Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘Depression

Why Do We Feel So Bad When a Celebrity Suicides?

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Over the past week, two celebrities — handbag designer Kate Spade, and chef Anthony Bourdain — died in apparent suicides. And the grief when someone in the public eye kills himself (or herself) can be overwhelming. Whether that person is an actor, a sports star, a chef, a politician, or anything else that somehow brought that person to the heights of fame, the fact that person has a fan following before passing away so suddenly and abruptly by his/her own hand seems to magnify the outpouring of grief.

Or, at least, it seems to magnify how much that grief is being felt, because now the grief that people feel over the celebrity’s passing is also being covered in the news. And has become news in its own right.

Is this wrong?

Possibly, but not covering the grief people feel when someone they saw on television or the internet passes in such a sorrowful way also would be wrong.

See, these folks — who don’t know most of us from Adam or Eve — become like our friends. We get to know them. We care about them. We enjoy seeing them. And we want to believe, somehow, that their moment on the public stage will last forever…even though we know that’s impossible.

Lest you think I don’t understand why people feel terrible when people they knew (or at least knew of) ended their lives, I need to give you some background.

A very good friend of mine died by his own hand when I was in my early twenties. He was a smart man, a kind man, a caring man. He played organ in the church. He owned a home, which he’d inherited from his mother. He was a huge football fan. And he was a particularly gifted bowler, to the point he could’ve — and quite possibly would’ve, had he lived — made the Professional Bowler’s Tour.

(Yes, there is such a thing. Though there is a regional circuit to handle, first. And that takes a while to navigate. But I digress.)

My friend was only thirty-eight. And he felt he had nothing to live for, because he didn’t have a romantic relationship; he didn’t seem close to his family; he didn’t believe he should impose upon his friends.

So, one day, he told me and my then-husband one story about where he was going. And he told another good friend a different story. By the time we sorted out the stories, my friend had been dead for a few days.

He died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

He’d battled severe depression for quite some time. And he was in immense, enormous pain. His emotional state had gotten to be so dreadful, he couldn’t reach out anymore. And he didn’t want his friends to worry; he didn’t think we should worry.

That’s why he did what he did.

And to this day, I can’t think about my friend, and wonder about why he wouldn’t reach out to me. But I also know that he just wasn’t capable of doing it at the time; he was too upset, too hurt, too confused, maybe too angry with himself…just not in the right frame of mind, and couldn’t understand that he truly did matter.

I think, honestly, he didn’t believe anyone would remember him past the hour of his death. But he was wrong.

Getting back to the two celebrities who just passed away — I didn’t know Kate Spade personally, though I knew of her designs. (Very clever handbags, and quite attractive ones.) I didn’t know Anthony Bourdain either, though I read some of his writing (good stuff, with a visceral, meaty undertone; perfect for the chef he was), and saw at least parts of a few of his shows. I know they were creative people, and they did the best they could in their lives to maximize their creativity in a positive way.

And their deaths leave a big hole in the world, because they were known to have done this.

Of course their friends, their loved ones, their work mates, and everyone who held them in high esteem are devastated. How could they not be?

So, in a way, I can answer the question I posed above, regarding why we seem to feel a celebrity’s suicide so much stronger than a “run-of-the-mill person.” (Not that there is any such animal, but again, I digress.)

I think we do this because of our common humanity. And because many of us do know at least one person who has died, suddenly, because the pain got to be too much for him or her…and all we can do when we see that someone else has died in that same, sudden way is to extend our hands in sympathy.

We do this because we’re human. And it’s the best part of who we are, that leads us to mourn, even for those we didn’t know.

———-

P.S. No matter what you think when you’re at your worst, about your own personal shortcomings, or about the things you haven’t managed to do yet, or the people you feel you’ve failed — you matter, gentle reader.

Yes. You do.

And if you feel like you don’t, please get yourself to a counselor, a physician, a psychiatrist, a priest…whoever you can reach that has at least a little training in how to deal with someone in a major life-crisis (depression certainly is that, though most don’t seem to believe so). (Please?)

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Singer Chris Cornell Dies at 52

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Folks, yesterday I read the stunning news that singer Chris Cornell, frontman for Soundgarden and Audioslave and Temple of the Dog, had died at age 52. Cause of death: suicide by hanging.

I’ve read a great deal about Mr. Cornell’s passing since then. It appears that he was taking Ativan (generic name: Lorazepam), an anti-anxiety medication, and he admitted to his wife by phone shortly before his death that he may have taken a few too many.

I am familiar with Lorazepam. It is a central nervous system depressant. It works to calm an anxiety attack, and is a very good medicine…but taking too many can lead to despair and suicidal thoughts precisely because it depresses the central nervous system. (That is its function.)

I’m also familiar with playing concerts; I’ve been a musician since age 10 or so, and while I never did much singing, I am familiar with some of the things that tend to happen after concerts. So please, bear with me, as I try to discuss some of them.

(Note before I do, I do not know the circumstances beyond Mr. Cornell’s death any more than anyone else does via various published reports. All of this is speculation, and I can’t be certain I’m right. I say this as a disclaimer; everyone here should know I’m not a medical professional.)

First, when you don’t play well, it eats you up inside if you’re conscientious and care about music.

This does seem to apply to Mr. Cornell, because audience members at his last concert said he wasn’t at his best. And his wife said he was slurring his words (this according to a published report at Huffington Post) in their final conversation…all of this tells me, as a musician, that Mr. Cornell was anxious before his concert, so he took some Ativan as prescribed.

And to my mind, this makes sense. I have taken anti-anxiety meds before a big concert where I’ve had solos I’ve worried about. And I’m not a multi-million dollar artist, known for at least twenty-five years as a big-name act.

See, we all want to play or sing well, and do our level best.

In my case, I took the lowest possible dose, and refused to take any more despite still feeling nervous. I had a reason for this; my grandmother used to take this medicine, and I knew how it affected her. So I didn’t take any additional meds; I just waited it out, played my concert, and did my best.

I think taking the medicine at the very low dose prescribed was useful.

But if you don’t have someone in your background who’s taken that medicine, maybe you might think differently than I did. Maybe you might take an extra one. Or two.

And if you don’t realize that it’s a central nervous system depressant, or you don’t realize exactly how much it’s going to affect you after you hit one of these “performance lows” you can sometimes get…well, my best guess is that these two things combined to cause Mr. Cornell’s passing.

From published reports, it sounds like his family wants a toxicology test done to see exactly how much Lorazepam Mr. Cornell had in his system. That makes sense to me; I’d want to know it myself, in their place.

I hope they also are aware of the whole idea of performance highs and lows. Most musicians are, whether they talk about it much or not.

I’ve known about it since at least my mid-teens; sometimes after concerts, where I feel I’ve exceeded expectations (and my own are pretty high), I’ll feel extremely happy, and it takes hours to “come down” from that feeling. But the reverse is also true; if I finish a concert and think I’ve played much worse than expected, I’ll feel extremely awful. And it takes hours to regain my equilibrium.

That leads to a story…

Last year, in the summer concert season with the Racine Concert Band, I felt awful. It was hot, it was humid, my hands were aching and sore, and I felt ten steps behind the rest of the band. I nearly had an asthma attack on stage if I remember right, and I did not play well at all.

Hours later, I was still ruminating over this concert. I was wondering if I just shouldn’t play my saxophone any more. (Was this an overreaction? Sure. But I’m trying to explain how badly I felt in that moment.) I thought, for a brief time, that maybe I was just getting older, and there was nothing I could do to improve my performance.

It took a few hours of a friend talking to me to realize I was overreacting. (I’d usually call it “being silly,” but in this context, I don’t quite want to do that, because I don’t want any fans of Chris Cornell to think I’m saying he was being that way. He wasn’t.)

And I did reach out. I did say to my friend, “Hey, I had a bad concert and I’m feeling terrible.” And my friend patiently talked me through it…staying up until two a.m., even, to make sure I was going to be OK, before he and I stopped talking.

Not everyone can admit to that. Not everyone wants to…they think of it as a personal failing they need to hide. Or maybe they just don’t realize that this feeling of playing or singing badly is going to go away. There will be other, better concerts; there will be other, better days.

But when you are in the downward spiral, it’s really hard to get out of that. You start to think that your whole life has been a waste, that your musical talent and training is a waste, that you don’t have any reason for being, etc.

I am not saying that I know what happened to Mr. Cornell that night, mind you. I can’t say that.

I’m just saying what happened to me that night.

And I’ll tell you what; if I had had some anti-anxiety meds that night, I might’ve been tempted to take too many. I was in a terrible state. I didn’t want anyone to see me like that, or hear me, or realize I was in that rough of shape.

But I was. And for some reason, I was able to reach out.

My friend, whether he knows or not, may have saved my life that night. (Or at least my sanity.)

As for Chris Cornell…all I can tell you is that I wish he were still alive, still singing, and could still tell his family that he loves them.

I will miss Chris Cornell. I never knew him personally, but his songs, his musicianship, and the emotion that came through every time he sang spoke to me.

I hope wherever his soul is now, he is at peace and feels the outpouring of love and sympathy for himself and his family that has occurred since his tragic death.

And I hope his family will also feel that comfort. It isn’t enough — it will never make up for Mr. Cornell’s absence — but it may help them realize that they don’t grieve alone. (Though they will grieve harder, and longer…as a widow, I know that full well.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 19, 2017 at 2:41 pm

A Saturday Request: Give Yourself Time

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Folks, after reading this post from Jason Cushman (also known as the Opinionated Man) about an acquaintance of his who committed suicide years ago, I have some thoughts.

Jason’s post discusses a young man he knew from church camps, Josiah. Josiah was often teased, as Josiah’s name means “the Lord supports, the Lord saves, and the Lord heals.” (Or to put it another way, Josiah is a very tough name to live up to — the kids often teased Josiah because they felt he was meant to be a messiah, if I understood Jason’s post correctly.) Perhaps none of the kids meant badly by it, but Jason quite rightly calls it a form of casual bullying. As Jason put it in his post:

When I reflect on these trips and more importantly Josiah, I feel like he probably dreaded coming to them and that was a shame for someone who obviously valued our faith. I stop myself from thinking that way because I don’t know for sure and it really does no good to burden one’s self with guilt if you aren’t sure you are guilty. I can say that I am somewhat ashamed that a boy going through his own journey of self-realization couldn’t recognize another person who was doing the same. More importantly my own experiences receiving daily bullying from my differing cultural surroundings did not create any sense of understanding at the time of what I was taking part in and that it was wrong. Like I said, we were children and children can be some of the most evil creatures on this planet when it comes to social drama and interaction.

I think the most important line there — or at least the one that resonated the most with me — is this one: “I can say that I am somewhat ashamed that a boy going through his own journey of self-realization couldn’t recognize another person who was doing the same.”

But we’ve all been guilty of that, from time to time. Haven’t we? (If we’re honest, we’re going to say yes.)

Anyway, Jason’s post got me to thinking. Thus today’s request, which is simply this: Please, give yourself time.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to shrug off someone else’s opinion of you, especially when you want them to care or be impressed by what you’re doing. But if you live long enough and give yourself time to understand yourself a little better, eventually you learn that their opinion of you is not what’s important.

What’s important, ultimately, is what you do in this life. How much you learn. How much you grow, and change, and experience…but to do all that, you must first give yourself time to figure yourself out.

Too many kids, whether it’s Jason’s childhood acquaintance Josiah or transgender youth Leelah Alcorn, don’t realize this. They are in so much pain, and they think that pain will be everlasting, unending, and of course they can’t stand it. They get to the point that it seems that no one will understand, or care — and they take themselves out of life before they can learn otherwise.

I understand this feeling quite well. I was often depressed, growing up. For a time, I felt like I was encased in a wall of ice, and I couldn’t reach out…fortunately, my parents found me a good counselor, and I was able to open myself up to him.

You see, I was different than everyone around me. I often was bullied, too, especially in junior high school. (We didn’t call it “middle school,” then.) I got along with many people, yes, but most of them were a great deal older than I was…I thought I was a misfit, doomed to never find a friend, doomed to never be happy with anyone, ever.

Eventually, I learned I was wrong. But it took me time, and a good amount of trial and error, until I figured this out.

So, today, I want you to do one, simple thing: Give yourself time. Time to step back. Time to forgive yourself, if need be. Time to recognize your growth. Time to recognize that you, yourself, are a worthwhile and valuable person.

If you can do that, you are one step ahead of the game. And you’ll be much more mentally healthy, besides.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 19, 2016 at 3:11 am

Depression and Robin Williams — A Remembrance

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Folks, over the past day or so, I’ve seen many, many tributes to the late comedian/actor Robin Williams (1951-2014). Some were funny; some were touching; some were things that should’ve been said to Williams before he died.

One thing that’s been said, over and over, is that Williams suffered from severe and unremitting depression. This is alleged to be the main reason as to why he’d turned to substance abuse in the past (he was a recovering alcoholic and cocaine addict), but it’s also possible that the depression got much worse due to the heart issues Williams suffered in recent years (he had an aortic valve transplant in 2009).

The mind and the body are linked. We all know this. So when your body is not doing well, that feeling of illness can be reflected in your mind also.

And it’s just that much worse if you’re someone who fights depression and anxiety . . . I know this due to the struggles of my family and friends, past and present.

I’ve written about depression before (see this post about the late Mike Flanagan if you don’t believe me). It’s a difficult subject to discuss, because so many of us don’t want to talk about it. There is a stigma attached to depression, as if the person who’s feeling depressed actually wants to feel so bad . . . and treating a depressed person is so difficult, so challenging, that even if a patient fully cooperates in trying to get better, some of them just don’t.

Thus Robin Williams.

Ultimately, Williams will be remembered for his comedy, for his acting, and for his personal generosity. He was a brilliant, caring, kind-hearted, and generous soul who brought happiness to many despite his own struggles against depression and addiction.

But what I will remember most about Williams is how open he was about everything. His struggles. His joys. His failures. Williams was an American original, yes, and a genius, too. But he mostly was himself, and he owned up to his failures as easily as he talked about the much more fun stuff — his numerous successes.

Williams’ wife and family have asked that people do their best to remember Williams as the creative, funny and brilliant man he truly was. But I can’t do that — mostly because I think that leaves far too much of who Williams was on the table, unaddressed.

Instead, I’ll remember him as a complex, interesting, mercurial, honest, and compassionate creative artist, who lost his long battle with a pernicious disease — chronic, severe depression — after a valiant fight.

I hope that now that Williams is in the Afterlife, he’s getting caught up with his great friends, Christopher and Dana Reeve, and so many others who preceded him in death . . . and that he has found the peace he’d sought all his life at long last.