Anthony Bourdain is dead; apparently by his own hand. I cannot believe this to be true. I just can’t wrap my mind around the concept. For the past couple of days I’ve wondered what more there is to this story. I’ve played other possibilities in my mind a hundred times. Maybe it was a masturbation accident. Maybe he was murdered. Maybe he was terminally sick and chose not to suffer. I just can’t believe the spirited rebel of everything suffered debilitating mental illness so severe it would cause him to take his own life.
For years I’ve admired him. I considered him kindred, an outside of the box kind of soul. I watched hours and hours of him travelling the globe, experiencing how people really lived in cultures I have only read about. He not only showed us food and real life traditions he exposed governments and unfair regimes. He showed us a view of the world rarely seen through the polished lens of most TV cameras and he was never afraid of the dark side of things; somehow he gave the impression they were more interesting and actually worth knowing about. He was brave in talking about his own personal battles. The whole world knew about his love affair with drugs and alcohol, his failed relationships, his lifetime bonds. Even his love of martial arts and the meaning of true food snobbery were riveting stories when told in his real yet cynical way. Nothing about him seemed to be a lie and I loved and admired him all the more for it. Hearing he took his own life, when he seemed to have a lot to live for, has taken over my mind.
Suicide in the past few years has become popular like Snapchat and Instagram. Death has become a conversation of choice. Yesterday morning on my way to work I was thinking about Bourdain and I realized the heavy metal song in the background, was the Bad Wolves cover of Zombie. I instantly thought “I wonder what Dolores thinks of this?” only to quickly remember no one would ever be able to ask her because Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries and original crooner of this song also appeared to have taken her life a few months before. My mind couldn’t help it; a reel of the talented and admired ranging from Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington to Kurt Cobain started to play. Let’s not forget Kate Spade who also thought death was better than living life this week, she was there too, standing right next to Robin Williams. A secondary reel of the heartbreaking internet stories about the increased number of teen suicides and deaths by bullying; people who were never famous in life but who have been immortalized by their sad endings played along with it.
How could all of these people from so many different places have one common denominator – the need to take their own life? What one thing or how many different options are there that all draw the same conclusion? How can death be preferable to living? What has happened to our society that death by one’s own hand has become popular? Throughout history it has been glamorized as an act of bravery for military communities and royalty. Religiously it has touted as an act against God; I was raised Catholic and grew up being told my whole life of the extreme sin involved and the obvious never ending punishment for committing suicide. There was never a concept of choice involved. Terminally ill people were expected to suffer until the end, mentally ill people were marginalized or lobotomized depending on their situation, but removing any choice they had all the same and suicide was considered an illegal act of murder. How did that change?
Today we talk about the compassion of allowing the terminally and mentally ill to pick their own death date. Some countries allow it. Many still don’t. We talk more and more out loud about mental illness and its possible effects; yet have little or no social programs to help people suffering mental problems. Psychiatric care is almost impossible to find and the extreme surge in mental illness cases has overfilled hospitals and doctor files beyond the point of reason. The internet has made death seem like a filmable act that could go viral and who doesn’t want to go viral? People have stopped talking about the fear of death and started thinking their life is not a gift, but a possession; a possession that can be discarded at any time. The more technology and science take over the less faith; belief and concepts of any God exist. While proving there isn’t a higher spiritual plane many people have lost the true reason for religion. Religion was created to lead people to safety, provide community and give society a starting point for right and wrong. I do not care which God you follow or which spiritual system you believe religion creates faith. Faith in the concept of a higher being or a spiritual existence, faith in the community and finally but most importantly faith in oneself; this faith and these beliefs are meant to keep people safe and provide support in the worst days and movements of life. Religion like most things in our modern world has been bastardized, changed and evoluted to the point of being much different, but no matter how you argue it its original intent was for the safety and continuation of civilizations. How do we discover that original intent in a new way? How do we, without rewriting all of the fundamentals, reintroduce the basics to a society that no longer values religion or spirituality as a whole or perhaps values it too much as an individual? Does a loss of spirituality lead to an increase in mental illness? Will talking about mental illness be enough? When will we start acting? When will we start taking care of the people in our lives who see the world different? When will we stop assuming money and success mean more than happiness and mental wellbeing? How can we define the right to die vs the cry for help that suicide suggests?
I think the deaths of all of these important famous figures should cause the world to start looking for a new social norm. We need to stop discussing the rights we have in deciding our own lives and once again start stressing the gift of being given one. Instead of always striving to have more, be more and assuring the world you deserve nothing less than a Kardashian lifestyle we should be embracing the paths we are on and be able to find joy in everything we do, at any level.
When I think about Anthony Bourdain my heart actually hurts. My mind is still sad. I wonder how to channel the sadness into something positive. I think helping to effect change is the best way to respect his life and the many lost opportunities among the famous and infamous that have lost theirs to the epidemic of mental illness. How many more people does the world have to lose before all of those left behind stand strong? There’s strength in numbers. There’s strength in shared beliefs. Regardless of religion and cultural perspective we need to start sharing the belief that life is precious. Whether you believe life is a gift given to us by a greater being or it’s the ultimate gift of your parents and grandparents who chose to make and love you we need to as a society value and respect the gift. Gifts are not meant to be thrown away, easily discarded or destroyed. They are given to be loved and valued, nurtured and made better with time.
Saying goodbye to Anthony Bourdain has made me respect my gift even more. As a chronically ill person I fight a daily battle to survive. I live with strict life boundaries and often sacrifice things for the sake of my health. Some days I cannot lie death would be preferable to the unexplainable things and unexplainable pain my body is tortured with. Years of this have definitely attacked my mental stability; but I’m a fighter. Every morning when I wake up I make the conscious decision to fight another day as hard as I can, yet I’m cognizant that one day I might make a different choice. That’s not a cry for help or an over exaggeration it’s just a fact. I’ve suffered this broken body for 46 years, while my mind feels fine right now, I cannot promise it will be that way forever. One day the battle might be too great and I’ll decide rest is my only future. Until then I’ll promote my life and the lives of others as the best gifts we’ve been given. No dollar value, no designer names just the basic and fundamental ability to grow into someone amazing. Life isn’t about the immediate, life is about the long haul. We are conditioned to demand nothing less than everything right now and encouraged to fear trying for the hard things because they take the longest and involve the most effort. Life is hard. Adulting is a ridiculous struggle made harder by the pressure for immediate gratification we put on ourselves. We have forgotten that life is for living not mourning all of the things we think we have done wrong. To honor Anthony Bourdain and all of the people like him I’m going to choose to live and openly encourage others to do whatever is necessary to take the same path.