I know that you and Bea** don’t know me, but I just want to convey my sincerest sorrow at your loss. Kate was a beautiful woman and she created beautiful things for all of us. She was your best friend, and your partner or your mother, and you will miss her far more than I will ever understand.
I know that members of the psychiatric community are swearing that you should have seen this coming.*** They really don’t understand how good Kate was at smiling and saying all the right things, do they? They don’t understand what it’s like, living with someone who has a serious mood disorder on a daily basis.
My mother used to come and visit my children and the minute she’d walk through the door she’d exclaim how much they’d grown. I was always stunned at how easily she’d perceive this when I, their mother, never noticed their growth until their clothes didn’t fit anymore. My mom told me that it was being with my children every day that made it hard for me to see their growth, because the change was incremental and therefore not very visible to me. My mother, on the other hand, saw my daughters only once every three or four weeks, which gave her the objectivity to see how they had grown.
The psychiatrists don’t realize that you were caught in the same dilemma. Kate’s doctors saw her once every month or two, and her descent into emotional hell was obvious to them. You, on the other hand, saw Kate every day; you spoke to her every day. The change was incremental for you and therefore that much harder to observe.
And then there was the fact that you had been dealing with her mood disorder for years and years. You had learned to look past her mood swings, her habit of isolating and pushing you away. You had learned that focusing too much on her mood changes made her irritable and even more depressed. She hated feeling like the family ‘problem’ and did everything she could to mask her symptoms, and so you learned not to point out her obvious depression and anxiety because it only made things worse for her. She didn’t want to make life difficult for you and Bea and so she tried her best to smile and sound happy, even when she wasn’t. You didn’t want to make life more difficult for her, and so you learned to quietly accept her just as she was, whatever mood she was in, however hard it was for her to engage with you.
Combine that with your inability to observe the incremental changes, and you have a potentially fatal combination that masked Kate’s actual intent on the last night that you spoke to her.
Please don’t blame yourself, and tell Bea not to blame herself either. You both loved Kate, and she knew that you loved her. She just thought that both of you would be better off without her, even though we all know that she was so very wrong about that.
People who don’t work with the seriously mentally ill just don’t understand how much of a struggle it is to live a joyful, rich, and productive life while dealing with a mood disorder.
People who aren’t depressed compare Major Depressive Disorder to their sadness and grief, when it’s much more like comparing a nasty cold to pneumonia. Most medications won’t do anything to impact the duration and intensity of a cold, yet without medication and medical intervention, pneumonia is often fatal.
People who don’t have anxiety disorders compare them to worry or mild anxiousness, when it’s much more like comparing a burn on your hand to being on fire. Both are painful but only one has the potential to be fatal.
People who have never been with someone who is bipolar have no idea what the heights of mania can do to a person, or what the deepest depths of depression can remove from their humanity. I had a client who described her depressive swings as “oily, black, and incapable of admitting light”. The rest of the world cannot imagine how helpless bipolar individuals feel as their mood swings deny them the right to experience daily life in some sort of consistent manner; what it is like to wonder what outrageous things your mania will cause you to do, or just how deep and searing the hell of your depressive swing will be.
People who have never sat for hours floridly imagining the myriad of ways to end their own lives have no idea how terrifying and yet comforting those ideas can be.
You did everything you could to love her and protect her, Andy, but in the end you had to give her the right to live (and end) her own life on her own terms. It is tragic and heartbreaking, but respecting the rights of the mentally ill while doing your best to protect them from their illness is a delicate dance that defies even the most wise and observant of therapists and psychiatrists. You were not Kate’s therapist or her psychiatrist. You were simply the man who loved her more than anyone else. You and Bea were also the portal to the greatest joys she had ever known, and for that, I thank you both for shining light into Kate’s darkness.
My heart breaks for you and Bea, and I want you to know that the community of those who love mentally ill friends and family members stand with you and honor Kate’s legacy and all her work.
May God comfort your family and all of Kate’s friends and colleagues during this difficult time.
** Beatrice is Spade’s daughter.
For Andy’s statement about Kate’s death, look here: