As the shock and disbelief of Kate Spade's death by suicide lingers, it is interesting to note what words are used to describe her life, and speculation about her final days.
Some reports were matter of fact; how Kate was found by her housekeeper and that (thankfully) her daughter was not home at the time. Others offered personal stories of working with Kate and Andy, while countless women posted photos of their favorite KS purse, or recalled how getting their first KS bag made them feel as though they had 'made it'.
Close friends and family members hinted that Kate had been managing depression and anxiety for the past few years. Conflicting stories abound regarding a possible pending divorce and disappointing sales numbers for Kate's most recent line of handbags.
A few of the comments said, simply, "...she had demons..."
Why is depression, or anxiety, a demon? Is cancer a demon? How about diabetes? Erectile dysfunction? Do we say that someone who manages these health challenges is fighting demons? Not really. So why do we think and speak in such unkind terms?
Demon is defined as an "evil spirit" and a "source or agent of evil, harm or distress"; the antonym is "angel". More accurately, a synonym is 'torment'.
Living with a brain disorder, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, and the many other afflictions that 1 out of every 5 people we have in our lives today is tormenting. Not only is the nature of their illness utterly involuntary, the dearth of accurate diagnostics, and effective and fast-acting treatment adds to the torment.
Relief from the torment is elusive. And exhausting. And isolating.
One of Kate's family members suggested that the reason Kate did not seek the intensive and specialized attention she could have benefitted from was fear; fear of diluting the brand, fear of being rejected, fear of ridicule.
How many walk-a-thons, ribbons and fundraisers have we seen rallying behind just about every medical condition except brain disorders? Forty years ago, c-a-n-c-e-r was spelled out in conversation: now we have pink t-shirts with 'Survivor' in large print.
How many commercials have we seen extolling the bliss of a Viagra-fueled weekend? Most guys are bragging and winking, not shame or shying away, about popping the little blue pill.
How sad that Kate decided to defer intensive treatment, which might have reduced her torment, not trusting that her social and professional fabric could withstand the news.
Wouldn't it have been fantastic if Kate could have pursued answers and sought relief from torment free from fear of rejection?
Had our larger social conversation been supportive, not judgmental, and seen Kate's public embrace of her journey, we most likely would have seen a line of purses, eyeglass cases, stationery and cocktail party accessories made especially to promote awareness and education. I, for one, would grabbed any items from a special edition, brain disorder collection.
Had Kate been undergoing treatment for breast cancer, we would probably have seen a slew of handbags with Kate's signature whimsy worked into bright fuchsia ribbons, with a portion of sales dedicated to research, education and patient support.
With a long list of peers who successfully manage their brain disorders in the public eye, including Jane Pauley, Michael Phelps and Mariah Carey, Kate Spade could have been surrounded by a circle of support and continued to be an inspiration to her countless devotees.
Let's start to have conversations that allow for those important to us to feel unafraid to share how they are feeling, without judgment, or fear of ridicule or rejection. In this case, the most important element of conversation is listening.
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