Dedicated to Michael Goncalves and the loved ones we have lost to suicide
Early in June, I had a day at work that left me drained, overwhelmed, and maybe even frightened at how low I felt. I really felt the need to go back into therapy. That difficult moment did eventually pass. I spent decades working on strategies to self-regulate, to care for myself, and to deal with some of the challenges that I face. I call upon that learning, training, and experience whenever I feel weak. I am grateful to be able to do so for myself.
This past June we lost fashion icon Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain to suicide. This week I lost a former student to suicide. Those deaths made me reflect on my own journey with depression and mental illness. I have been open about my own struggles with anxiety and depression. I don’t talk about them as much in recent years because they’re not as central to my current experience. There may be times in the future when I face grief, loss, and other challenges of middle age. My mental health has been foremost in my mind for the greater part of my adult life. It took me years to achieve that level of self-awareness.
The mental transformation that I have undergone took years. There are times like that summer afternoon when I will feel as if all my progress has evaporated in moments. Suddenly my negative self-talk and negative self-image will resurface. I may be healthy now but that doesn’t mean my negative self-image still isn’t there. I spent years loathing myself. That part of me still shows up now and then, those thoughts, those ways of seeing and perceiving the world. They don’t go away because of therapy or, for so many people, because of medication. Those negative thoughts and beliefs are some of the ways my mind responds to challenges.
I am thankful for all the work I put in for my mental health. I have known my therapist for half my life. There were times when I saw her once a week. I also took part in support group for three years. I completed intensive work in various behavioral therapies.. That work was necessary and continues to be instrumental in my life today. I would not have made it through in my profession and in my personal life. I couldn’t be a parent today.
As we grapple with suicide, we are more open to discussing mental health. It’s important that we recognize we are not professionals. We can’t take the place of professional help. Some may think having good friends and a loving partner may be all the support needed. That could be. However, I know I needed my entire circle of family and friends supporting my journey, a great therapist, and my entire medical team involved. I am religious so my spiritual life and practices also changed and deepened. Working on my mental health included work in all areas of my life. It was a process. I learned that I needed routine, discipline, and physical movement. Becoming mentally well took a monumental effort. I needed patience and faith that what I was learning would work. I had to have faith life was going to get better.
It hurt my heart when I learned of Anthony Bourdain’s death. I never met the man but I have read his books and he was fun to watch on TV. We used to joke we would have our own show, Latino couple traveling with toddler. It was easy for us to look at Bourdain and say that he was living the dream. I was devastated when I learned my former student had died. I think about how he was always smiling, how sweet and happy he seemed. I won’t ever truly know anyone’s story or pain. We each have a journey and unfortunately some end in tragedy. Even though I don’t know what these men experienced, I remember my own struggles. I remember how sad, angry, frustrated, low, and miserable I felt. I remember wanting relief. I won’t ever forget. Those memories keep life in perspective.
I wish those we’ve lost to suicide rest. I wish everyone grappling with mental illness relief. If you have been blessed with a truly healthy self-image and mind, be grateful. For some of us, it’s a daily effort to be well. I hope to keep my eyes, ears, and heart open to others.
*National Depression Screening Day is October 11. Learn more at Stop a Suicide Today