All Is Not What It Seems

by Joanie Butman


It would have been hard to miss the tragic news of Kate Spade’s suicide this week followed shortly by Anthony Bourdain. Their premature deaths are another reminder that you never know what’s going on in someone else’s life. An icon of fashion and a nomadic bon vivant, they appeared to have it all – family, success, beauty and brains. What happened?


It’s tempting to look at others and think they have it all together. Personally, Kate Spade didn’t make a handbag large enough to carry around all my ‘baggage,’ and my palate wasn’t as adventurous as Mr. Bourdain’s culinary tastes. However, it was fun living vicariously through them imagining a glamorous lifestyle that apparently wasn’t all that it seemed.

In this addictive age of social media, it’s easy to be swept up in a virtual reality world where people’s lives and looks are edited and polished. I avoid it because any time I’ve engaged, I’ve come away suffocating under a proverbial pile of shoulds – I should travel more, volunteer more, post more, read more, be more witty, share selfies sans wrinkles and ten pounds lighter. Compared with others, I've got a boring ‘storyboard.’ Anxiety takes hold just thinking about it. 

No wonder depression and anxiety are at all-time highs, as are suicides. People aren’t living their lives any more – they’re producing them. The production doesn’t necessarily resemble reality, which tends to be messier. Authenticity and vulnerability is not a commodity you see traded on social media, and it must be exponentially harder for those living in the limelight like Ms. Spade and Mr. Bourdain with a ‘brand’ to uphold and protect. 


Fortunately, the only ‘brand’ I’m called to be an influencer for is Christ. A lofty assignment for sure, which is why He provides the Holy Spirit. I just have to choose to make myself available and let Him do all the work. How do I do that? First and foremost, I disconnect. I choose to guard and cherish my daily quiet time with God where I offer thanks and praise along with my worries and concerns. Choosing to make time for Him before anything else allows His peace to calm and strengthen me for whatever the day holds. He is the most important daily connection I make and the only ‘like’ I’ll ever need. Second, I choose to connect with other believers, which also strengthens our joint responsibility to be brand ambassadors for Christ.


Disconnecting is anathema to the next generation. My son recently commented, “I can’t just fall off the grid. That would be weird.” In my day, falling off the grid wasn’t peculiar, it was vacation! Pull back, disconnect, relax, rejuvenate, re-center and re-enter. Simple formula that few take advantage of these days – whether it be for one hour or one week. No wonder the sale of anti-depressant and anti-anxiety meds is a booming business. We’ve lost our ability to ‘switch off.’


Medications may provide momentary relief, but long-term mental health is a combination of medication and therapy when needed in conjunction with lifestyle changes which implement techniques such as diet, exercise, meditation, mindfulness, prayer, etc. The treatment which has provided the most relief for me is a person not a pill. I’m not negating the benefits of medicine. It can be quite effective in getting someone over the hump to a place where they can practice those other methods to achieve and maintain a peaceful mental state.


Having suffered with depression most of my life, I was diagnosed years ago as a ‘lifer,’ meaning the therapist recommended I never stop taking the antidepressants he prescribed. Wise advice I took to heart. I thank God every day for the miracle of modern medicine that offered me a solution to a condition that was affecting my entire life and of those around me. About the same time, I was reading a book by a catholic priest who also suffers from depression. He comments, “The first community service I perform every morning is taking my medication.” I laughed out aloud because it’s so true. Even so, it only gets you so far. Jesus carries me the rest of the way. It’s His promise to all of us. 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)


We’ll never know what demons compelled Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain to end their lives. I believe we all have our own monsters in the closet, which we do our best to hide from others. Never assume all is what it seems. The following quote has been attributed to Ian MacLaren, Wendy Mass, Buddha, Socrates and even Plato among others. Its origin doesn’t matter. Its wisdom and compassion speak for themselves. “Everyone you know is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” Kindness, compassion, mercy – exactly the branding Christ asks us to promote. It's always the wise choice.