Let’s All Take A Second To Ask Each Other, ‘Are You Okay?’

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Igor Cancarevic / Unsplash

I fell a little bit apart last week. Reading about Kate Spade’s death set the groundwork – it was an unwelcome reminder that the disease we share can kill you. I wrote a post about it last Thursday – When your brain is broken – trying to use writing as therapy, as I usually do.

But when I woke up on Friday to a friend’s message that Anthony Bourdain had killed himself as well – I fell apart.

I spent all of Friday in bed, crying and obsessively reading every news snippet I could find about Anthony Bourdain. I downloaded his bestselling memoir Kitchen Confidential and started reading right away, only interrupting myself to check online for more news every few hours. I don’t know what I was looking for: clues for why he did it? An explanation? A reason why? I don’t know.

All I know is this: Losing two people to the same disease you have hit close to home.

Because that’s how I see it: they were sick, and their disease killed them. 

Suicide is an ugly word and an even uglier reality. It’s associated with shame and blame, and makes family members feel guilty – as if they are not allowed to properly grieve, because the death was self-inflicted. It’s victim-blaming, and I have a problem with that.

People focus on the wrong things: they say he had “no reason”. They demand to know if he was really depressed. Some are angry at him (Val Kilmer’s horrible rant comes to mind), as if he did it to spite them.

I obviously have no idea why Kate and Anthony couldn’t see a reason to live any more. I didn’t know them.

(Even though, like thousands of others, I felt like I “knew” Tony – he had that effect on people.)

But here is what I know:

I know how depression feels. I know how it can twist reality into something unrecognizable. It can make you believe horrible things about yourself: that you don’t matter, that you are a burden to everyone around you, that the world would be off better without you.

It messes with your brain, because it’s a brain disease – and how can you make rational decisions with a brain that’s sick?

I also know that depression makes you feel worthless. And asking for help when you feel unworthy of help – well, you don’t do it. You can’t. That feeling of unworthiness paralyzes you. You don’t want to be annoying to others.

Tony often said that he had the best job in the world. But he also, occasionally, mentioned how lonely it was to be alone in a hotel room (which he was roughly 250 days out of the year) – always quickly followed up with a joke.

Being depressed when you have “a reason” – a break-up, loss of a loved one, trouble at work, financial difficulties – is acceptable.

But what about when you seemingly have everything? Money, fame, success, friends, the admiration of millions of people? You have “no reason”. And if you’re aware of your good fortune, as Tony was, you certainly don’t want to appear ungrateful and complain.

So you stay silent. You smile and you work and you stay busy, and you try to outrun the demons and the voice in your head.

But no matter how fast or far you run – they are always there. And when it gets quiet, and it’s dark, and you’re exhausted and alone … sometimes, the voices win.

I’m not suicidal, and I never have been.

But I know the darkness and the loneliness well.

Here is what I also know: Talk about the demons when you’re feeling well

When you feel strong, you have to tell people. Your brain will function better, you will feel braver, and you will show people that it’s normal to talk about mental illness.

When you tell people about yours, they are much more likely to tell you about theirs.

If you take antidepressants, tell people.

If you are in therapy, tell people.

If you struggle – or used to struggle –  with anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or another mental illness – tell people.

Only by talking about it can we remove the shame, fear, and stigma.

And only when your friends and loved ones know that you have a mental illness will they reach out, as they did to me last week, and ask: “Are you okay?”

Those three words make all the difference. Having people in my life who know to ask them are my best weapon in the fight against my depression. Because I know that I don’t have to fight alone.

So I’m asking you: Are you okay? Do you need someone to talk to? My inbox is always open if you need an open ear, a virtual hug, or the reassurance that you are not alone. 

Because you are not.

There are SO many of us out there – an army. You don’t know it, but your always-cheerful co-worker? She cried in the bathroom this morning. Your friend who cancelled yoga yesterday? She didn’t have a dentist appointment – she didn’t have the strength to come. Your mother who had regular migraines when you grew up? She didn’t actually have migraines.

Let’s talk about it. Let’s never stop talking about it.

The world is a better place with you in it. TC mark

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