Having just returned from Europe, I am marinating several blog topics but I can’t get to them without first addressing the deaths this week of both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

It’s not that I care more about celebrities but they are the ones who get your attention and make you think for a few minutes more than you normally would.

I keep seeing posts about how the mentally ill should call hotlines or reach out to friends and family for help. I realize you mean well and probably don’t know what to say. But do you know what mental illness really is? Do you understand that it alters brain chemistry? That it can manipulate a healthy thought process? It can make you believe things which may not be true. It’s not like having a fever and knowing I need to call the doctor. It’s taking away my ability to recognize a fever at all.

I need to say this. I am sorry if it hurts you. But if you haven’t yet suffered from the kind of depression which robs you of reason, energy, soul and breath 1) you are lucky 2) but you are not immune – it could happen to you anytime 3) you can’t check us off your list with a quick hotline number Facebook post and consider yourself part of a solution.

I have suffered with depression on and off my whole life. While my parents had the boldness to get me treatment in the 80s when it wasn’t talked about….it wasn’t talked about. I wasn’t allowed to tell my friends where I had to go on Saturday mornings. That was my first lesson in shame and privacy. I was only allowed to talk to Elvira, my shrink for about 12 years.

At my darkest times in adulthood, it was fiercely important to me to take financial responsibility for myself so calling out sick from work was just never an option. But after 5 every day I bathed in it. I lost sleep because of it. I questioned my worth. I wondered if anyone would notice me gone. I binge ate in my dark corners. I purged and then got up the next day and went back to work. I couldn’t let people know how bad it was because I would look like a failure. I wouldn’t look “strong.”

Unable to empathize with myself I got a dog to keep me alive because I would at least get out of bed to feed him. I wasn’t talking to anyone about my actual depression. I was feeding the dog and getting myself into work every day.

At 40, PTSD got added to the menu. I dabbled in food and alcohol issues awhile but have managed to stabilize myself through therapy, yoga, exercise, reading, beaches, travel, dog. Notice how I don’t mention anything about talking to my friends about it. Very rarely do I actually discuss what it feels like or when I am in it.

Here’s the hard truth. Mental illness erases reason. In healthy times, I know you care about me even if you have spent the past 5 years at field hockey games and gymnastics. I get all our hustle and bustle. I watch your kids grow up online and wait for a drink when they get to be teenagers and maybe you have some free time. You watch me online and think “I should reach out and make plans” but just never get to it.

With an unhealthy mind, though, if I can’t get you to commit to one dinner every couple of years, why would I call to tell you I need help? You can’t even find time for a cup of coffee when I am happy. What would you do if I told you I was thinking of killing myself? I know that’s hard to hear but mental illness is ugly, morose, confusing and zombifies any reason a person may have once had. We think back over the years and figure we are a burden because you don’t reach out, you don’t confirm or keep plans. We have our answer because our disease is eroding self worth like a cancer but because you can’t see it, you refuse to believe it’s really there. You think we have the capacity to ask for help when we often don’t. In fact, we think we are doing you a favor by not reaching out and that’s what that kind of depression is all about – to confirm you are better off without us.

Even if we could reach out, that kind of friendship/depth has to be nurtured during the good times. In fact, me asking you to meet for dinner is my health plan. It’s not because something is wrong I want to bore you with. It’s to feel alive and engaged in your life and to make sure you know your importance in mine just for day to day. It’s to actively work at heading off depression. Only something cultivated has a chance of flickering through a black depression and maybe getting us to reach out to you. But, more often than not, we have already reached out multiple times on the mundane and been rebuffed so we have our answer when life becomes unlit. I’m sorry but that’s the reality of it.

My worst depression was a year and a half ago. When I was standing on a sidewalk considering walking into oncoming traffic, I wasn’t thinking of who I should reach out to for help. I was thinking of all the people who couldn’t be bothered with me and confirming my delusional lack of value in my damaged head. It was the miracle of 2 friends reaching out within a week of one another, in different ways, that gave me the jolt to wake up from my sidewalk trance and get my shit together. It’s not because of people like David Spade saying life is hard and we should “try to hang on.” It was two people noticing something out of place and taking the time to tell me. They saved my life. Not only that, once I went to the doctor and re-adjusted my prescription, I’ve had the happiest year of my life. So yeah, you have to do more than give me a phone number or tell me to reach out, but not a whole lot more. One of them just emailed me. The other bought me a book and wrote a heartfelt note. That’s really all it took.

It’s not your fault people kill themselves. It’s not your fault people in your life develop mental illness. It sucks when it’s close to you and you have to deal with the madness of it. You need space. You need distraction. You need your own attention. That’s all valid. But it’s a shitty disease. You can’t just offer to drive us to chemo and let us borrow a book. You have to wiggle in there, into the deep crevices around a monster and try to find the place where we still exist. I know you can’t just check it for your list like a grocery item quickly bought. It takes work. It takes community. It takes a different way of thinking. It requires taking unfair responsibility. It’s a nuisance in your day or week. Imagine living with it your whole life and trying to survive it. Imagine the exhaustion. As you can see, even those who “have it all” and achieved the highest levels of success surrounded by people who love them can’t always survive it.