I was shocked for a second time this week when I heard the news of Anthony Bourdain‘s suicide, only days after Kate Spade was found hung earlier this week. I didn’t want to be writing about this again. Not twice in one week. But damn it, if I don’t I’m part of the problem. The problem is we don’t talk about mental illness enough. We push it aside. Drop it like a bomb and run away. No one wants to be associated with it.
Anthony Bourdain was a depressed, recovered addict but he was so much more than that. He was a father, a son, a world-renowned rock star chef. He was my husband’s idol. I mean traveling the world, eating and drinking your way into the hearts of every culture and even though he was dry and sardonic he was kind and embracing just beneath the surface. He cared. He was real.
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The thing is we didn’t know everything about Anthony Bourdain, as we seldom do about anyone. We knew what we wanted to see. We saw what we wanted to believe. In America, we mistakenly believe that if you have all the things, you will be happy. But, I’m here to tell you that is bullsh*t. It might be true if you don’t suffer from mental illness. If you do suffer from mental illness, the things you have is irrelevant.
I just read this People Magazine article and being someone who does have a diagnosis, I see the signs. They are all over this. Every word. He told the world but no one was paying attention. In fairness, if you have not suffered you probably don’t know what to look for or how to help.
We see what we are allowed to see. We see what we want to see. We see the surface. We are complacent and happy to accept the surface.
People these days are in such a hurry to get to the next thing. Post the perfect pic of the perfect life. No one is actually talking or caring about one another, just what they present.
This People article has quotes that I recognize. He told the world he had issues. He didn’t have a mental breakdown in front of cameras for all to see but he wasn’t hiding it.
The thing is we see someone like Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain who have so much and we ask ourselves, how could THEY want to kill themselves? By all appearances, they have everything we want.
If you’ve ever been clinically depressed, you know that depression and mental illness do not discriminate. It doesn’t care how much money; fame or things you have. It is not born from being without. It is an illness. No one gets a pass because their life looks perfect.
Even if you have everything and you can tick all the boxes off for happiness, that doesn’t guarantee happiness. Not when you’re mentally ill. It’s a feeling of being broken beyond repair and that causes a despair that swallows you whole. Money, family, fame and success have no bearing on it.
You try to hold on to get through the drowning feeling, especially for those you love. You suffer through and your lungs expand and you hold on to every ounce of breath in your body to survive but sometimes…you drown. The weight of the world is too much.
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If you’ve never felt this way. I hope you never do. The only way to stop this is for us to look up from our phones, see the people around us, practice kindness, get educated and remove the stigma of mental illness so those who suffer can get help without feeling shame.
The shame is literally killing people. Not getting help for your mental illness is like not grabbing the life preserver when you are drowning. Please, stop making people afraid and embarrassed to grab the life preservers.
I am angry that so many people are becoming victims of their own mental illness when it can be prevented if we all just remove the stigma of getting help. It doesn’t make you weak. It makes you self-aware and healthy. It keeps us alive.
To remove the stigma, we have to normalize mental illness. Getting help can’t be a source of shame. Checking in on our friends, beyond the surface, needs to be a thing again. No one wants to be responsible for someone else’s life and you shouldn’t be, friendship should not feel like a chore. But a little human compassion and genuine caring, the small gesture of asking someone who they are and actually being present and listening with your entire self can make a huge difference.
The mentally ill don’t need babysitters, or to be told to relax or get over it. They need to feel like someone cares that they are on the planet, that their existence means something, that they can get through it. They need to know it won’t be easy but it’s not impossible.