It’s been a week of unusually bad news. Not the “what did Trump do now” kind of news; not the “volcanic eruption kills 500 in a small village in….” kind of news . This was the week that two famous people who seemed like they “had it all” chose to commit suicide.
I was not an avid fan of Anthony Bourdain, altho’ I liked his Parts Unknown tv program whenever I watched one of the episodes. I knew nothing about his personal life but I enjoyed his on-the-edge philosophy and his omnivorous gusto. Kate Spade wasn’t really on my radar much either because I am not a person who pays much attention to fashion. I do remember my 16-year-old son (now 35) telling me that some of the girls in his high-school class (of some means) were infatuated with the brand. I knew nothing about her personal life either.
This morning while indulging in my favorite pastime…reading the New York Times at leisure… I delved into the news coverage about their recent deaths. I wanted to know “why.” From what I read, it seemed that Bourdain was chasing demons for much of his life. But he kept that darker side from the public, and wisely so. He was enormously talented, energetic, irreverent and driven…not an easy way to live. He seemed to channel much of his angst into whatever work he appeared to be doing at the time. That approach seemed to work, most of the time. And then it didn’t.
Kate Spade was equally talented in a very different way and also very driven. A person who “came out of nowhere” to make her stamp in the world of fashion and then became rich is, by definition, a taste setter and go-getter. Although her life seemed almost “normal” in comparison to Bourdain’s edgy journey, she, too, seemed to channel her hyper-energy into her work. And she also chose not to share her dark side. Until she did.
While sitting on my patio on a gorgeous sunny day, I contemplated what I could learn from their deaths. What I came up with was “gratitude.” I have had no more joy or no fewer challenges than the next person. My 35-year-old daughter has suffered five open-heart surgeries and is now struggling to make sense of her life; my 36-year-old son who had cancer at 25 and now has a promising career, is now struggling with his partner to have a child. I had fourth-stage metastasized cancer and am lucky enough to still be alive and cancer-free three years later. My husband, who is in better health, works hard to be a good provider. Together we have achieved a certain level of material comfort in our lives, but it did not come easily. Both of us came from working-class families who did not have an education beyond high school, so we were pretty much on our own when breaking through middle-class boundaries. Our journey through life has had some extremely challenging moments, but there have been rewards along the way.
I am extremely grateful for the life I now have. I am grateful that there were treatments available for me and my children that were not available in the past, and have enabled us to continue to live full, meaningful lives. I am grateful that after a long struggle with unsatisfying work, I was able to land a job as a teacher in my mid-40’s that offered me the opportunity to save for the future and purchase a comfortable home. I am grateful that I live in a very beautiful spot on the North Shore of LI near where I lived as a child, a place that allows me to enjoy my love of nature in the nearby wetlands and woods. I am grateful that despite my mounting physical annoyances I can still take a walk around the pond in my local park or a vacation in Europe. I am grateful I can still read to my heart’s content as that has always been one of my favorite indulgences. I am grateful that I have cultivated lifelong friendships that continue to sustain me as life becomes more challenging.
In full disclosure, my own life has been a struggle of sorts. I battled severe depression in my late twenties and did not have the resources or support I needed at the time. There was a year in my life that I had such anxiety I suffered from acute insomnia. But I am one of the lucky ones. I fought my way through it, married and had children and a career.
Antidepressants have been part of my life for a long while and will probably continue to be necessary for the remainder of it. I am not ashamed of that fact, but wish I had access to them sooner. I also wish that Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had the same outcome I have had. But just as their lives were more “successful” than mine and had more impact than mine, clearly their demons were more powerful than mine and they succumbed.
Today I feel sorrow for those who struggle with mental illness and eventually are overwhelmed by it and a deep sense of gratitude for my simple, ordinary life.