Hey guys! Instead of doing a recipe today, I wanted to do a mental health check. If you’re not interested in reading about this, feel free to click out of this webpage or explore one of my many recipes instead. I’ll be back with more smiles next week 🙂
(Just a friendly Trigger Warning – this post will talk about suicide, self-harm, and feature graphic descriptions).
The recent high-profile suicides have weighed heavily on my mind, and I’m sure it has for you as well. When I found out about Kate Spade last Tuesday, I was shocked first and foremost. I simply could not wrap my head around it. Then, as more details emerged, I felt utterly heartbroken and deeply affected.
Why would I be so affected by a fashion designer I didn’t know, you ask? Because Kate and I have something deeply troubling in common: we have lead fake lives at some point in our actual lives. If you’re confused, let me explain.
Although I wouldn’t go as far to say I’m as “famous” as Kate/would consider myself a “celebrity” (far from it!), I do, however, lead a somewhat public life for the most part. My blog and social media channels are true representations of my life and personality, but they’re admittedly edited. The reason I edit them is because not everyone wants to hear me complain about my problems, and to show the real, unedited, “raw” version of me is frankly terrifying. It’s terrifying because it’s such a stark contrast to the sprinkly, happy-go-lucky, fun-loving baker image I’ve curated.
The sprinkly, happy-go-lucky baker is really me, but it’s just the outer layer of me. Deep inside, there are serious conflicts in my brain and a host of mental ailments that sometimes impede my day-to-day function so badly that it seems hopeless. I feel like Kate could relate because she built her billion-dollar brand on being happy-go-lucky, positive, fun, and lightheartedness but inside she was battling a demon and slowly dying inside.
I ultimately don’t know why Kate committed suicide last week, but maybe it was because she was afraid her real, raw, ugly side of depression would tarnish her sparkly brand. Maybe she felt like if she came out and told someone about her mental illness, that someone would clap back and say, “but what do you have to be depressed about?” and barrage her with a slew of “reasons” why she should be happy. Maybe she called a suicide hotline (there are more than one) and like my experience, had someone answer and say “Just do it already!” (That’s a true story – I was a teenager and at the end of my rope. I tried calling a hotline number I’d found online only to have someone scream into the receiver saying “JUST DO IT ALREADY!” before hanging up. I was so shocked that I never called back and I am grateful that I never took their advice).
Maybe she felt she and her depression were a burden to her family and friends. Maybe she felt like no one could really, truly understand her “problem.” Maybe she was having financial problems, or marital problems, or business problems. Or maybe – just maybe – she was suffering from an invisible illness that affects people of every age, every race, every class and creed, whether you’re rich or poor, famous or not, have the world at your fingertips or you’re at rock bottom. Depression does not discriminate. Mental illness does not discriminate.
It’s a silent killer. There are often no outward symptoms. Not all of those afflicted with depression wear black and mope around. In fact, most of us put on a brave face and smile through the pain on the outside while inside, our souls are deteriorating. Some of us get sick of putting on this facade of happiness and glitter when inside we feel hopeless and empty and eventually, it all comes out via a mental breakdown, finally admitting your illness to someone, or actually committing suicide. But some of us get better at hiding it, afraid of slipping up and showing our bruised souls to someone else in fear of judgment or burden or a myriad of other reasons. We become Oscar-worthy actors, putting on a show to our loved ones, and contortionists as we flex and stretch to shove down the hopelessness bubbling up inside.
I’ve been in Kate’s shoes. I’ve felt that suicide was the only answer. I’ve spent hours of my life – hours I’ll never get back – dreaming of ways to end things to put myself out of my perceived misery. Some of my depression stemmed from tangible issues, like my mounting debt, but others come from insidious perceptions that have never been “fact-checked”, e.g, my mom must be so annoyed and sick of me for constantly asking for money; I’m such a burden. Now she and dad can’t go out to eat because her loser daughter can’t support herself. If I was gone, she wouldn’t have to support an almost 30-year old woman anymore. I mean, I’m sure my mom doesn’t like lending me money – but did she ever SAY those things, or even IMPLY those things? NO! Yet depression hypes up these perceptions to be truths, all the while egging you on to just finish the job.
And if you’re like me, depression isn’t the only issue you face day in and day out. At a very young age I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, which I’ve talked about here and here. OCD is not the quirky, funny disease some people think of when they see someone who likes to wash their hands or prefers their closets color-coded. OCD is insidious and treacherously lurks in the deep recesses of my brain. Sometimes it manifests with obsessive hand-washing, intense cleaning, and strict order, but for me, it mostly comes in counting and checking… and that’s only what others may notice.
Another little known symptom of this disease is being plagued by constant, intense thoughts of a violent, graphic nature. Thoughts about hurting ones you loved in vivid detail. Ideas about driving your car off of the side of the road, or cutting vegetables and thinking about spontaneously slicing your neck. And the worst are the graphic sexual thoughts that invade my brain like little enemy troops shooting off atomic bombs of the most hideous, disgusting things you can imagine. Then imagine those thoughts are on a broken loop, constantly circling around your mind like vultures picking away at any sense of normalcy.
In a word, it’s horrifying.
And when those obsessive thoughts play constantly and incessantly over and over, I think I’m going insane. And distractions don’t work; it just makes the voice in my head scream the thoughts louder and louder, or the images become more and more violent. It gets to the point where suicide seems like a viable option – a final, permanent silencing of my brain.
And believe it or not, that’s not even the hard part. The hard part for me is saying NO. NO, I will not end my life. NO, these thoughts won’t last forever. NO, suicide is not the answer. Suicide may seem like the easy way out, but believe me, if we could ask the former selves of people who have ended their lives, I guarantee they would tell us suicide was one of the hardest decisions they had to make. Because I truly believe at our core, we want to survive, and more than that – we want to thrive. The fact that we’re so broken inhibits this and makes us feel hopeless with no end goal or road to recovery in sight. Sure, I’m sure there are people who rashly decided one day to end their lives without mulling it over, but I guarantee most people felt this was the only option they had.
So what am I trying to say in this long-winded post?
There IS hope.
Tomorrow is a brand new day.
But most important: we NEED you. We NEED you on this Earth. You are needed and wanted and loved. It may not seem like it, but you are. I need you here. I hear you, I accept you, and I want you to know I’m here for you and I need and want you to stay put on this planet and overcome this. Depression may not go away forever, but it WILL GET BETTER. I promise. I’ve battled it throughout my life and each day it gets easier. Sure, life is a rollercoaster and there are definitely valleys in which I feel like I cannot crawl out of. But as you overcome this and get stronger, you’ll learn how to fight for your life and each valley you encounter thereafter, you’ll be amazed at how STRONG and RESILIENT you’ve become.
If you feel this way, let’s give you some tools to teach you how to climb and fight.
- Therapy: there’s no shame in seeing a therapist! Sometimes it does take time to find the right one for you, but when you do, it’s life-changing! Therapy (specifically CBT, or cognitive-behavioral therapy) taught me skills to help manage my OCD and some PTSD I experienced after being first on scene and witnessing a deadly car accident.
- Medication: there’s also no shame in medicating. I know we want to try to be as natural as possible, but there’s no bones about it – mental illnesses are a chemical imbalance in our brains. Our brains are sick and sometimes they need more than lavender essential oil and meditation (though those can help!). Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about possible medications to try. In the interest of being transparent, I’m on Zoloft and Geodon to help with my OCD, anxiety, and depression.
- Anonymous hotlines: not all experiences will be like mine, and I hope mine does not discourage you from calling one. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is the one I recommend and they’re available 24/7 and are completely anonymous. 1 (800) 273-8255, or text “HELLO” or “HELP” to 741741.
- Groups: although I have not tried this method personally, think of a support group like your version of AA. Having someone who has fought depression and won can be your ‘sponsor’ – someone you can call and reference when you’re experiencing a down swing. Usually, if you seek out a psychiatrist or therapist, they can point you in the direction of some groups.
- Alternative methods: I’m more of a science-based person, but if you prefer a more holistic approach, try going on a nature-heavy getaway, experiment with essential oils, or try a low-intensity exercise like nature walks or yoga. Of course, I personally needed therapy and medication before I could enjoy nature walks, but sometimes going to the ocean makes me realize how small my problems are compared to its vastness.
So where do we go from here?
I think it’s time we break the stigma around mental health. I think it’s time we encourage mental health days off of work or school or pressures of our lives. I think it’s time we understand that depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental disorders happen to everyone of every age, size, color, creed, and class. And I think it’s time we stop saying “WHY” (‘why are you depressed/why are you so sad’, etc) and start saying “HOW CAN I HELP YOU?”
Everyone keeps telling depressed folks to reach out to family and friends, but sometimes, reaching out can seem impossible – we don’t want to burden our loved ones with our problems, or we fear they may not understand us. So if you know someone who has a history with depression or mental illness, YOU reach out to them. Open your heart, your ears, your mind, and your arms and accept them. Listen to them. Ask them how they’re doing and what you can do to help them. Your check-in could be invaluable to their life.
How am I doing after all of this? My OCD is under control for the most part. Right now, checking and counting are ruling my life. Listening to music isn’t really fun because I have to count the syllables of the lyrics, and I unlock/lock/unlock/lock my door throughout the day, even though I can clearly see it is locked. And the graphic thoughts never go away; I could be hanging out at the pool when I’m plagued with an image, or laughing with a friend over dinner and suddenly see something infiltrate my mind’s eye. It sucks, but medication and talking it through with my loved ones helps.
One quote that has personally helped me get out of my depressive or obsessive states and has for years is: “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” Six words that are so profound and completely un-fucked my mind. My brain is sick; it likely always will be. I will likely live the rest of my life with anxiety and OCD, and pain usually accompanies that. But I do not, under any circumstance, have to tolerate suffering. Any time I feel myself suffering, I am reminded of this quote and take the necessary steps to get out of my situation and onto the path of recovery.
I want you to know that if you’re suicidal and you’ve made it this far in my long-winded post, I am so proud of you. I want you to know if you’ve attempted suicide and survived, I am so glad you’re here. I want you to know if you’re considering suicide but reached out and got help, I am so glad you chose life.
If you need anything from me, please don’t hesitate to reach out whether we know one another personally or not. I am always here for you, and hope this post serves as a resource or reminder if you’re ever down and feeling hopeless. You’re needed. You’re wanted. You’re loved.
Hang in there, people. I love you all.