Going Through The Big D...And I Don't Mean Divorce or Dallas

It comes in all forms, some milder than others, some so strong that the beast may take another life

Last Friday I addressed unemployment and said there would be more posts about that topic this week but I hesitated to cover it in the wake of Kate Spade’s death. It seemed trivial and borderline disrespectful to post a piece about losing a job when Kate herself had been struggling with her new brand and was reportedly self-medicating over business concerns. 

How we trade our time for money is a huge part of who we are.  Some will argue that men feel the blow harder than women when they lose a job but I can attest to getting a divorce and losing a job and the job loss was the bigger blow to my ego and identity than the marriage dissolving was. That may say more about the marriage than the job.

Anthony Bourdain’s suicide was different. He was at the top of his game, his career only getting better each year, a Peabody award, eleven seasons of his show, and he began to really knock it out of the park in his 40s. This was not a man whose career was on the decline, whose sense of self and security were disappearing, this was a man with a glamorous career, who had dinner with wonderful people all across the planet and was curious about humanity.  He appeared to be jumping into life full throttle and loving every single minute.

This is the lie Depression whispers to those who do not suffer: “She had such a great life”

This is the lie Depression whispers to those who do suffer: “No one can know how much pain you are in. Ever. What others think of you is important”

My experience with Depression came in my early 20s and in the faith tradition in which I grew up and in the time, (early ‘90s), talk therapy was not something we discussed, so most of us went to our Dr and asked for an anti-depressant and were given either Pamalor or Prozac. I was given the former and it made my mouth so dry that I became a camel, consuming what felt like buckets of water a day.  My skin was dewy but I felt that every time I spoke, my tongue was rolled in cotton and I had headaches which would not go away.  We were medicating my brain but not talking about my pain.

When I moved to NYC, Depression came along for the ride and only got worse. One night, in my 32nd year, I seriously considered suicide. I was tired of never sleeping, of being up all night every single night, of crying whenever I was alone. I was isolating myself, and couldn’t begin to imagine a time when I would have friends, a social life or a desire to do anything but stay inside forever. I self-medicated with food, inviting my college friend Bulimia to the party.

No job, no real reason to be outside other than to walk my two dogs who shared my studio apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, no romantic relationship, only seeing others when I would walk across Central Park every Sunday for church. I would call my brother in despair, I wrote about this heavy velvet curtain which would not lift from my chest or my life. It got in the way of everything and I was trying all I knew to try to no avail.  One night, it was just all too much to bear.

I sat on the end of my futon, which was my couch by day and bed each night and stared out my one and only window. My apartment was above a school so my view was not obstructed, instead I was fortunate enough to see trees for blocks and then see buildings.  One year later, this would be the window where I hit my knees the morning of September 11 and begged God to stop the attacks, but that night at 3 am, I wondered aloud where I might buy a gun to put an end to my life. No other method occurred to me, perhaps because I am someone who sees no sense in owning a gun. Maybe because one day my ex-husband showed me the gun he kept in our house because he wanted me to be safe when he was studying late in Dental School.  I looked at him that day and said, “get it out of here. I am afraid I will use it on myself.”  His response was to shrug and say “Okay”. When your spouse mentions she may kill herself and you don’t initiate a conversation or suggest she seek help, you may be in a bad marriage.

This particular night, I called my parents, not my brother. Moms will pick up at 3 am. “Mom, the only reason I have not killed myself is because I don’t want you to get a horrible call from the NYPD” is the closest I ever came to asking for real help and because she is my Mom, she knew. I don’t ask for help easily and Depression distorts everyone’s thought process and personality. Asking for help allowed me to know how to put one foot in front of the other and gave someone else the permission to control my life because I was not capable.

If you are suffering or if someone you love is suffering, please repeat this to yourself, “Depression distorts everyone’s thought process and personality.” 

You are not yourself. How ludicrous is that sentence?  We are one thing in this one life: ourselves.  We work out, we eat well, we educate ourselves, we plan vacations around enriching experiences, we apply serums and drink water because we want to be our best self. You may even be reading this because you want your best career.  Imagine not being who you are now. Imagine being someone who doesn’t give a sh*t about anything. At all. Imagine being someone who doesn’t want her best life, who has thought about ending her own life.  Imagine not having a plan for your career after all of your experience and education. Imagine not caring how you look or feel because you really feel dead inside and have for some time. Imagine thinking that life itself is the most painful thing ever of all time and living for one more day will kill you so you plan how to end the pain.

Now imagine all of those thoughts wrapped inside the head of your boss, your colleague, your client, your friend.  Think of a woman or man who has the trappings of the life you want. Think about the woman who is well-dressed, has a beautiful home, the one who takes enviable vacations, the one who has fabulous friends and an attentive partner.  That is the face of depression.

One of my dear friends devoted two years of her life to making certain she stayed alive. She asked for help and her friends jumped in to help. She was in and out of two different hospitals for two years, leaving NYC altogether, putting the pieces back together and then going back in the hospital after she thought she’d tamed the beast. To every outsider, her apartment in the West Village, the cottage in the Hamptons, the degree from an Ivy League university, her famous friends and her career were all drool worthy. She was hiding so much pain.

She fought to stay alive, she treats her life like it is the most precious thing in her possession, because it is.  She found a Dr who worked with her to get the med combination correct and she talked through what she had been burying.  Most of all, she gave herself permission to fall apart. She gave herself permission to ask for help and lean on all of her friends. She brought the demon out of the closet and fought like hell to tame it.

If this were cancer, we would feel no shame and we would admit we are scared. Depression is deadly and we should be admitting when we are scared. We would talk openly about being afraid of cancer and we don't judge cancer patients, so let's stop using words like "Selfish" or "Negative" and start admitting when we are scared and asking questions when someone admits to us that she has considered suicide or she has been hiding her depression.

We are women and women are mighty so we think we should be able to handle anything and we can, with help.  I used to say that all old people deserve medals because they just hung in there, they made it.

Tonight over drinks or this weekend over brunch, let’s do this with each other:  start a conversation about depression. Let’s find out who has battled in the past, who may be battling now, and share experiences as we ask questions.

Add this number to your phone right now:  1-800-273-8255.  It is the suicide prevention hotline and we should all have it handy. It's a way to save a life and who doesn't want to save lives?