Beyond the Purse: How Kate Spade's Death Helped Me To Understand My Own Coping Patterns

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"People who need help sometimes look a lot like people who don't need help." - Glennon Melton

The news of Kate Spade's sudden death came across my phone on Tuesday, June 5th.  I was on my way to a pool party for Harry's birthday when I saw the alert come up on my phone.  My heart sank.  I tapped on the link and started scouring the internet for more information.  Her suicide really bothered me. Granted, I don’t know Kate Spade personally.  Over the years I have bought a lot of her bags and her sense of style and fashion made me feel like I had a connection to her.  But by outward appearances, she seemed to have it all.  Wealth, family, beauty and a thriving new business. So what happened?  I wanted to know more about why she decided to take her own life. I began to follow the story as it started to unfold and I realized that her tragic death triggered some unresolved emotions inside of me. So when I saw others posting their own personal stories about suicide, mental health issues, and addiction, I felt compelled to use this platform to do the same. 

I was only eleven years old when my grandfather took his own life.  I was too young to remember a lot of what happened.  What I do remember is the chaos in my house when my mom found out that her father killed himself with a single gunshot to the head.  It was a Saturday afternoon in June.  My mom, a high school track coach, had just returned home from the state track meet when she got the news from her sister.  I remember my brother and I sitting at the dining room table watching the adults run around the house trying to figure out what to do next.  It was like watching a movie in slow motion.  My grandmother had passed away from emphysema less than six months before.  My grandfather was still grieving her loss and was lonely.  He ultimately made the decision that he couldn’t live without her.  That decision not only affected his life, it had a ripple effect on so many other lives as well.

Over the past few weeks I have been trying to understand why Kate's suicide had such an impact on me.  During this process, I hit my yoga mat to start working through those emotions that are deeply buried in my subconscious mind as well as my body.  And what I am beginning to realize is that how I learned to deal with my grandfather's suicide is the pattern I now use to deal with difficult events in my life.  We never discussed my grandfather's suicide in my family.  My parents didn’t talk about the situation with my brother or me.  And in fairness to my mom, she had just lost both parents in six months and she was trying to cope with her own grieving process.  I learned how to cope with the loss of my grandfather by watching how my parents dealt with it.  Unfortunately, I did not grow up in an emotionally expressive family. My parents did not share their emotions with us and generally went with a stiff upper lip approach. The messages that I received from my parents were very clear.  Strong people don't show their emotions.  Being emotional is a weakness. 

As I was writing this blog I realized that I still apply what I learned at that early age about dealing with grief and tough times.  In the past when I have met difficult challenges in life I kept my emotions buried inside rather than actually feeling them and healing.  Five years ago, during my divorce, I hit rock bottom.  I was struggling with shame, low self-esteem, and a fear of being alone and unloveable.  I literally hid in my house and shut myself off to the rest of the world.  I had created this perception to the rest of the world that I was this strong, independent woman who had her shit together. I had to keep up the act.  I didn’t want anyone to see how much I was hurting and truly broken I was.    

Acting like I was strong and keeping everything inside came at a very high price.  I turned to alcohol to help numb the pain of loneliness, despair, and rejection.  What started off as one glass of wine could easily turn into a couple bottles.  My drinking began to have an effect on my relationships, my job performance, and my health.  At one point, I was confronted about my drinking by senior partners in my firm.   

My life had completely unraveled and I was about to lose everything. 

Did I consider taking my own life? I am not going to lie-there were times in those really dark days when the thought crossed my mind.  I had really screwed things up and I wasn’t sure I could figure my way out of the latest mess I had created. But by the grace of God, an incredible therapist, the love and support of my dear friends and family and of course- my yoga practice, I was able to turn my life around.

No one will ever really know what was going through Kate Spade's mind when she took her own life.  The suicide rate in the United States is increasing at an alarming rate, and studies show that people of all ages are feeling more anxious and depressed.  Mental health is an issue.  I felt compelled to say something about the topic. For me, this blog has become one of the ways for me to heal from painful experiences in my life and to share the lessons that I have learned with others so that they know that they are not alone.  It gives me a means to connect with others and helps me to cope with my own personal struggle with anxiety and depression.   

You never really know what is going on with someone on the inside.  Don't assume that because you think they are a "strong" person that they are okay. Strong people need help too. Reach out to your friends. Check in. And it is okay to ask for help!  It doesn't mean you are weak or strong.  It means you are human. We all need help from time to time.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or had thoughts about harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-8000-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support.