gratitude-a-thon day 413: being real about fucking depression

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A lot of people read this blog yesterday. In fact, it got more than 1,100 hits. I’m guessing it’s less about me being an extraordinary writer, than it being about the confusing news that someone who was so absurdly beautiful, so wildly intelligent and so filled with a supersonic life force could possibly be dead. And while it confused me too, while it made me reflexively scream out a searing guttural sound when I heard the news, I also knew the reason.

“For the last few years Katie has been fighting a severe and intensifying form of bipolar disorder – a disease which ultimately took her life,” said the announcement of her death made by her husband, son and brother. This wasn’t common knowledge. And now it is. And the bravery this took to make public, to state the simple truth, creates awareness of all kinds of depression. Because who better to be the face of depression than a girl who looked like Katie, who had everything, who in fact, was everything.

Katie told me she wanted to tell people about her disease, because she knew she could do more good that way. But she was concerned about the stigma for her son (and she was all about her son). And there it is– one of the biggest problems with mental illness: the fucking stigma. You can have cancer and continue to be a well respected citizen, getting sympathy, offers of help, people understanding that this isn’t something you chose, or that you can control. But if you have mental illness, people get uncomfortable, wonder why you aren’t just using your will power to stop being crazy. The thing is, that it’s just the same as cancer. It’s a disease. It’s not about being too lazy to do better.

Mental illness is rampant. And it’s not Jack Nicholson in the Shining. It affects ordinary people like your neighbor, like the barista who makes your coffee. Captains of industry have it, and foodies, fashionistas and athletes, policemen, students, doctors, lawyers and indian chiefs. It’s organic, like farm fresh eggs, and we need to do better. WE NEED TO DO BETTER. No, there is not enough affordable help out there, but before that very complicated part, there is this part: the stigma part. That’s not something that has to cost a lot of money to fix. It’s something we can all do our part in changing. Watch out for the signs in the people you know, the people you love. Talk about it as a disease like cancer, that it’s never a choice. Don’t glorify it, but normalize it. Display an attitude that lets those around you know you won’t run shrieking from the room if they ante up the guts to tell you they feel depressed. We need to do better. And we can. Each of us. Let’s take it on. For all of us. For Katie.

From her family’s announcement:

To honor Katie’s memory, donations can be made to
The International Society for Bipolar Disorders; c/o Chad Daversa, P.O Box 7168, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. Please note on the check ‘In Memory of Katherine McQuade Toig.’

 

6 thoughts on “gratitude-a-thon day 413: being real about fucking depression

  1. Thank you for writing this. I’ve known Katie since we were 15. I have Bipolar and we met by happenstance in high school, while I was having a panic attack in the bathroom. She explained to me what was happening and we became inseparable for awhile. She moved to Boston when she was 19 and I found her on Facebook…asked her how she had beat the disease (because she looked like she had, and I wanted to as well). I was the opposite of Katie when it came to the fear of stigma. I’m open about my disorders, the meds I have to take, the damage it’s done to my life. I remember Katie told me she wasn’t like me, she wasn’t able to be open about it, and that’s just because we are different people.

    Her death has had a profound impact on me. Her and I stopped communicating back in April and I didn’t stop to think maybe she was struggling again. Her photos showed a “perfect” life. I’m gutted and can’t get past her death. I’m so happy her family chose to share Katie’s struggle with Bipolar disorder because I want for the stigma to stop. I’m studying in the mental health field at the moment and it’s one of my biggest dreams — for mental disorders and suicide, etc to be talked about with ease. Because we can’t move forward or learn the signs of depression/suicide if we don’t have open conversations about it.

    Katie struggled for much longer than a few years. She struggled since she was a pre-teen. I am so sad for her family and everyone else who loved her, but I’m glad she is not battling this horrendous disorder any longer — because she didn’t deserve this pain — not one ounce of it.

    • Dear Victoria,

      Thanks for telling your story. I don’t know if you were at the funeral (or where you live), but her brother told that story about how you met katie in the bathroom. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I’m so sorry you struggle with Bipolar. I know it must be really difficult. I’m glad you had Katie, and I’m glad you are open about your disease. I always think we’re, as they say, only as sick as our secrets, and while i know that talking about your stuff can’t make it disappear, i believe in almost all cases, it can help. Jeff spoke very eloquently about Katie’s illness at the funeral, and gave everyone there some real insight into the kind of pain she was in. I am so grateful that he handled it that way–with honesty, and respect, and love. I am sure this will help others.

      Her service was as beautiful as she was. Our community is shocked and saddened. I wish you the very best of the very best. You sound like someone really special.

      xo
      Toni

      • Thank you so much for sharing that with me. I live in Seattle. I’ve felt so disconnected from everything and alone, because I live here with my tiny immediate family and don’t know any of Katie’s “new” friends, and we didn’t hang out with the same crowd in high school either. We were two individuals who hung out often but we were very sick and we hid it from everyone else in high school. Knowing our little story was told at her funeral makes me feel connected to the memorial, which helps to give me closure. I will miss her so much. It’s wonderful she had such an amazing family. Her husband sounds like an incredible person. I wish you peace as you grieve her loss.

        – Victoria

  2. oh victoria, i’m so glad you got in touch, or i never would have been able to tell you that story. YOU WERE THERE at the service, even though you were far away! it sounds to me like you had a very special and unique relationship with katie. i’m sorry you are struggling with her loss. there are many people who are devastated here, as well. but i see that you shared something unusual and very unique with her. i’m so glad you got in touch. i wish you love and peace as you remember her, and grieve. i’ll be thinking of you. xoxo

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