Like everyone, I feel so sad about the recent suicides in the past week (and months and years). Kate Spade, Avicii, and Anthony Bourdain were all creative, talented, and beautiful souls who used their gifts to touch so many people in the world. I know we’re all keeping their families and loved ones in our thoughts and prayers. They’re people we look up to and aspire to be more like—which is what makes their passing even more crushing. In most people’s eyes, they had it all. So why would they want to leave this world and the success we all dream about?
I’m not sure we’ll ever really know the answer, but I do think that they are leaving an important legacy behind. Their abrupt and shocking departures from this Earth are a wake-up call to the rest of us.
It’s so moving to see so many people honoring their lives, posting tributes and encouraging people who are suffering to get help. Suicide hotline calls increased by 25% over the past week, which means more people are reaching out. Mental health is being more openly talked about and there’s so much kindness and support being spread around.
These suicides are a massive red flag for us. They are blinking red lights that are telling us:
Something is wrong.
And although we like to assume there’s something wrong with them, there’s really something wrong outside of them (and us).
Depression and anxiety are everywhere. And they’ve increased exponentially in the past century. They are a natural part of being a human. We all experience depression and anxiety at some point in our lives. There’s no way to exist in our modern world without depression and anxiety. There’s no way to be human and not feel those things.
I’ve had periods of both in my life. I’ve struggled with anxiety hardcore. I’m super sensitive (even though I try to pretend I’m not) and my anxiety ebbs and flows, depending on what’s going on in my life. If I’m on a plane, it’s at an 11, but if I’m in the bath, it’s nowhere. Depression and anxiety aren’t constants in my life, but they are states I’ve experienced before, still do and probably will for the rest of my life. Both have humbled me more than anything else ever has. It’s hard to be cocky when you’re on the verge of a panic attack.
And although I’m making a guess here, I’d assume that Kate Spade, Avicii, Anthony Bourdain and Robin Williams weren’t all totally depressed and anxiety-ridden for every second of their lives. Clearly, there were moments when they created, periods when they thrived and traveled and made art and music and handbags. But obviously, they suffered more in private than anyone was aware of. And that’s usually how it is for most people with depression and anxiety.
The only person I’ve truly been honest with about my own feelings of depression and anxiety is a therapist. Because I don’t want to be judged and I don’t want people to worry or try to fix me.
Because there is nothing wrong.
Depression and anxiety are normal reactions. When someone dies, it’s ok to be depressed afterward. When something scares you, it’s ok to feel anxious. And if you feel depressed or anxious more of the time than not, that’s ok. There are a million reasons why that would be in the world we live in. From the rapid pace to the lack of genuine connection to the wars and the nuclear threats and the billions of people living in poverty. If you’re a human and you’re aware, life can be super depressing. Which is why most of us find a way to numb it out.
In our world, we aren’t supposed to show “weakness.” When people ask me how I’m doing, the answer is always: Great! Good! Fine! I never reply with: Dealing with crippling anxiety today, you?
No human chooses to suffer. We are all born and do our very best to survive (and thrive). Ultimately, we’re all made up of energy. And disease and illness come into our minds and bodies when something is out of balance. Whether it’s from a trauma, a bacteria, a virus, a disorder, genes. Sometimes we can control this and other times we can’t.
But the biggest disconnect and the red flag waving in front of our faces is: there’s nothing wrong people who are suffering, especially with anxiety and depression. These people aren’t ill.
Our world is ill. It is out of balance.
And some of the most beautiful, sensitive, creative, loving beings among us can’t handle it. They want out. Now.
And their life and their choice is a message to the rest of us:
There is something wrong with the way we live. All the markers of outside “success” mean nothing when it comes to being truly healthy. All the money and the opportunity in the world won’t save someone who feels the depths of depression and anxiety.
Mental health is intricately linked to physical health and spiritual health. A person cannot simply be mentally ill. They are also physically and/or spiritually in pain too. This is a WHOLE health issue. Not just a mental one.
It’s been so great to see so many people stepping up and using their voice to encourage anyone who is suffering to get help. Any action we can take to help others is a step in the right direction. If you are in pain, you are not alone. (The suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255)
That’s step one. Next, for all of us still on this planet, living and breathing, we need to start opening up and being real about life. Because it’s happy and sad. If we all felt safer to share how we truly and honestly feel, we’d have a greater sense of connection and community (instead of competition and comparison).
It is not enough to point away from the circle and say: Go get help over there. Call that hotline. Go see that therapist. (These things help but they aren’t enough)
It is enough to put the people amongst us in pain in the middle of our circle and say: We’ll hold you here until you feel better. We are here with you. It’s okay to be however you are. You don’t have to pretend to be okay. None of us are okay all the time and we hold each other up when we aren’t. You don’t have to carry it all alone.
I love the posts going around about “check on your strong friend.” But why not just be with your people. Know them. See them. Hear them. Be vulnerable. Open up. Hold space for them.
As a modern society, we’ve made so, so many advances. Postmates is truly a miracle. But one thing we’ve done, in the effort to make life easier and less hard, is isolated the most vulnerable among us. The poor, the elderly, the sick. They go over there to the shelter, the old folk’s home, and the psych ward, most of the time (it’s just the way our North American world works at this point. Everything has its place, including people who can’t keep up with the demands of our society. If ya can’t contribute, you’re on the outskirts. It’s sad, but mostly true).
That is what we need to change. I truly and deeply believe that we can lower the risk of suicide (and so many other things) by being more real and more inclusive.
The reason we all feel the tidal wave of sadness after a suicide is because it’s a loss of connection. We felt connected to these people, whether they were celebrities or a friend. And when they choose to leave by taking their own life, we are baffled and shocked and sad and confused and heartbroken.
So we need to create more space for what’s not perfect, what doesn’t fit in. Rethink how we approach illness, for the body and the mind, at all ages.
People are clearly hurting—even famous ones. We can’t keep offering only two options: Go there and get help. Or stay here and pretend everything is fine.
There’s a third option: Stay here. We will help. You are not alone. There is nothing wrong with you. We’re all in this together.
Suicide is tragic, but I really think the biggest legacy these souls are leaving behind is a warning.
Looking at this as an illness or an imbalance in a person is a way for us to make sense of something we desperately want to make sense of. And in a way, it puts the blame on them by saying: they were just depressed.
It’s not their fault. Maybe their suffering is to show us what we need to change about our world.
So if you are suffering, seek help, get treatment, take medication, do what you can (I’ve been there, done that. I know it’s not easy, but it helps)
We need to start creating a world where people don’t feel so disconnected, where they don’t get so out of balance, where they don’t feel they have to hide their true feelings, where this doesn’t happen.
It’s a warning sign for us all. Great beautiful souls aren’t thriving and aren’t surviving.