Sunday 10 June 2018

To a deeply depressed mother, suicide isn't selfish

Kate Spade probably thought she was relieving her loved ones of a burden, writes Jen Simon on Daily News. Read on: 

When a mother, regardless of her celebrity status, kills herself, the first question is usually: What kind of mother would purposely abandon her child or children? Many people assume a selfish one.

Suicide is thought to be the ultimate selfish act. After all, when you end your life, the pain and suffering that was too overwhelming for you to bear is not erased but absorbed by your loved ones. The people you leave behind are condemned to a life of confusion, guilt, anger and heartbreak.

Designer Kate Spade is photographed at her offices. (David Howells/Corbis via Getty Images)
Over the next few days, we’ll see outraged hot takes and angry talking heads wondering why Kate Spade didn’t consider her daughter’s feelings before she killed herself. Although I didn’t know her, I believe she absolutely thought about her daughter. How do I know? Well, we know she left her both her daughter and her husband a note, a strong sign she cared deeply about both.

I also speak from personal experience, because my son’s wellbeing was one of the reasons I contemplated suicide.

My introduction to suicide came early. When I was 10, my best friend’s 12-year-old brother killed himself. Our parents were good friends, and I was convinced he and I would get married some day, cementing my best friend as my sister. Instead, he became the youngest victim of suicide in our state. That record has since been rewritten.

My mother told me it had been an accident; he was walking around the basement with a rope around his neck when he tripped. Although it was implausible, I believed her; why wouldn’t I? It wasn’t until a girl at school told me the truth that I learned the word “suicide.” I didn’t believe my classmate. It didn’t make sense. This was before bullying became a ubiquitous topic, a catchphrase, a cause celeb. Before 12-year-olds were known to kill themselves.

Success doesn't change the underlying psychology (Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News)
Because we had front-row seats to the family’s fallout, my mother spent years telling me that suicide was not only selfish, but the most selfish act possible. It seemed reasonable, rational. But nothing about mental illness, depression or suicide is rational.

I learned that when, months after my son’s birth, I was overcome by postpartum depression and anxiety. Although I had experienced depression before, I had never seriously contemplated suicide. Not until I stared at my son cooing in my arms day after horrible day. Why did becoming a mother prompt me to consider killing myself for the first time? Why would I have left my beautiful baby boy? Because depression convinced me that I was a terrible mother.

I thought everything I did was inexplicably, horribly wrong. I thought anyone would have been a better mother than me. I felt like my death wouldn’t be a punishment for him, but a gift. If I killed myself, I reasoned in my sick mind, I would be acting in his best interest. If I was out of his life, he would have the opportunity to have a better mother. One who wasn’t broken like me.

Just like Parkinson’s steals motor control and dementia steals memories, depression steals joy. Worse, it steals hope. It steals possibility.

Depression is the all-consuming fear that things, emotions, circumstances, life itself — is static. You are certain that you will always be bullied. You will never get a job. Your money troubles will never end. You will never have the energy to face the world. You will always be in pain. Your child will never sleep. Your fights with your husband will never stop. You will always be an alcoholic. You will never be understood. You cannot get help. Depression is the belief that nothing can or will ever change.

Those convictions are irrational, of course. Though progress can be slow, life is always evolving. Yet in its most severe form, depression buries you so deep that it seems like there is no way out. Forget the light at the end of the tunnel — you often can’t even find a tunnel. There is no movement possible, no backward or forward or up or down or sideways. There is only an exit. There is only death.

Depression lies. It tricks you into believing that your death wouldn’t devastate your loved ones but liberate them. It doesn’t feel like you’re abandoning them; it feels like you’re freeing them from the burden that is you and your illness. You feel like you are doing the world a service by leaving it.

Suicide becomes a misguided act of selflessness, the furthest possible motivation from selfishness.

Kate Spade was wealthy, famous and successful. She had anything and everything she could ever want. Except mental health. Her brain wasn’t functioning correctly. Her concept of reality was skewed. She will be remembered as a wonderful designer, a creative force, a savvy businesswoman, a generous philanthropist and, I hope, a devoted mother.

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