If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Like many others, I both admired and envied the life Anthony Bourdain had the audacity and enthusiasm to pursue. On many an evening over the years, after concluding an episode of “Parts Unknown”, “No Reservations”, or “The Layover”, I would turn to my husband and say some variation of “If I had 9 lives, I would want one of them to be as Anthony Bourdain.”
He lived in New York City in the 90’s, he was in a band, he survived heroin addiction… and now he gets to travel all over the world, seemingly at least occasionally with a friend or three, sampling incredible cuisines and cultures.
He made the world seem both incredibly large and diverse, while also making it seem accessible; planting seeds of wanderlust in our frontal lobes. Sure he jokingly, disparagingly, and at times proudly, made reference to his dark past and struggles—but he effused this good-natured confidence and sensitivity that made me feel like he saw life as a wild trip, and those earlier years were simply an Amuse Bouche to wet the palate before the main course.
“Anthony Bourdain made the world seem both incredibly large and diverse, while also making it seem accessible; planting seeds of wanderlust in our frontal lobes.”
And it’s hard now, knowing he prematurely ended his life 17 days before his 62nd birthday.
That he must have been in some kind of psychological place, one which we all fear and hope for ourselves and our loved ones to never experience, in a hotel room in France when he allegedly decided he had had enough; he was satiated. Suicide often reminds us of how little we know about how others experience the world.
Bourdain’s death, following the suicide of Kate Spade by only days, highlights the fact that depression does not just haunt the “down and out.” These people were fantastically successful ground-breakers, presumably able to enrich the world because of their lust for life. Fame and fortune does not insulate us from hopelessness, emptiness, exhaustion, or despair. And with lust comes an aching; a feeling that we may never truly attain fulfillment, only pine for it.
Depression has chemical and environmental origins. There seem to be people whose brains and hormone systems just do not produce the right amount of what they need to take in the good from their environments, pay less mind to the bad, and feel a sense of reward and pleasure from their sensory experiences. Environments can exacerbate or act as a catalyst to this sense of pointlessness or sadness. Deprivation, satiation, or mediocrity can all, in hindsight, leave a human depressed.
But timing, folks. Timing cannot be understated: the culmination of factors, variables, past ruminations, trauma, support, means, and current emotional state all must commence for that moment to succumb to someone.
Presumably, Bourdain met that moment when life felt too hard, meaningless, and/or hopeless. We can hypothesize as to how that came to be the case: was he lonely from all of his travels? Exhausted? Had fame and fortune jaded him and left facing an existential crisis? Was he struggling with an addiction? Was he just…sad?
“Fame and fortune does not insulate us from hopelessness, emptiness, exhaustion, or despair.”
I wish I could provide a solution. A way to avoid meeting those moments, or a sure stop way to avoid them. But one question I have regarding Bourdain and Spade is whether they were seeking treatment and talking to someone? There is speculation Spade did not because she was concerned about how it would affect her brand. I don’t judge her for this at all. Even within the mental health field, providers rarely seek out or prioritize their own care.
There is such judgment tied to struggling when it is such a human experience. It is total and utter garbage that we speak in hindsight about seeking out care but do not allow for or help cultivate a non-judgmental environment for managing mental health care.
I have clients who are struggling and sometimes argue with me: “Why is suicide such a stigma?! I never asked to live. If I want to die why can’t I? Why am I forced to live because other people think it’s depressing that I don’t want to be here anymore? What even is the point?”
Suicide is a choice, often contemplated though impulsive at the moment, as far as we know. We don’t truly know if interventions work because the dead don’t speak. However, we know on a macro-level that thoughts of ending one’s life are not entirely uncommon, and we have to be able to speak about it calmly and not judge people for finding life to be too overwhelming or pointless.
We have to appreciate life’s struggle and understand that feelings are not static and there are so many ways we can change.
Bourdain had quite a life. Maybe, he felt he had had, and was therefore done with, a life worth living. Maybe he was tired. Maybe some of his demons were creeping back in. Maybe it was a rough night, week, couple of years? Maybe it was an accident. He was in a new relationship and left a young daughter. And here’s a thing— while I claimed to have wanted to live his life, it also terrified me in some ways.
The constant travel—changing time zones, copious amounts of food and alcohol, digestive mishaps, the distance from family and loved ones. It sounded awesome but it also sounded exhausting. Maybe in another life, when I am stronger and younger. I may lust for that life, but it may be from a safe distance.
“We have to appreciate life’s struggle and understand that feelings are not static and there are so many ways we can change.”
We are left shaken by his sudden absence, but Bourdain’s life is still remarkable.
He was essentially a social and cultural anthropologist. Breaking down the walls of borders and nationalism to reveal human community and history. He studied not only food but economies, war, relationships, entertainment, music, spirituality, art, and emotion. In this age of creeping xenophobia, Bourdain brought life to all the peoples he interacted with. They all brought something to the table. His fierce defense of humankind was genuine. His frustration with human inadequacy was apparent as well.
Learn from Bourdain’s life: be inquisitive, be audacious, be enthusiastic.
Don’t be scared of differences; embrace them. Life is beautiful and fragile. We get swept up and brought down by it. If you are struggling in an undertow, you are not alone. Find someone to hold on to, and wait for the next wave to shore.