cry at the wreckage.
Of course I want you to know we are here, that someone is always there. And that hotlines exist. I’ll post resources below because they are real with real people and real love behind them.
I offer no words~ only my hand.
I love you. I will not stop showing up, reaching out a hand, telling you over and over that you are loved. I will look straight into the monster’s eyes, sitting next to you. It’s all I know to do.
1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
P. S. and Resources:
If you are in the dark right now, you can call someone for help: HOTLINE: 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255)
I reached out to a dear friend who I know has had a long battle with depression and bipolor disease. I wanted to better understand.
Here is what she shared with me when I asked what this disease feels like, and what I as a friend can DO for her. (Maybe ask someone in your life?)
“Depression is a chronic and sometimes debilitating dis-ease. We live afraid of ourselves, just like your fear of cancer returning. A depressed person can be okay and then not okay. Suddenly. Without warning. Often others don’t see it coming because WE don’t see it coming. Suicidal ideations are an unpredictable and ravenous beast. And even the meds aren’t always armor enough. In the darkness we will not believe your words. We feel utterly, terrifyingly alone. The people I do get brave enough to reach out to when I think I might be in danger are the people who are here all the time. The people who ask all the time. The people who listen all the time. Who know how to hear the subtle spiraling in my words or my slow isolation or mention of too many naps. And sadly, on the worst days, my brain might even forget them. It won’t always be enough. No matter how much you love us. But love anyway. Risk anyway. On the chance that it will be enough.”
Things you can DO for someone in your life with depression:
- Pray with and for her. Plant scripture and truth about who she is.
- Buy your friend suffering from depression a package of classes at the swankiest yoga studio (or gym) in town and offer to pick her up and take her.
- Buy her a massage, a weighted therapy blanket, or a body brush for dry brushing.
- Ask her if she’s having trouble affording her therapist.
- Offer to go for a walk.
- Ask if she needs physical touch. Hold her hand or stroke her hair or give her a scalp massage.
- Ask if you can clean her room. Put fresh sheets on her bed. Make it smell nice. Put out fresh flowers and send her to take a nap. Wake her to a warm meal.
- Bring smoothie packs. It’s hard to eat when you’re depressed. Drinkable nutrition helps.
- Invite her to your home. She may need a change of scenery but noisy public places can feel terrifying.
- Love. Consistently.