“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn. Maybe that’s enlightenment enough – to know that there is no final resting place of the mind, no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom, at least for me, means realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.” –Anthony Bourdain
Like so many, I am reeling from the loss of another brilliant light from the Earth this week. I didn’t know Anthony Bourdain, nor did I really keep up regularly with the details of his life, but I feel like I’ve lost a dear friend. From the posts I’ve read from others, it seems as though many people are feeling the same. Anthony influenced people’s careers, he inspired us to travel, and shamed many when they marginalized others. My attraction to Anthony was through his candor; I admired his writing. He didn’t sugar coat anything, but he didn’t belittle it either. He was storyteller in the most endearing of ways – not too verbose, not too flowery, just enough to draw you in. His style of writing could make you forget time.
I am grateful for his ability to show us the world. He brought light to cultures through food, making the world seem a little less intimidating. Through his travels, he showed us our humanity. I loved how he could dine in a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Paris one minute, and a food truck in the middle of nowhere in Thailand the next, all while treating each meal as sacred, with self-effacing humility, that never felt forced or fake. He was unabashedly genuine, and we are the lesser, now that he is gone from the world. It breaks my heart that was he in so much pain, that depression tricked him into thinking he was alone, to not letting him see what we see, and his mind fooled him into believing this was the end of his road.
Having faced my own battle with depression, I know how unforgiving she can be. Depression does not care if things in your life are good, or bad; if you have money, or not; if you have family, friends, or seemingly everything life could ever offer. It is a disease of the mind, that feeds on the our worst beliefs of ourselves. When faced with my own questions about suicide, or why you might be thinking of ending a beautiful life, the answer that tends to bubble to the surface is that you are just tired.
Although that seems simple, it isn’t, but it is the answer that you tell yourself. Contrary to what some may think, people contemplating suicide often consider the impact on others, and they do weigh the consequences of their actions, but they decide that they just need to stop the pain, the endless anxiety, the sleepless nights, the restless thoughts. They have gone to battle with their mind, time and time again, and they are utterly exhausted. They are tired of fighting. Life’s challenges can make that conversation seem easier with one’s self, as well. In times when life throws every curve ball imaginable, depression can be more convincing and suicide contagion is real.
“If people who have it all can still end up taking their own life, what about the people who have less?” the mind will repeat. When depression moves in and takes over your life, it’s hard not to believe the poisonous thoughts that scroll on, endlessly through your mind. They leave a sticky residue that can be damn hard to wash clean. Even when you think you’ve healed from the illness, the old stains can seep through, sometimes years later. I’ve had moments where the impulse pops up, when things are going well, when there’s no sense of hopelessness, when I’m not sad, and it’s incredibly unnerving, to say the least.
People tend to refer to depression as “demons”. Although, I’m sure this is well intended, because the thoughts that arise when you are depressed are frightening, this type of language infers that if the depressed person had only performed some sort of exorcism, they’d be “fine”. Depressed people have been to the proverbial battle with the enemy within, and they are tired, so I’m not sure that waging war on one’s self is going to provide a solution. For me, I didn’t start to heal until I treated myself with compassion; until I forgave myself for all of the the negative thoughts, the harmful visions, and the unrelenting anger.
The work of shedding the layers of resentment takes time, and the constant observance of thoughts, with mindful attention to not become attached to the story that plays out in your head. We must be endlessly loving towards the demon, in order to calm the storm. That is hard, never ending work. In Anthony’s case, he did the work, he did the work for years. He was a student of human nature, and he probably survived the disease longer because of it. So many of us wished he had reached out, wished that we could have told him what he meant to us, but you don’t have wait for your loved ones to reach out to tell you they are struggling. You can always let someone know how much they mean to you, how grateful you are that they are in your life, and remind them that you are there to listen (just listen) to them, no matter what moment they’re in.
If you love someone, know someone, struggling with depression, remember that you aren’t there to fix anything or say something to “make it all better”. You are there to sit and listen without judgment, to hold their hand, to let them know that you are there to bear witness to the struggle, and that they are not alone. And if you are the one struggling, remember that the thoughts are not real, that this moment (as with all moments) is temporary, that without darkness, there would be no light, and that there will come a time when the light will shine. Once you find the light, I can’t guarantee that it will always be there. Having had depression, I can say that there are still days when the clouds move in and blur my view of the world, but to hold my center I remind myself that the clouds will pass.
What I can say is that you need to go easy on yourself, be gentle with the “demons”, and surround yourself with people who are willing to help you find the light again. Know that we will help you when you tired, but forgive those who chose differently. You don’t have to walk the same path that Anthony chose. It is a brutal one, and the world is better with us in it.