suicide

A Reflection from My Time At Onsite

I’m not sure where you were when you got the news that Kate Spade had ended her life.

For me, that news will be forever etched in my mind. I will always remember the patch of grass where I was standing, the feeling of the sun hitting my face as it was setting. The lump in my throat as I tried to swallow when I heard it was suicide. My stomach physically ached.  And not because I was a Kate Spade super-fan, but because I heard the news moments after receiving my phone back on June 7th after being away from all technology for a week. Let me back up.

Onsite.

On June 1st, I drove myself about an hour outside of Nashville, Tennessee, to a place called Cumberland Furnace, TN to the Onsite Workshops. Onsite is a therapeutic retreat center and they have a week-long program called “The Living Centered Program,” or LCP. I’ve had a ton of friends who have gone through the program, who all had incredible experiences, but I never thought I would actually do it.

See, I always thought of Onsite as a rehab type of place — like, you only go there for serious problems. But, after talking with my friend Miles who is the CEO at Onsite, and another friend Jess that works there, I had a better understanding that the program was really for anyone who wanted to take the next step. Anyone who wanted to become more emotionally healthy. A safe space to work on yourself and on your stuff. And that looks like all different things for different people. It’s really just a place for you to get emotionally fit.

So, with a little help and encouragement from my friends I said YES and signed up for the June 1st LCP. Honestly, part of me almost let fear win. Like, I almost didn’t say yes. I didn’t like the fact that I would be without a cell phone/computer and all the comforts of the outside world for a week — hello SEPARATION anxiety from my life. It was a real thing.  And another real fear was that the last 8 months I’ve really felt in an emotionally healthy place…or at least A LOT better than other times in my life…so I was a little worried that a week of intense group therapy was going to leave me in a worse place than before. But, I was able to talk that out with some of the Onsite staff, and they helped calm my fears and reassure me that it was a guided process — I wasn’t going to be alone with these fears.

So, June 1st came, and at around 7pm that evening, I handed over my cell phone. Guys, it was weird. I was excited to be free from it for a week, but I also immediately felt SO ALONE. I had none of my people with me. I couldn’t text Jill if I was having a melt-down. I couldn’t send a GIF to my girls if I needed a laugh. I couldn’t call my mom. I couldn’t insta-story and chat with all my insta-people. Solo. Me. Well, me surrounded by 56 strangers. Yikes.

I’m not going to share the details of all that we did, but it was a combination of mornings spent with the big group — learning more about the science behind why we do what we do…sort of like emotional fitness classes, and then the late mornings and afternoons were spent in your small group of about 8 or 9 other individuals, and that’s when the more focused work would happen…in group therapy.

I am not even going to lie — I thought the idea of group therapy was terrible. I mean, I knew that was the thing that LCP did, but I’ve never done group therapy and I was certain I would hate it. But, OMG, it was magic. These 9 people started out as strangers, and I can tell you right now, there’s not one of them I wouldn’t fly across the country for in one hot second right now. These strangers became like family. Six days. What in the world?

I’m not even sure how to fully summarize what changes I feel in myself, but it feels significant. And full disclosure, I definitely had some personal a-ha moments that I want to keep for myself or family/close friends, but I do really want to share some of my takeaways with you in hopes that they might be useful to you. They might be jumbled or random but here’s the bottom line.

I loved it. I feel like I learned tools that will help me navigate the rest of my life. I feel like I experienced real healing in some wounds that I was carrying since childhood. I would highly recommend the program to anyone who has blood running through their veins. I think anyone and everyone could benefit. Literally there were people there from ages 19 to mid-70s. Anyone can do this.

Group Therapy.

So, you’re in a small group, where everyone has signed a confidentiality agreement and you have a therapist who is the guide for your group and you get to know these people. Like, KNOW them. As you share your story and as they share theirs, something begins to shift inside of you. You cannot look someone in the eyes when they’re talking about their pain and not be changed. My therapist group leader told me that 70% of your healing comes from just being in the room — the 30% is when you’re talking about your own stuff, but that might not even be as impactful. And I realized something…that might be the key. I think that’s what we’re all looking for in life. Someone to bear witness to our pain. We don’t need someone to fix it. Or say it’s going to be fine. Or pity us. We just need someone to see it. Someone to bear witness to our pain. Especially if the pain happened a long time ago, to go back, to uncover those painful moments and have a room full of people witness it. There is healing in that.

I am a fixer by nature. I want to rescue and fix and make a plan for change to get out of pain. Yet, that was not my role —in group therapy or in life — my role is to say, I see you in that pain. Maybe that’s it. Just, I see it. I am a witness to your pain…and I’m sorry. You take 57 strangers, and you realize that every single person there is carrying pain of some sort. Wounds. Hurt. Heartache. Some of them are scars that run deep. Some are fresh and still oozing with infection. But pain is pain. I left there and I swear I was seeing people differently. The cashier at Kroger. The guy flipping burgers at Five Guys. Every single human alive has a story and most likely has pain. It makes me want to listen more. I don’t need to fix or rescue. I need to listen and see people. I need to bear witness to their pain. It’s powerful.

It was intense.

They say the week there is equivalent to 8 months of weekly therapy. So, it’s no walk in the park. At times, it was uncomfortable…pushing me out of my comfort zone and into feelings that I haven’t felt in a while. Was it a breeze? No. Was it worth it? Yes. Because here’s the thing: I’m pretty certain that great things come after a bit of friction. Sometimes sitting in the group room, I felt uncomfortable and it felt hard. I think of it now like fire or friction. No one likes fire, but that’s how you get the refined beauty. No one likes the friction on the rock until the diamond appears. And I don’t mean it to be a cheesy analogy, but I mean it. It reminded me that most things in life that are worth it take work, and sometimes that work is uncomfortable in the process.


You aren’t allowed to talk about what you do for work. That is a true story. You arrive and you are given a name tag. Kate R. — that was all of me. You guys, I’ve been a part of the duo Jill and Kate for 15 freaking years. Do you know how awesome it was for people to get to know me? Me. Not “Kate” from Jill and Kate...or Kate the back-up singer for Kelly Clarkson. Me! Just me! This part was so helpful.  Literally, there are people that don’t know the difference between Jill and I, and honestly they don’t care to. When showing up at an event on my own people will ask me: “So, how are you guys?” Ummm…it’s just me here.

I felt seen.

This kind of piggy backs on my last point — but during my week at Onsite, I felt seen. I sort of think you can’t escape that. Seen, known, and loved. I think someone summarized those things that might be our three most basic desires and longings. I wasn’t known for accomplishments or seen because of what I did for work. I was seen as a human being not a human doing.

Also, I realized that so much of my life is work. And I love it — I love all that I get to do, but when people aren’t allowed to talk about work — you talk about who you are. Sometimes around the meal tables there would be awkward lulls in conversation because the natural flow of conversation NORM is to talk about work. Instead, I found myself asking the question “Do you have any hobbies? What do you do for fun?” A lot. It was awesome because you actually get to know people for who they are, not what they do. Yes, yes, yes. I’m trying to do this more. My way of asking people questions is now, “So what keeps you busy when you’re not {at the event or driving for Uber}?”

Another huge takeaway for me was that my job is to look after myself. Not in a “Only lookout for #1” way or a selfish manner at all, but that my role in life is taking care of and nurturing myself. I cannot control anyone else or any other situation, but I can take care of myself. A lot of my nature is to caretake — which my therapist also pointed out the difference between care-taking and caregiving. That care-taking is way more about you than it is the other person. Ummm…say what? Thanks Jim for the mic drop moment. Taking vs. giving. Dang, that was a lightbulb moment for me. But I realized that self-care is something that I need to focus on.

Meditation and the brain.

So here’s the deal. I have always heard meditating is good for you. I sort of thought it was more in the New Age vein, but heck, even the Bible talks about meditating…but I’ve never really done it, because I thought that it was something to do for fun or for spiritual reasons. During one of the morning sessions, they do a whole lecture about meditating and show you scientific scans of brains and meditation. I will not attempt to regurgitate medical information here, but let’s just say I now try to meditate every single morning. It’s like flossing but for your brain. Do it, do it, do it. I downloaded a few free apps that have guided mediations: Calm, Headspace and Simple Habit. So far, I like Calm the best.

I am so incredibly grateful for my time at Onsite. To the people that read this that spent the week with me — you know who you are, and I am so grateful to have you with me on my journey from here on out. To the ones who got me to Onsite — Jess, Miles and all the other friends I texted for advice — thank you! I am a different person because of you.

And to you, reader, who might be feeling scared or stuck or in need of the next step…reach out for help. If it’s a friend or a therapist or counselor or a week at Onsite — don’t underestimate the healing power of sharing your pain with others — that’s what we all need — we need a witness to the pain.

And so, I think that’s why the news of Kate Spade hit me so hard.

She was seen and known by billions of people. Had success. Money. Fame. But did she feel truly seen? Truly known? Truly loved. Did she need someone to bear witness to her pain? I don’t know and I never will. But hearing the news of her death was the punctuation mark to my week at Onsite that made it forever memorable.

My hope for you, dear reader, is that you feel seen, known and loved.

Much love,

Kate


What Makes You Healthy?

Yesterday I was scrolling the socials on my phone and started seeing multiple posts about Chester Bennington. He was 41 years young. The lead singer and frontman of Linkin Park committed suicide. Anytime this happens I feel like my heart just breaks.

How long was he feeling like this? How dark were his last moments? How could we have helped him? Those are the questions that run through my head and heart.

You look at a guy like that and think, why? You seemed to have it all. A successful career. Songs that were listened to. Fans that showed up to shows. It was success in most senses of the word. He had a wife and six kids. Why? What pain is so constant, so grievous that you have to escape it? I think it’s hopelessness and loneliness.

I know mental illness is something that we as a society don’t talk about a lot, but I wish we did. I wish there weren’t stigmas surrounding treatment and therapy and seeking help. Because none of us can escape the dark times. Dark times will find us all, but the only way we make it out of them is through and the only way we make it through is with other people.

Jill and I always say that loneliness is the worst disease. When we are going through a dark time you often hear the lie in your head that you are the only one who has ever felt like this. You are the only one with these circumstances...but it’s not true. That’s what lies do. They isolate. They want you to stay small and alone, but that’s why we as humans have this incredible gift to care for one another. To watch out for each other and to share in each other’s grief, loss, fear, hardship, etc.

I never met Chester, but I did share an elevator with him once about 5 years ago in Vegas. We were both headed to the same venue for an event and were in the bowels of this fancy hotel, both taking the dingy service elevator with a kind security guard leading the way. He was tall, seemed very kind, and for about 5 minutes we shared the same oxygen. I don’t have anything poignant to say about that story, just something I recall.

All of this got me thinking that I want to be healthy and I want you reading this to be healthy too. The headline is far too familiar...someone successful, wealthy, and good-looking has ended their life. By their own volition they couldn't bear the pain any longer that breathing was causing them. So, it makes me think. What are the things that make us healthy? I’m not just talking about eating kale vs. donuts...although physical health is definitely a component. I’m talking about what makes you feel alive? What issues have you not dealt with? What brings you joy? Who do you love...and are you seeing those people enough? Are you in a job that you hate? Do you have something to look forward to? What keeps you up at night? What makes your body feel great? Are you happy? What makes your heart beat faster?

In the entertainment industry, there is sort of this weird thing. Unhealthy people sometimes make great art (write great songs) but at the cost of hiding/running/drowning themselves in numbing the pain that they’re feeling. Call it being a “tortured artist” or what have you. But, it’s definitely something we’ve seen. If you’re writing great songs or putting on a killer show... no matter the cost on you as person, sometimes people want you to keep doing it. Keep drinking. Keep shooting up. Keep doing whatever it takes. Anything to keep up the “product” you now are.

And I just want to say no. Personal health is so much more important. Because you can have the number one song and all the money in the world, but if you are dealing with pain, real pain...none of that will satisfy. Nothing will ever be enough to cover the pain. You have to deal with it. I want to be a healthy person...and I think I can be a healthy person and a great artist. It takes work, but I value myself and my health more than a #1 or a million dollar bank account.

For me, my faith in Jesus has also helped me overcome pain and I think that old adage of a “God-shaped hole” inside of each of us is true. We will try and fill it with whatever we can find...and sometimes something works for a little while..or maybe it even fills the hole for years...but it won’t last. If you’ve never talked to God, you can start wherever you are. If you’re looking for a starting place for purpose in your life, The Purpose Driven Life is a great book. A group of us read it on tour a while back and it was a great guide.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that the news about Chester broke my heart. It also breaks my heart to think that his death was reported because he was a celebrity and yet there are suicides happening all day, EVERY day. Ughhhh….this is just so sad and heartbreaking.

We’ve always said, there is no shame in needing help. Both Jill and I have sought counseling and therapy. We even see a therapist for band counseling and it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done. So, if you are in a dark spot, please reach out, ask for help...you were not meant to carry all of your feelings alone. It is SO helpful to speak them out loud.

If you’re reading this and you find yourself NOT in a dark spot right now...excellent. Keep up the good health. But, someone in your circle of friends or neighborhood or office is probably not in the same place. Sit and think of the people you know and see if there is anyone you think might be having a hard time. The best thing you could do is extend kindness and a listening ear. Again, a LISTENING ear. Our job is to sit in their pain with them and let them know they’re not alone. Our job is not to give them a “how-to” or to tell them anything for that matter. We listen. We hug. We hold their hands. We hand tissues. We tell them that we are for them and that we’re with them.

I don’t really know how to wrap this up, except to say: You are not alone. We are all in this together. Life is precious and WE NEED YOU HERE. If you want a list of songs we’ve written from our sadness and dark times, you can see that here. We need your thoughts, your smile, your ideas, your work, your inventions, your laughter, your writing, etc etc etc. WE NEED YOU HERE.

Hug the ones you love tight today. Let’s all aim to be the healthiest versions of ourselves.

Love to you all,

Kate