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There’s a disgusting trend that follows every celebrity death.

As soon as the news hits, people pop out of the woodwork to shit on everyone who’s sad. “You didn’t know them. You have no right to care about their death. You’re being stupid.” Yeah, well, I haven’t met everyone who’s died of cancer, and I can still conceptualize that it fucking sucks. It’s called empathy, assclowns.

But, when a celebrity dies by taking their own life, I have an extremely solid reason for feeling like I’ve been gutted with a jagged, rusty ice cream scooper.

A History of Ignoring the Obvious

It took me a long time to understand I was depressed—18 years, in fact. And I only let myself realize it in the wake of the truly spectacular way I fell apart after breaking up with my high school boyfriend. (Of note: the time when I went into a mind-blanking panic and texted him nonstop, without response, for an hour straight while sitting on a swing in a park near my house.)

But there were signs.

I was obsessed with my perceived worth. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been convinced that there was a “How to Live Life” handbook that everyone in the world received but me. Starting in elementary school, I worried that no one would love me if I wasn’t the best. From middle school on, I apologized constantly for merely existing, to the point where my mother actually yelled at me for apologizing to her. After an epic blow-out with my best friend freshman year of high school, I internalized the belief that I brought no value to friendships; I was just a feckless sidekick, clinging to the main players in the hopes that they’d validate me.

Then, of course, there was my fascination with that same friend’s self-harm habit. How pleased I was with myself when, one day, I managed to semi-accidentally slice the pad of my thumb while playing with scissors—no blood, but it hurt and called to mind the time I intentionally stapled that same thumb as a child to see how it felt. How I tried to muster up the courage to do it on a grander scale whenever my “little issue with stress” (in reality, severe anxiety) got so bad that I could feel the veins beating, throbbing, sizzling in my arms and wanted to rip them out. How disappointed I’d be when I could only dig my nails into the flesh, covering my arms in semi-circles and broken skin that stung when the air shifted.

But, no. I definitely wasn’t depressed.

The Rush of Understanding

You know how when a tsunami is building, the water at the shore pulls back, and everything seems quiet but off center? And then suddenly the water comes rushing back and destroys everything in its path?

That’s how I came to realize I was depressed.

The receding waters: my increased inability to leave my dorm, near-constant paranoia, the too-big hoodie as a permanent look, the way I let myself practically starve because I was too embarrassed to ask some tenuous friends for a ride to the store, temporarily picking up smoking because I heard cigarettes helped you feel less stressed (and maybe I would become interesting enough for my ex to talk to me again as a result).

The tidal wave: feeling like everything I’d done up to that point in my life—the good grades; the friendships; the rule-following; the carefully plotting out the right amount of time to date someone before getting engaged, be engaged before getting married, and get married before having kids at 25 and 30 like my mom—had been a waste and wondering if swallowing my entire three-month supply of prescribed migraine medication would be enough to kill me.

Every morning, when I took that pill, I thought “I can definitely swallow a bunch of pills. A lifetime of headache medicine and allergy pills has prepared me for this.” And still, it wasn’t until I was actively tallying up all the people who could potentially be affected by my death that I realized I was truly, absolutely, unequivocally depressed.

Can Someone Fix My Brain?

That was about 9 years ago. After talking to my mom (without, of course, spilling all the gory details), I sought help. While I regularly couldn’t convince myself to get out of bed to attend class, I hauled my (often unshowered) ass up and off to the counselor’s office once a week. Days before I met my husband, I made an appointment to visit the school psychiatrist; I was prescribed antidepressants on the fifth day of our relationship.

That should be the end of the story. It should surely be enough of a reason to silence any jagoff who’d think I was overreacting to a celebrity suicide.

But, there’s more. (With my life, there’s always more.)

My time on medication was brief. The psychiatrist left the university after a few months, meaning I had to see a regular on-campus doctor in the interim, and after one visit, my anxiety got the better of me, and I didn’t go back. I let my meds run out and told myself I’d eventually see a new doctor.

So, I really shouldn’t have been surprised when, years of imbalanced chemicals later, I found myself in a similar situation. After moving to Boston and starting grad school, the dark thoughts came back. Once again, they were a slow build. And once again, I didn’t notice until I was standing at a crosswalk, on my way to class, and caught myself thinking “It would be so easy to just walk into the oncoming traffic.”

A Monster Waiting in Shadows

Because of more doctor shenanigans (too many health insurance/job changes and a dislike of my primary care physician), I remain off the medications that I need to keep from going over the edge. I’m working on setting things in motion to get back on them, but it’s become a fairly exhausting process—and I’m worried that it’s too late.

This is why it hollows me out to hear that a celebrity who struggled with mental illness has taken their life. The idea of getting access to resources (like meds, therapy, etc.) is the only thing holding me together, and if someone with seemingly endless access to said resources can’t fight their way out, how the fuck will I?

Because on the battlefield of mental health, I feel like I’m naked, holding a blunt stick someone found on the ground, while the enemy is rushing in on dark, terrifying horses. And with this news, it seems like even if I were decked out in Valyrian steel, NOTHING will keep me safe.

So, excuse me, internet troll, for crying when I heard about Robin, Chris, Chester, Kate, Anthony, and all the others we’ve lost. Because that shit affects me.

It makes me wonder when and if I’ll be next.

N. Alysha Lewis

N. Alysha Lewis is an editor and blogger with author aspirations whose love can absolutely be bought with french fries.

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