Kate Spade’s Red Scarf

Tawny Lara
Tawny Lara has been documenting her sobriety journey on her blog, SobrieTeaParty.com, since she quit using alcohol in December 2015. Photo courtesy of Robert Riese Photography.

Kate Spade’s tragic suicide is a stark reminder that even women who appear to have it all can be suffering, often in invisible ways.

As a wealthy and successful designer who built her career on all-American designer handbags, Kate Spade is not the type of person one would imagine could do something like this. And that’s a problem. Society has an ideal image of what things “should” look like:

Depression = Someone who cries all the time and can’t get out of bed.

Alcoholic/Drug Addict = Someone who’s lost everything because of their compulsive behaviors, living a lonely life on the street.

Eating Disorder = Someone who’s extremely thin, either restricting calories, purging, or both.

As an addict with depression and emotional eating habits, I can tell you that life is fucking hard sometimes.

While these descriptions can be true, these societal images lack nuance. Much of reality exists in the grey area. Someone with depression can live a relatively “normal” life. They can show up to work on time, be a supportive friend, and post smiley selfies on Instagram. Eating disorders look different than most people realize. Binge eating, emotional eating, and obesity can also fall under the eating disorder spectrum.

Someone can actually suffer from all of these disorders at the same time. It’s more common than people realize. As an addict with depression and emotional eating habits, I can tell you that life is fucking hard sometimes. It’s hard a lot of the times. I’ve been sober since December 2015. I’ve learned about my own mental health and addictive personality through therapy, cathartic writing, and publicly speaking about my recovery.

My therapist tells me I have agitated depression. This means that I stay as busy as possible to avoid the dark thoughts that float through my head. When I finally slow down to feel my feelings and hear myself think, I break down. I become consumed with rage.

It often bothers me that I’m a human. I like to pretend that I’m a robot with no feelings that can do anything and everything, pleasing everyone. I get overzealous, overcommitting to events and assignments because I like my plate to be so full that it’s spilling over onto my cluttered table. When I finally take a step back to look at everything I once ordered, I realize that I don’t want most of it. I get overwhelmed. My mind races. Anxiety takes over. I think about what would happen if I just disappeared. I don’t take it further than that, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have suicidal thoughts. Perhaps I’ll always be searching for balance between these two extremes.

I meditate daily. I do yoga. I pray. The latter is new to me. I’m not quite sure who or what I’m praying to, but it’s nice to hear myself say that I need help. It’s a daily reminder that I can’t do this alone. That I need my loving friends, family, and support groups. I’ve recently begun letting myself cry. This is big for me. Crying reminds me that I’m not a robot. I’m a human, and that’s worth sticking around for—even if there are days when I just don’t feel it.

It’s easy to call suicide selfish. But I get it. Kate Spade, like 45,000 other Americans annually, simply couldn’t deal with her reality. Many of us can’t. That’s why we drink, get high, starve ourselves, or binge watch an entire TV series in a day. Spade’s sister had been encouraging her to get help for her mental illness for years. She refused because checking into treatment, allegedly because doing so didn’t match her “happy-go-lucky” brand.

The media typically talks about suicide during the aftermath of a tragic moment like this because that’s what makes a headline. This approach fails to acknowledge the events that lead up to someone deciding to end their life, or the fact that the ones that appear to be the strongest often need the most help.

The more we discuss difficult topics like self-harm, addiction, and mental illness, the easier it can be for people to seek and receive help. It’s time we see the red scarf for what it is—an SOS that came far too late.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicide, reach out to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-8255.