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.’