I'm conflicted about a very serious issue and grappling with my own feelings about it.
That image right up there, a melancholy work of art by John Lurie titled 'The Sky Is Falling, I Am Learning To Live With It' was purchased by chef/author/Ramones-lover/TV guy Anthony Bourdain just a few days before he decided to hang himself in a French hotel room using the belt from his bath robe.
Now the artist is twisted into knots (pun... sorry not sorry) with the feeling that somehow his artistic vision had something to do with Bourdain's decision to off himself.
Suicide is like that. It forces the survivors to question everything about their relationship with the self-departed, grasping for some kind of rational explanation for a seemingly irrational act.
On the one hand, I totally understand how a human being, suffering under a debilitating depression, can find solace in the idea of suicide and then follow through with it. Unless one has experienced the deep dark blackness of an emotional depression, it's hard to see how to pull out of that downward spiral.
On the other hand, I view the very act of suicide as a cowardly reaction to a psychological reality, a reality that is wholly created in the mind.
No, I'm not calling those who consider, attempt or achieve suicide cowards per se. It just seems to me that the act of taking one's life is a pretty convenient way to deal with the horrific emotional and psychological burdens that result in suicidal thoughts.
We humans prefer things easy.
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the word suicide as 'The act or an instance of taking one's own life voluntarily and intentionally". I've also seen it defined as 'The sincerest form of self-criticism'.
We also know that in most cases, suicidal thoughts are often the result of a lingering mental illness that can last a lifetime before someone finds the opportunity and/or motivation to follow-through with the emotional and physical self-destruction.
In the case of Mr. Bourdain, no matter how much you think you know about his life and his struggles and his reality, it still seems hard to fathom why someone so successful and loved and admired could find himself isolated and alone and with no hope for the future except for the one that doesn't include his conscious existence.
"DUUUUDE... YOU HAD IT ALL!!!! FAME... FORTUNE... A HIT SHOW ON CNN... A HOT GIRLFRIEND... A JOB THAT ALLOWED YOU TO TRAVEL THE WORLD... THE ABILITY TO SAUTE'... I MEAN, WTF?!?!?!?!"
Mental illness apparently claims another victim.
The Artist With Whom I Share My Life is quick to point out that I, as someone who's never suffered from either a clinical or emotional depression, could never ever understand how dark and empty the world can seem to a human being who is prone to bouts of debilitating depression, self-loathing and anxiety.
Of course, she's 100% right. I can only speculate in my feeble aged brain about how it can be that ANYONE would find life so miserable, so black, so devoid of joy that the only solution is to leave this mortal coil behind for the rest of us to deal with. Try as I might, I just cannot see any situation where that ultimate act would be an option, an answer, a way out... for me, anyways.
But then I started thinking about how we define suicide outside of the dictionary.
Are alcoholics suicidal? If the definition is 'the act or an instance of taking one's own life voluntarily and intentionally' then a practicing alcoholic who knows damned well they're slowly killing themselves with booze is committing an act of slow suicide, amirite? The same can be said for anyone abusing heroin, oxycontin, meth, tobacco or any substance that the user knows will eventually result in them taking The Dirt Nap.
Do we view those substance abusers' slow-motion suicide in the same way we do Mr. Bourdain's sudden act of self-departing? If not, then why not?
Do we consider substance abusers as suffering from a mental illness? If not, then why not?
Just like many of us have difficulty understanding the motivation for hanging ourselves in a French hotel room because life sucks, how can we possibly understand the thought process that says "Yep... think I'll drink myself into oblivion because life sucks."
I know this much: watching my Mother and younger Brother pickle themselves with booze for years was EXACTLY like watching their slow-motion suicides. Both of them knew what they were doing, acknowledged and accepted they were killing themselves with booze and yet... and yet, they were unable to stop that Death Train from running them over.
So... does it make any difference if the suicide is slow-mo or not?
Human beings are fragile vessels. We're far too self-possessed for our own good. We aggrandize our dominant position in this world at our own peril, so when things go out of control, we tend to either a) try and overcome the troubles, b) ignore the issues completely and just roll along to deal with the consequences later or c) retreat into a morass of self-loathing and mind-numbing/life-threatening actions. It would be nice if more of us used our gray matter to logic our way out of things, but that's apparently too hard for many humanoids to attempt.
We all know people like that, don't we?
I have the luxury of being able to evaluate this issue from a place of relative security and happiness. I have an amazing mate, a good job, a beautiful home, some shekels in the bank, good health, a positive attitude... all the things people strive for their entire lives. Being a celebrity or fabulously wealthy or incredibly powerful does not guarantee a goddamned thing to help with emotional health or to battle mental illness nope nope nope.
Like all humans, I'm occasionally subject to bouts of sadness or anger or open seething hostility, but they never last very long and for that I am truly grateful. For many people though, these emotions can linger and fester and rot in their hearts and minds until the decay and blackness becomes overwhelming, and it can last for days or weeks or months... or years. Eventually they seek a way out, some respite from the terribleness they perceive as their life.
That's when thoughts turn to suicide as a way out.
That's when we need them to know that it's OK to reach out and ask for help.
That's when we ALL need to understand that suffering from depression or mental illness is not a sign of weakness or lack of character, nor is it an easily-solved emotional problem.
Anthony Bourdain's final scene was not filmed or recorded. It seems no one in his circle was aware that he was suffering in silence, all while shouldering the burden of maintaining a hit TV show, the livelihoods of many dozens of people, extended separation from his daughter and his girlfriend... even the inevitable questioning of his very existence, which is something EVERY creative person struggles with.
And yet... did he maintain silence about his struggle? Did he function in a sea of self-imposed emotional isolation? Did he sense his looming catastrophe but deny himself the leeway to call 'TIME OUT!!!' and try to set his troubled mind straight?
I recently watched the final 'Parts Unknown' episode about his visit to Bhutan, and I kept looking for some sign of his emotional struggle, some indication that he just wasn't right. Nothing doing... he was just as Bourdain-ish as always, albeit far less snarky than when I first became a fan of his. No answers were found in that final joint, at least not that I could see.
We know some of the answers now, but it's just too fucking late and so my favorite Bad-Boy raconteur/chef/Ramones-lover/Snark Generator is gone, turned into ashes and departed from this conscious existence. I find myself being both terribly sad and seriously pissed at him for his act of genuine self-criticism.
I'm dealing with it as best I can.
In a past life, when my first marriage was heading for a cliff and the world was black, I'd sit at night and stare at my fish tank for hours on end and feel like my life was over, that there'd never be another day of happiness in my future. Thankfully, a wonderful marriage counselor came into my life and convinced me that there was indeed a happy future, but I had to take a risk to make it happen
And guess what? She was right!
Don't let your friends or loved ones suffer in silence. Talk to them... hug them... let them know their fears and anxieties are shared emotions among all of us. Look directly into their eyes and tell them "You matter to me." Keep doing that, over and over and over, even if they pull away, even if the tell you to fuck off, even if they try to shut you out. Stay engaged and don't let up.
They Are Worth It.
My heart hurts for Anthony Bourdain's abbreviated life, for his daughter's loss, for all his loving fans who will miss his Supreme Snark and wisdom. But mostly, for yet another human who felt so much loss that suicide was their only way out.
Don't let it happen to anyone if you can help it.
"Down... to the bottom. Hello? Is there anybody else here?
It's cold, and I'm so lonely...
Hello? Is there anybody else here?
Hello? Won't you throw me down a Life Line?
I'm so afraid of darkness, and down here it's just like night time.
Ooooohs... are all around me.
Hello? Will you please send down a Life Line?
Down... and there isn't any hope for me...
Unless this dream that seems so real... is just a fantasy."
Lead image, Gracias de Google Images; Harry Nilsson's 'Life Line', Muchismas Gracias de youtube.com.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800) 273-8255