Note: Graphic details covered here.
When I checked my phone this morning to see what daily news was trending, I saw a familiar face that I so loved seeing posts on: Anthony Bourdain. And then I read and reread several times, the heart-wrenching headline of what happened to him. My heart fell deep into a pit so cold and hollow that I was left feeling an aching twist in every part of me. I was immensely devastated to hear that someone who inspired me to travel, explore life outside of my realm, and encouraged me to cultivate compassion and wisdom for humans, was gone, just like that. I cried for a solid 20 minutes, grieving for him, his family, the people who were close to him, his colleagues, and all the people who were touched by him in some way. I also cried because I know a feeling that all too few people understand or want to engage in.
In between moments of wiping my tears for his soul and taking deep breaths to reflect on my own journey through living with depression, anxiety, and experiencing suicidal thoughts, I felt my heart soften back like the wings of a bird settling its feathers after a long flight. In my reflection, I knew that I had to talk about something that isn’t so widely covered in our responses to suicide. I asked myself, “What can we do to help? How can we change this so that we don’t become a society that just tells people to call a hotline for suicide prevention?” Without hesitation, I felt an answer rise up underneath from me that prompted me to write this.
There were so many responses to Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade’s deaths and the many deaths that came before theirs that were just too similar in pattern: “If you or you know someone who is thinking of killing themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.” In so many ways, I know this to be so insufficient to begin changing this sad epidemic that’s taking over our society. While I do believe that in some ways, talking to someone does help, but it is only just the foot in the door. In my own past experiences, I’ve called that hotline for myself several times. Sometimes it didn’t help. Sometimes it did. It’s nice to have another voice listen to you.
But the truth is this. What I wished so badly was that my own friends or family could answer their phones or text me back if I needed to talk. What I wished so badly for instead of calling a hotline were people who came to help me without any expectation of how I needed to explain myself or why I felt the way I did. It frustrated me so much that I felt so much emotional intensity and wanted to find a way to help myself, and yet I was told by society that I needed to “just call the suicide prevention hotline.”
The truth is, most of us who feel this way, feel like ending our lives because society has become so numb to actively engaging themselves with people who aren’t able to just “get over it” or “move on” or “be positive, it’s ok”.
These people tell us, “go to therapy”, “take prescription medication”, “call if you need me”, and it goes on. The truth is, while we want to do all those things, what we want most is to have someone just listen to us quietly, console us by making us dinner or lunch, maybe even brushing our hair–all without any expectation of telling them what’s wrong with us. When I am feeling depressed or suicidal, all I want is for someone to let me lay on their lap and have them caress my hair or my back, without any talking. Just quiet comforting.
When I talk about these things, please forgive me if I seem insensitive. The truth is, the people who often take their own lives tend to be extremely sensitive creatures filled with so much intensity inside them, whether it be a light or dark intensity, and sometimes that intensity can just be too much for one person. I know this feeling too well because I feel it everyday and it is so easy to stay shut-off around people for fear of shame or pestering by society’s solution of “just focus on yourself”. The last thing a person who is experiencing depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts wants is to focus on themselves.
The truth is, we would love for someone to reach out a hand and help us–teach us–show us how to love ourselves and that we are loved.
I am reminded of a story I read about Parker Palmer, a poet and religious thinker, whose work I love so much and am inspired by. Parker Palmer went through a very long and extreme depression in his mid-50’s and when describing his experience with it, he talks about a neighbor/friend who noticed that Parker was depressed and this neighbor/friend began going to Parker’s house everyday for an hour and would simply massage Parker’s feet. There would be no exchanges in conversation between he and the neighbor/friend in that hour, just the act of a neighbor being of service to someone in need, quietly and compassionately. Reading about Parker’s story had me in tears because I desired that same experience and understood so well how important it was to just be cared for by another being. Sometimes, it really helps to have others help you tend to the wounds you can’t face yourself, yet.
With Anthony Bourdain passing, I felt so angry towards society. How could we let this person choose to end his life? In many ways, I understood how. We live in a society that has no idea what to do with people who are experiencing struggle, depression, anxiety, etc. We live in a society that does not know how to engage or be compassionate towards people who have mental illnesses. Instead, we tell them to check into rehab, or take meds, etc.
What if change began by just being of service to those who are suffering?
What if change began by a small act of selfless kindness towards someone you know or don’t know?
What if I told you that the truth is, more than anything, someone who is suicidal or depressed or has anxiety just wants to be comforted with a warm plate of food or hugs that last for 15 minutes?
The truth is, so many of our own closest friends and family are just not equipped with the compassionate tools to do this. So many are afraid to be vulnerable towards people who are suffering because they fear that “bad energy might affect them”. Perhaps my thinking is distorted or that you don’t quite understand how someone like me can talk this way. I only aim to be honest for those seeking to learn where and how to begin to understand how these thought processes work inside people who have suicidal thoughts, are depressed or have anxiety.
In a world where our attention spans are limited to 3 seconds because of technology’s hold on us, people only have time for you when it’s convenient for them. I ask that you put your phone away when you are with someone who appears to show signs of distress.
Listen without interrupting.
Listen without judging.
Console with a slight touch or a warm bowl of ramen.
Every small act of kindness helps guide those in painful places, back to a place of trust–a trust in oneself, in others, and in humanity.
I feel as if Anthony Bourdain had had enough of the emotional intensity that he felt and could not bear to live with the burden of unloading this onto his friends, family, and loved ones. I say this because I feel this way quite often. I often think that the burden of unloading my emotional intensity onto friends and family is just a nuisance and that I should just take care of it myself. I went to see a therapist for nearly 3 years, going once a week, and while it definitely helped rewire a lot of my thought patterns and provided me new mental tools to trick my brain from going down the spiral of negativity, I often felt it wasn’t enough. That even though I was “acting out of love” to show myself that I could manage and control what I felt, it was all too easy for me to think of just turning my wheel abruptly while I would be driving and think “even if I change, the world is still the same, so I should just end it right now.” Again, that was my distorted thinking happening, but I wanted to show you how easy it is to fool people into thinking we’re alright even if we have an amazing job, financial security, family, love, etc.
To a person who is depressed, none of those things matter because the world is still the same. And that’s what breaks my heart now with Anthony Bourdain’s passing. The world will grieve his passing and honor his many talents and gifts that he’s brought into this world, and name the suicide prevention hotline, and people will carry on next week in their same patterns and routine, and the world will still run the same way.
What we, as a community, need to begin doing and taking part in, is engaging in acts of kindness and selfless compassion towards people who are quietly suffering. Because in all honesty, the things that a person who is depressed or having suicidal thoughts would love to feel and see from the community are so simple and fundamental to any human’s well being. Here are just a few ways on how to show those who are suffering that you are selflessly there to begin the process of saving them:
- Acts of selfless kindness towards us
- Listening to us without interrupting
- Comforting us without judging or prying out information
- Consoling us with the slightest touch or affection
- Calling or texting us every now and then to let us know we’re loved
- Not waiting days to respond to our efforts of reaching out to you (i.e. texting back several days or weeks later)
- Being consistent with your presence whether its face-to-face, through Facetime/Video, letters, or email.
- Not comparing our problems or delusions to others or yours
- Playing with us when we’re feeling a little bit happy through laughter, imagination, or games.
- Say “I love you as you are, now.” and “We’ll get through this, together.”
If our community could begin to learn these simple ways of showing selfless love and engaging in it as if it were second nature, I honestly believe we would not have so many suicides. We need each other whether we like it or not. In order to survive and evolve as a human species, we need to learn how to grow into our heart and become steadfast in compassion so that we no longer have to suggest calling a suicide prevention hotline to people who are struggling, but instead, become the first responders to any signs of sadness and depression, with arms wide open and a commitment to serving their aching heart out of kindness and love.
To Anthony Bourdain, may your memory and gifts continue to inspire and move people towards places they’ve never been to in the world, the way you did for me, and most importantly, may your wisdom and love teach the human race to travel deeper into the beautiful mysteries of our heart and spirit. There’s a saying I’ve heard somewhere that, “a person only truly dies with the last person who remembers them.” I find solace knowing that Anthony Bourdain will never die, because his grace will always have a mark on the human kind.
Being someone who still struggles with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, I do feel hopeful for so many things. I am finding that the world is slowly changing, even if I only see it in a few places, and that people are catching on. At some point, the human race will reach a point where enough is enough in our material-based, superficial world and the journey inwards to understanding our heart and emotions will take the forefront for our species’ survival and evolution to become something greater than technology, machinery, consumption, war and division, and ourselves as we are now–and that our evolution begins with the journey into “the part’s unknown”, which Anthony Bourdain’s wisdom introduced us to explore.
To you, who has read this far: Thank you for reading. I love you.