I was walking home from therapy when I received a text from my friend about Kate Spade.
I instantly felt that something was horribly wrong, perhaps a tragic accident. These days, my mind tends to jump to the worst case scenario. This time, it was worse than I had imagined. A quick google informed me that one of my modern role models had died, had taken her life. Not an accident.
I always felt an affinity for this creative and colourful woman. It shattered me to learn in this way that we also shared a battle with depression.
If you are familiar with my work and/or my wardrobe, you know that I am obsessed with the brand Kate Spade and the empowerment it stands for.
What you may know less about is my deep admiration for the woman who started it all. The woman whose vision was to pair handbags and high fashion with practicality. The woman who was not actually called Kate Spade (She was Kate, he was Spade), but poured her identity into her work, work that helped so many other women piece together their own identities through style and whimsy.
For my birthdays I receive Kate Spade presents from my Mama, and while I adore my sparkly pencil case and zodiac jewellery, the gifts with the most meaning have come from the Original Kate: Mama tracked down her trio of lifestyle books [now out of print, and endearingly retro], and gave me a bucket bag from Frances Valentine’s first collection.
From these books I learned the value of delightful footnotes, and that Kate loved dogs.
From Kate’s new venture, Frances Valentine, I learned about the evolution of projects, from small to big to bigger to small again, and staying true to one’s creative vision.
Obsessing over Frances Valentine on Instagram felt like a well-kept secret, while taxi cabs with the Kate Spade branding rolled by in plain sight.
I feel a responsibility to say something, about Katherine Brosnahan, and about mental health.
I want to respect the specifics of her experience, and what I do not and cannot ever understand. We have been told that she took her life, and left a note.
Her sister has since used the term ‘manic depression’ and explained that that Kate was afraid of seeking help for depression because of a conflict with her playful branding.
This breaks my heart.
I want to have told Kate that being public about her depression wouldn’t change anything.
I want to have said that she could be both.
But I know that in my personal experience it is so hard to be convinced of anything when feeling that removed from myself.
And honestly – I fear that she would have faced humiliation and scrutiny if during her lifetime she were ‘found out’. As I scroll through articles now, in light of her death, I am appalled by some sensationalised headlines.
It saddens me to say that I understand. I understand a piece of what she was going through, and I can only hope that awareness of her story can help others.
I hope that mental health will be taken more seriously.
I hope that the floods of love and support that have followed this tragedy will help to reduce stigma and that for someone else, getting help will require less strength. There is enough internal strength required. I wish for there to be as little external strength and worry as possible.
I hope that the conversation following Kate’s death is around legitimising depression, and making it easier to ask for help.
For someone with depression, asking for help will always be difficult.
I hope that some of the social barriers can be lifted to make it easier, one tiniest fraction at a time.
Sometimes when I have a cold, I am lying in bed, dehydrated, knowing that if I got up and filled my cup with water, I would feel 100 times better. But I am so tired and sore and worn down, that it takes tremendous energy to go and get it.
My depression is like this, except it’s not always as simple as getting a cup of water. There might be no water available when I try to turn on the tap. It might taste horrible.
And all the while, my head is telling me that even if the water would bring certain relief, I don’t deserve it. I don’t want to feel better. I don’t need to feel better, I will just lie here, forever.
The reality of getting help for depression
I have been doing very well with therapy.
I had to try four different therapists to find one who fits, and under the spell of depression, trying once feels impossible (For the record: Two didn’t help, one made it worse, one made it better). I have been to the emergency room twice for mental illness (one time helped, one time made it worse). It took many many tries and a tremendous amount of energy from my family and friends to persuade me to try to get help, over and over and over.
When I heard about Kate Spade, I was spooked with how fortunate I was, to have emerged from an hour of therapy that I now willingly attend, that I know brings me stability and improves my wellbeing.
To have systems in place to care for myself, from regular massage therapy to daily mandatory rest to having an immense support system of friends and family who care, understand, and are here for me.
I am so grateful for the support that I didn’t even know I had, when I put up my Gone Camping sign six months ago and took a break from work.
Unlike any other, the Kate Spade brand celebrates not just the clothing, but the person wearing it.
The Kate Spade Miss Adventure series already encourages embracing opposites: colour and play in the face of ‘mishap’. This whimsical acceptance of imperfection has helped me on many occasions, reinforcing the idea that I don’t have to be feeling bright to wear bright colours.
I want to be clear that I don’t add colour to cover up, or bury in sparkle. The art of dressing up is healing for me. It doesn’t have to be one way or another. We can adorn our stresses, and add beauty to grief, to accept it and make it slightly more bearable, because every slight help is an improvement.
I wish for depression to be separated from personality and accomplishment.
I want the worry that depression is ‘not on brand’ to be as silly a thought as saying that a broken wrist is ‘not on brand’.
Being a heroine is about the full picture, and all parts of the journey.
A heroine’s life is curated, and by definition, curation means leaving things out. Some blame social media for depicting an unrealistic view of our lives, through filtering and editing and what we choose to share. This has always been the case.
A fashion designer’s iconic handbag is the result of hundreds of tries. An author’s published work is the result of thousands of edits. All the scrapped parts, the broken handles, the tries and failures are left behind, and we see the end result.
I am so so sad for this news, because I was helped so much by Kate and what she created.
My friend Lily describes medication as a band aid for mental illness, something that will support the healing process. Medication has not ever worked for me (it has for many many people I know), but I have band aids of my own, and Kate’s art – her designs, writing, and vision – is one of them.
I don’t think aspirational is a bad thing. Dressing the part of the heroine I want to play helps me to get into character.
I want that narrative to not only include the good, but overcoming the bad. I want my dress to stand for not a life of perfection, but of outlasting imperfection. Of picking herself up again. Life can be all rosy, if we remember that roses also have thorns. If we remember the beauty to be found in fallen petals.
P.S. I am of course, not a doctor or a psychologist or a therapist. I have written myself a Spell for Feeling Well, which you can download for free. I use it mental health maintenance (not treatment).
If you feel that you need more help, I encourage you to seek it, and to keep trying until something helps. I admire the bravery of each of you have sought help, who will seek help, and who will be there for someone who needs it.