Today’s SameHere Hero Story: Kate Eckman
I lost two loved ones to suicide in one year and it completely changed the trajectory of my life.
It wasn’t just the pain of losing two friends to suicide; it was the constant hustle of trying to prove my worth to myself and the world through an endless list of accomplishments, achievements, accolades, and awards (what I call the “four As”). I had to face not only the loss of my dear friends but also the fears that their deaths were bringing up in me. Sam, in particular, had been like my male counterpart — like a mirror image of me. We were both known for being the life of every party and everyone’s best friend. But like so many, we placed our worth in the material world. We thought success was measured by what we looked like, how many jobs we booked, how much money we had in the bank, and so on. He passed in October of 2015.
Like me, both Sam and Raf appeared to the outside world as though they had all those things and more. In the minds of most people who met them, they were the cream of the crop — successful and good-looking with enviable lives. Since Raf’s death in October of 2014, I’ve learned that he was harboring a deep secret and was worried his family and friends wouldn’t accept him if they knew. In other words, he was scared and ashamed to live his truth. Sam was living on a teeter-totter. A single rejection from a casting agent was enough to send him plummeting down.
Their deaths forced me to face a difficult truth: when we allow our self-worth to be defined by people and sources outside ourselves, we can never have enough or be enough. When we depend on the approval of others, we stand on the edge of a cliff, ready to tumble from even the smallest setback. Was I on a similar path? A part of me was scared I was going to end up like them.
Striving to Become “Enough”…
My childhood set the stage for that woman I became, who put so much stock in what others thought. Like most of us, I grew up with the belief that other people’s opinions about me were paramount. When we think that we aren’t enough, we don’t feel safe and secure in the permanence of our loved ones’ feelings for us. If I could just be enough (beautiful, smart, educated), do enough (achieve, accomplish, perform), and have enough (money, notoriety, “success”), my life would be “perfect” and complete. I would win the eternal love of my parents and everyone around me. I would be safe because I wouldn’t be alone. I felt safer when I got good grades, for example, and people reflected back to me that I was a good girl. I felt safer when I could make myself pretty enough to get attention from boys and when I could be funny enough to gain popularity with girls. I felt safer when I became a star athlete, making my parents proud as I broke records as a competitive swimmer and earned an athletic scholarship to Penn State. And when I got into the best journalism school and became a writer and television anchor.
Then, when I moved to New York for a job opportunity that fell through, I discovered that I had the right physicality to become a “plus-size” model (which, according to the modeling industry, is size 6 and up). So I reinvented myself, signing with one of the biggest modeling agencies in the world, and soon became an international TV personality as well.
It’s interesting that I chose a career that’s all about outward appearances — a field that’s supposedly the final confirmation that you’re beautiful. At least that’s what most women imagine. If you become a model, it means you’re pretty enough, right? The irony, though, is that when you get paid for how you look, everyone constantly zeroes in on your perceived “flaws” or “imperfections” — always telling you what’s “wrong” with you. You lose jobs based on hair color, hip size, natural female weight fluctuations, and age. Your photo or video appears in an ad, and people online feel they have the license to rip every inch of you apart from the comfort of their home computers — as if you aren’t a real person sitting behind a computer at home yourself. I was told, for example, that I needed a gym membership and was called derogatory names while working as a size 12 swimsuit model.
Modeling brought out every insecurity I’d ever harbored about myself and some I didn’t even know I had. As a result, I started working even harder to try to be better, more, “perfect,” so that I wouldn’t have to face the constant rejections that my profession brought with it. But it isn’t like there’s some perfect destination that will stop the casting rejections or the negative online comments. There’s simply no such thing. If I didn’t want to end up so caught up in what others thought of me that I couldn’t go on living, I had to stop looking outside myself for my value. I had to stop trying so desperately to achieve and accomplish in order to show the world that I was worth knowing and loving. I had to stop striving for some elusive image of perfection and give myself permission to be imperfect, authentic me. That, I discovered, is true perfection. So I started my quest to accept all that I am — confident, vulnerable, intelligent, flawed, sassy, silly Kate. I started on a quest to connect with my spirit and become spiritually fit, writing my first book, The Full Spirit Workout.
My Wake-Up Call…
It took a hefty wake-up call for me to change the way I looked at myself and my life. It happened on a mid-December day as I was speed walking through Midtown Manhattan near Times Square. (Speed-walking is my usual pace.) I was surrounded by noisy sirens, rush-hour crowds, and chaos, but the mayhem and turmoil inside me were even more overwhelming. As stressed New Yorkers hustled past in all directions, I began to feel like I was out of my body. . .and out of my mind. My breath quickened, and I started to hyperventilate. I couldn’t breathe. I began to panic. It had been just six weeks since a man I considered to be one of the great loves of my life jumped to his death, nearly a year to the day after another dear friend also took his life. Like many suicides, they came as a complete shock to all of us who loved them. There were no warning signs, no drugs, no indications of mental illness or even unhappiness, let alone depression.
Frightened and anxious, I grabbed my phone and called my brother, John, a physician. It was nothing short of a miracle that he picked up. My brother rarely answers his phone, especially during business hours. “Babe [as I call him], I’m freaking out. I can’t . . . breathe. I think. . .I’m having a. . .panic attack or something. Can you. . . please call in a prescription. . .for Lexapro? I’ve taken it for anxiety before. I’m just. . .a few blocks. . .from a pharmacy.”
I managed to drag myself through the masses down Seventh Avenue to the pharmacy, breathing fast and sobbing the whole way. The good thing about New York City is that people leave you alone when you walk down the street sobbing. That’s also the sad thing about New York City — people leave you alone when you walk down the street sobbing. When I approached the counter, the pharmacist greeted me with such friendliness that I burst into even heavier sobs. I texted my friend Lily while my prescription was being filled: “I’m crying my eyes out at a pharmacy while I wait for antianxiety medication. Yes, I’ve become that girl.” “What? Are you serious? Are you okay? Kate, that’s not you! You’re one of the happiest people I know,” she responded. I had never seen myself as “that girl” either, but at that moment, there was no denying that’s who I had become.
After I took the first dose of Lexapro, I texted my brother: “I just want to take the whole bottle and go to sleep.”
He texted back: “I’m calling the cops.”
“No! I’m kidding.”
You don’t joke about things like that, Kate!”
The truth is that I wasn’t really kidding. The pain I was experiencing felt like too much to bear, and I desperately wanted it to go away, whatever that took. I had never been suicidal, but suddenly, I had fallen asleep to the truth of who I was and caught a glimpse of what my friends Sam and Raf must have been feeling when they decided to take their own lives. As close as I was to both of them, neither one took me or anyone else into his confidence about his darkest feelings. My own saving grace was that I was willing to sob in front of that pharmacist, and I was willing to reach out to my brother for help. Other angels showed up that day and after — people I like to call “God in drag” (i.e., God in human form).
As I disclosed my pain to each of them, starting with my brother, they helped me resist the urge to empty that bottle down my throat. If I’d been like Sam or Raf, though, who were taught to keep their pain hidden and buried, I don’t know what would have happened to me that day.
During the six weeks between Sam’s death and that morning when I contemplated swallowing the pills, I had been going, going, going on the same frantic hamster wheel that Sam had always traveled on. I booked my schedule solidly without giving myself the proper self-care or space I needed to let the depth of my pain out. I realized I couldn’t run on that wheel any longer. I was exhausted
Some Tips and Practices that Helped Me To Feel Better…
My book, The Full Spirit Workout, http://www.thefullspiritworkout.com/“, and in summary…
I started exploring ways to get fit on the inside. Spiritual fitness is being willing to get our spirit in tip-top condition so that we can have the life we’ve always wanted. It’s an inner strength system that helps you live your life based on love, support, faith, abundance, and authenticity. It’s about fighting against emotional gravity like fear, stress, anxiety, comparison, judgment — anything that weighs us down — and shedding excess mental and emotional pounds. Being spiritually fit transforms our lives because we are able to finally feel confident, fulfilled, peaceful, abundant, loving, and joyful.
Just as strong physical muscles help you live more effectively, strong spiritual muscles can give you the power to navigate your internal world, as well as the external world. Just as physical fitness involves a strong core, spiritual fitness will help you develop a strong inner core. And just as consistent reps of exercise get the body fit, the reps and exercises in The Full Spirit Workout will help you shed the self-doubt that holds you back from achieving the fun, fulfilling life you desire and deserve! But this workout conditions you on the inside — no sweating required. Instead, you will learn to cultivate small, meaningful moments of mindfulness and stillness throughout the day, making it fun and easy to come back home to yourself with enthusiasm and joy.
Imagine a life that isn’t about how to “get this” or “do that,” but instead about being the person who naturally attracts all that your heart desires. You just have to believe how powerful you are! Increased performance and resilience, more meaningful relationships, newfound confidence and well-being, true fulfillment, and fun are available to you when you get your spirit in shape.
The magic happens when we approach our spiritual fitness with creativity, playfulness, and delight. Spiritual fitness is your invitation to get radically honest about what is happening inside you at your core. Just like physical exercise, spiritual exercise can be challenging but also extremely rewarding, and we always feel so much better after a great workout, even if we resist it at first.
We need to learn how to become practiced at listening to our own inner wisdom that knows without a doubt that we are worthy, safe, valuable, and loved simply because we are. We are good enough because we are. It’s as simple as that. I think most of us will understand this intellectually if we really stop and articulate it, but we haven’t consistently done the empowering inner exercises and outer practices to internalize this and let it work on our mentality.
That’s why spiritual fitness is imperative — it helps us combine our intellectual understanding (the head) with our instinctive wisdom (the body) and then implement them in our practice (the hand). I’ve come to learn that to simply know something is not enough. We create new healthy beliefs and habits by doing and practicing consistently.
Avoid that addictive stuff that starts with an S. What’s tempting to turn to for a quick boost but always leads to a crash? Sugar, yes, but I’m talking about social media. Just as sugar erodes our physical health and immune systems, social media erodes our spirits. Want to know how to double your sense of well-being? Stay off social media. No big shocker here, but this knowledge won’t do us any good unless we act on it. I’m not saying you need to live in the Dark Ages (or the twentieth century), but limit yourself, and when you find it’s not working for you — stop! Now, when I find myself thinking that I would be so much happier if I just made more money, or whatever, I log off Facebook and Instagram instead. The best part? It’s free!
Lastly, take your vitamins. Just as getting enough daily vitamins supports our physical resilience, engaging in daily spiritual practices supports our spiritual resilience and overall well-being. Think of these practices as your “spiritual vitamins.” Some of the key ones: gratitude, visualizing, and savoring.
The answers above have been Excerpted from the book The Full Spirit Workout. Copyright ©2021 by Kate Eckman. Printed with permission from New World Library www.newworldlibrary.com
For some inspiration for you, people appreciated my courage, vulnerability, and willingness when sharing my story.