Famous. Successful. Beloved. Depressed.
They represented so much of what I love about life- food, style, humor. They showcased themselves on a grand scale, brought artistry into my 'not so grand scale' life, and enriched it without ever knowing me. Sure, it made them rich but it made me rich too - rich in appreciating how they saw life's beauty.
Their suicides are crushing.
Why, oh why, does it happen? For now, social media spikes with suicide prevention information and reminders of how we are all loved and needed in this unrelenting, difficult world. Information about depression floods media coverage. In their isolated deaths, these artists offer one more universal gift: awareness.
Of course famous folks are not inoculated from depression. We all carry it. We all struggle with it. The weight of it unevenly fractures our thoughts. Most of all it isolates even the most exposed of us. And that is what makes it so frightening.
The subtext of their singular deaths is, if it can happen to them, with all of their resources, then it can happen to anyone. Indeed.
As my grandmother would say, everyone puts their pants on the same way every day.
Their fame makes them known to us in a way that is, after all, unnatural. It is false connection which strangely reassures us. Let's face it - we work years on cultivating personal relationships, enduring the pitfalls of connection as well as the rewards. We invest in and love our families and friends with ardor knowing it is a challenge. But, as a dear friend would always point out, when you consider the alternative, there is no other choice.
So why do we allow famous strangers to inhabit this sacred life space? I think they help fill a universal desire to feel nourished, beautiful, happy. Their positive offerings to the world resonate via their notoriety and fuel their own life's purpose. It can be the quintessential win/win because we each get something from the experience.
This is what makes their suicides so jarring. If we are supposedly winning in the give and take of talent, how can this happen? I don't pretend to know the answer, but I am strangely grateful for the reminder these humans leave behind: depression is everyone's demon. Whatever tools we need to keep it from taking the steering wheel of our lives must be readily accessible. Depression doesn't care if we are loved or not. Depression just wants the steering wheel.
Depression has taken my steering wheel countless times and in differing degrees: after an unspeakable betrayal by an old flame, after a house fire, after the death of a younger, robust friend, after my daughter turned 17, after motherhood felt anemic. Sometimes I walked out of it. Most times I crawled out with help.
I don't think we can eradicate it. Authors (and goddesses) Anne Lamott and Elizabeth Gilbert each reinforce the belief that we need to learn to live with depression. Their non-fiction writing is one of my go-to strategies. They have taught me that depression gets a seat at our emotional table along with the more desirable guests of kindness, joy, empathy. (sort of like Trump at the G7 meeting, but I digress.)
Depression gets a voice but not the microphone.
Our very human work is to love without rules, without fear, and to listen. To reassure everyone that they matter. I don't know that I do any of these really well. But I am thankful for the unbalanced, unfair, excruciating reminder these deaths blast home, yet again.
I'd love to kick depression's ass. I will settle for shoving it into the trunk, muffling its voice, and taking the goddamn keys.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. 1-800-273-8255 https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/talk-to-someone-now/