“Ask them if they’ve ever thought that it would be better to ‘just not be alive,’ says Dr. Kevin Gilliland, a clinicical psychologist and director of Innovation360 in Texas.
I recognized me in that statement – yes, a me of the past, but definitely me.
It was in an ad titled “Why Are Suicide Rates on the Rise?” in People magazine. Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade were on the cover, not for their contributions to society and creativity, but because, sadly, instead of fantasizing about not living, they actually took their own lives.
I wasn’t a buyer of Kate Spade’s ridiculously expensive handbags or a follower of Anthony Bourdain’s world travels in the search of food, culture, connection, and, maybe, self-worth. Yet, here I am now, touched by their deaths, linked to their inner struggles with depression and anxiety.
On the outside, they had made it. Both were wealthy and famous. Both traveled the world. Both left a child behind. Both hid their suffering silently. Once again, anxiety and depression shatter the boundaries of class, age, wealth, race, fame, gender, or education.
But the clues were strewn about, hidden in between their words and shadowing how each presented themselves to the world.
“I’m a worrywart. I look at what’s not working rather than what is.” (Kate Spade from People magazine).
People magazine by Ana Calderone about Bourdain: “In between shoots on location, Bourdain would often retreat to his hotel room to write or drink by himself at the hotel bar.” “I need to keep moving.”
Isolation, restlessness, fear of being alone, yet craving aloneness, needling anxiousness about some upcoming event, like grocery shopping or packing for vacation or what clothes to wear or waiting for a loved one to return home.
I know. I have immense gratitude for a girlfriend who would show up at my door without calling at all hours of the day just to check on me in my darkest days when sleep and walking endless miles at all hours were my only respites from the pain. She saved my life by being a royal Russian pain in the ass. You know who you are.
In the past, I ignored phone calls, made excuses for missing a party at the last minute, talked myself out of leaving the house – all because I lived the false belief that anxiety would rule every moment of my life for ever.
Eventually, after therapy and thirteen years on an antidepressant for anxiety and depression, I knew deep inside that I had to find a way face my demons or I would be right back where I was twenty years ago. I knew I had to keep searching to make meaning of my life so I could heal – really heal – from the inside out.
I woke up one morning and knew with certainty that I did not want to spend the rest of my life taking a little happy pill. So, to find some meaning in my life after I retired, I continued to study and seek spiritual truth about myself. Now, a year and few months later, I’ve reduced the Prozac to the smallest dose given and am taking it every other day. The next step will be the transition to every third day, and so on until I leave it behind.
Yes, each time I reduced the medication, I wavered and rocked in the strange world of getting off prescription medication: irritation at every glance, anger erupting, sleep too much or not enough. Each time though those symptoms were less and less.
I took up yoga again. I got the Headspace app to create a sustainable meditation habit. I changed my relationship to food and eating. I discovered that I need healthy whole food and lots of clean water daily. I learned to express my needs and make requests. I learned about the connection between thoughts/feelings, mind chatter, and needs, both met and unmet. I learned to take responsibility for my life, my thoughts, my feelings, my world.
Now, everyday, I practice gratitude and celebrate the good things in my life. I practice looking for good things in my life. I count my blessings every day, just like the old song says to do. I create massive amounts of feeling good. Now, I create what I want, not what I don’t want. I’m practicing asking for what I want, like a greater capacity to give love, express love, and receive love. I create acceptance of myself and others just as we are at any given moment. I create compassion for myself so I can share it with others with wisdom and kindness.
I create joy in my life doing the things I love: watching the Warriors; practicing yoga; walking my dogs; reading good books; appreciating my wife, Sandy, even when she’s grumpy; loving my grandson; going to Giants’ games; writing in my journal; hiking in parks all over the Bay Area; going to the cabin; camping with friends; laughing with neighbors; sitting on the deck rocking in my rocking chair; getting rose-gold highlights in my white hair; experimenting with cooking and healthy ways to eat; practicing Reiki and massage therapy; and, going to theatre productions as often as possible.
Joy is truly only a thought away. I wish that I could’ve shared that concept with Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Maybe it would’ve made them hesitant for a nano second and give living another chance.
Even as I write these thoughts down, I know I experienced, and continue to experience, vast amounts of serendipity and unconditional love from near and far. There remains a mysterious quality about my life and a question that asks, “How was I able to elude an untimely death?”
i know I’m blessed, but it was a long time coming to change my thought/feelings, meet my unmet needs, and reach for feeling good no matter how dark my inner mind chatter. I made the choice. I chose to take charge of my life.
In this moment, as the summer sun paints the pine trees iridescent green, and the sky an opaque true blue, I know I’m armed with the tools to live.