Written by Joanne Conger, June 8th, 2018
I am heartbroken. So, this is long wail of pain.
Not everyone could see how Anthony Bourdain was doing, whether or not he seemed to be fine. That is a hard thing to “see” when someone has a show. You see what is filmed. You don’t always know what goes on away from the cameras.
But I have seen a few comments about Bourdain’s suicide saying that he looked “fine.” That this is such a big shock that he killed himself.
With Kate Spade, her family said it was not a shock. I don’t know what Bourdain’s family will say. If he seemed happy or not, if he was sick or not – that he leaves behind an 11-year-old daughter is a fact. They both left behind friends and strangers who are devastated.
But, he seemed fine.
This is the thing. We live in a world that shuns those who are going through any mental disorder. People get angry with them. People discount them. People tell them to get over themselves – take care of themselves – buck it up – get with the program. When someone is normally strong, people might even just ignore them, because they have come to count on their strength and they really think they will figure it out themselves. And, it scares them when that person, that strong, “fine” person, gets sick, or has a breakdown or maybe even makes an attempt to kill themselves. That “selfish”, “needy”, attempt to “get attention”.
Many people with mental illness seem fine because they don’t have a choice. If they don’t seem fine, they might begin to lose things. Relationships, jobs, friends, opportunities, any standing in the community, respect of people admired…the judgmental list goes on and on. The people most affected are likely already dealing with feelings of shame. More shame can become nearly intolerable.
People often ask me why I expose myself so often, so embarrassingly online. I was asked this just a few days ago. Why do I care? Why don’t I just stop it and be normal now that I feel pretty normal most of the time? I mean – seriously. Isn’t it time?
Because I never want to be in the position I was in. So much pain, so frightened by what was going on, with a complete inability to be honest with anyone for fear of what might happen. If I was honest, I would lose things. So, I kept quiet for decades and it was a self-imposed torture I never want to find myself doing to myself again.
That silence nearly killed me.
I never want those who love me to forget that this is something that has not gone away. Depression, anxiety, and PTSD are still conditions I manage in 1000 different ways. I have solid strategies that keep me away from the edge most of the time – love and gratitude keeps me grounded in the things that are really important to me and I honestly believe I have a posse of people who ride this ride with me and are there for me and offer their loving-kindness and their unconditional support.
What saves me from suicide is knowing that I can say things out loud and people will gather around and steady me until I can steady myself, again. I got this because I was relentlessly loud about what was going on, about that which I could not figure out on my own. I got to this place because I kept asking until I found help – even through “Get yourself together, woman.” Even through, “You are TOXIC. You need to MOVE ALONG.” Even through the buckets of advice that were based on catch-phrases and memes. The easy dismissals of someone in desperate straits. It took me years of mess before I knew who I could call – before I knew who would be there. Because judgment was often the first dance of the evening, the misconception that I must just be purposely ignoring the solutions because all I really needed and wanted was a little focused attention. Well, freaking duh. I was trying to save my life and was having a difficult time finding anyone but Bob who seemed to really care much about that, at the time. Not many took much seriously. I was so strong. Of course, I could figure out how to save my own life. I had Bob and Bob is the best. I didn’t need anyone else.
The thing about husbands, wives, or partners: They are often not the ones we can go to because they get so freaking terrified about what to do, they can become immobilized. Plus, the minute I see how terrified a partner becomes, I only – ONLY want to be “better” fast so they are not so scared. So, back in the box I go. I must seek help outside my intimate relationships. I must seek help in every corner until I find the help I need.
If you think, “I didn’t see that coming,” or “She seemed so successful,” or “He seemed so happy,” after someone’s suicide, you have to also think about who in your life you might inadvertently be telling to just shut up about their problems or their mental illness. Who you tell to just be quiet and do what they’re supposed to do. If you’ve ever said, or implied “don’t bother me, just get help or something. Take your medication or sit your meditations and don’t be annoying with this “I am having some trouble with my life, right now” thing. Because who needs that? No one”.
Just be kind. Just assume that the person who is asking for help needs it. Just assume that they have tried all that they can and the request for help is the last thing, not the first thing, they thought of doing. Just have love. Have compassion. Have empathy.
When someone is in trouble, these actions are what can pull someone out of the fire. Love. Compassion. Empathy. A heart full of concern for their well-being – a generosity of spirit and kindness.
I may not be able to stop someone from killing themselves. But offering my loving kindness when the darkness overtakes them is something I can do, whatever the outcome. Reminding someone that there is love to be had in the world is a something I can do for someone in trouble.
It may seem small, but it is so huge when someone is engulfed in their own madness. It is a very, very real thing.
Just reminding someone that there is love to be had in the world can make miracles happen – really. Just kindness and love and compassion in any bucket you can find.
Trust me on that.