This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write.
It’s made of the same emotions that led a talented and otherwise vibrant Kate Spade to sit in her Manhattan apartment and write a suicide note before hanging herself with a scarf. It’s seasoned with the same feelings I imagine beloved chef and television host Anthony Bourdain had when he decided to hang himself with the belt of his bathrobe in his French hotel room.
The headlines deeply saddened me but didn’t ripple through me the way they did with most people, not in the sense of “I can’t believe,” because I could believe.
While I don’t have international fame and my bank account is much smaller than those of Spade or Bourdain, I have, as they did, an endless list of reasons to be “happy.”
I have a job I’ve dreamed of since I was a little girl, and a career I’m deeply passionate about. I’m married to a handsome godsend of a man whose unwavering love and support are the envy of many of my single friends. I have two beautiful, healthy children.
In many ways, I believe I’m one of the happiest, luckiest people I know.
And yet, it’s too easy for me to imagine the unbearable pain that drove both Spade and Bourdain to their fates.
I’ve sat in a tub full of water and envisioned myself slipping in and never coming up for air.
I’ve fantasized about what it would be like to fall asleep and never wake up.
That type of pain — constant, exhausting, inescapable — can’t be wished away with a sprinkle of “positive thoughts” or a package of yoga sessions.
And as much as I believe in God, I know it can’t be faithed away.
When my anxiety is at its peak, depression swallows me like a puddle of quicksand.
It strips me of myself. I look in the mirror and find nothing but loathing because I just don’t feel like myself.
How could this be me? The same confident young woman who walks into the newsroom every morning with a bright smile on her face and shouts, “Good morning everybody!”? The same spirited person who’s always the life of the party?
Is it shocking?
Maybe not anymore.
Maybe not after last week.
At least that’s what I hope, that people can finally realize that mental illness can affect anyone, even the people you’d least expect.
Before last week, I’d never felt even the slightest urge to write about being THAT person, the one with those horribly frightening thoughts.
I’ve always focused on finding the best, most creative way to tell other people’s stories. Why would I want to write about this? THIS, which I’ve mastered the art of hiding, which I’ve mastered the science of pushing through.
Because I now know, I never want to find myself there, with the scarf in my hand, with the belt in my hand.
“Are you sure you want to put yourself out there?” my editor asked protectively when I proposed writing this piece. “Why don’t you sleep on it?”
But I’ve slept on this too many nights, figuratively and literally.
Yes, people who read this might use it to attack or demean me in some way. It could be seen as something that could jeopardize my work as a journalist, make me appear unstable, incapable or damaged in the eyes of editors, colleagues or even worse, readers. None of which is true.
Spade and Bourdain, like many who battle mental illness, hid this part of themselves because they feared what the rest of the world would think of them.
It is as if we are not given permission to even tiptoe outside the appearance of perfection because it doesn’t allow any room for anxious, bipolar or depressed people, no space at all for those who are mentally ill, whom history and society have so often stigmatized and discarded as “unfit” and “crazy.”
Would Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain merit these misnomers?
Not by a long shot. But unfortunately, we live in a world where many people still think otherwise, and where people with mental illness feel, or have felt, myself included, that sometimes it’s just easier to keep it to yourself.
It’ll be better if I figure it out on my own. Don’t cry. Be professional. Don’t let them see. Don’t let anybody know. Suck it up. They won’t care. They won’t understand. I’ll be judged, ridiculed, pitied.
So, how do we fix this?
For me, it started with opening up to my family, my best friends and my husband.
It started with creating a support system for myself: ears that would always be willing to listen, and arms that would give me hugs of comfort. And I got professional help: a combination of talk therapy and medication.
And life got so much better. I won’t lie and say it’s always perfect, because it’s not, but no one’s life is perfect. And every day that I’m alive, I’m a survivor.
Every day that I take my medication, every day that I reach out to someone to talk about how I’m feeling, every day that other people’s kindness and love remind me that I am not alone, and every time I recognize that my mental illness does not define me, I win and my demons lose.
So, if you can relate in any way, get help. Together we can win. You can win. You can find light at the end of the tunnel and be happy. I have. And remember, no matter what anybody might say, this is not a weakness.
And for the rest of you? It starts with pausing before you judge another person’s journey. It starts with wanting to understand and educating yourself. And ends with love, empathy and compassion.
Daysi Calavia-Robertson is a Newsday business reporter.