Anthony Bourdain died by suicide in France today.
Usually when I wake up I do some deep breathing exercises, pray for a bit, and then check the news on my phone as I either start getting ready for work or pack my bag to head to the gym. Some days checking the news leads to happiness but so often it leads to sadness instead. Today was one of those sad days.
Anthony Bourdain, host of incredible shows like No Reservations and Parts Unknown, was a big inspiration of mine. I feel like I’ve always had travel in my blood but I loved the vulnerability with which he seemed to travel and the experiences he tried to foster through going to places others wouldn’t. His love for cooking and cuisine, borne from years as a line chef, inspired me to pick up a pan and begin cooking, which is still a beloved hobby of mine. It almost seemed like he “saw the amazing” in what someone else did even if they didn’t feel like what they were doing was that significant.
It sucks reading someone you admire, and who inspired so many, die in such a manner.
So let’s talk about depression and mental illness…
I’m not a doctor and I’m not a counselor, so please don’t take the following thoughts as any sort of medical advice.
Actually we’ve talked about this before, and Anthony Bourdain’s vulnerability and openness about his past struggles with drugs and depression are part of the reason I’ve always felt ok discussing the tough things with you. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a random little rant video called Travel Will Not Fix You:
(and here’s an article I wrote about addiction and the dark side of miles and points)
I have my ups and downs like everyone else but my downs tend to last a little longer than my ups. Whenever I’m in one of those down seasons, the following thoughts bring me some comfort:
- Comparison is the thief of joy – You might think that someone will “always have it better than you” but that’s not a productive thought. You’re not meant to be compared to them, nor them to you. As Jordan Peterson would put it, “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.” There will always be someone who appears to have it better than you do, but those people still have problems, they still have their dark quiet nights of the soul, there’s just no way around it. Spend your time on productive thoughts and what you can do to make the world a better place. Worrying about someone else’s bank account (for example) is not a productive thought.
- Choose your heroes carefully – I admire quite a few people. What I’ve found to be very perilous, however, is taking the values I admire that they exhibit and use them to lionize the person or make them someone they’re not. Bourdain, for example, worked hard, took risks, and craved authenticity. All of those traits are to be admired but it doesn’t make him a perfect person (none of us are perfect). Admiration can be a dangerous thing, make sure you’re admiring the values while maintaining a healthy and realistic understanding that everyone has flaws, even your heroes.
- Vulnerability is really freaking hard – It can suck saying you’re struggling. It runs counter to the quintessential American value of self-reliance, after all. Being vulnerable and admitting weakness, though, is something we must all do. We’re not perfect, we all struggle with things. Sure we can mask those things with the very edited version of our lives we choose to share on social media (or the things I choose to share on this blog) but you need to have people you can talk to when things aren’t ok. It’s ok not to be ok it just isn’t ok to stay there.
- Predictable misery is a disease – Here’s what I mean. I once had a conversation with a guy about relapsing into his drug addiction and said to him, “ok I hope this doesn’t sound insensitive but why go back to something like that made your life so miserable?” He said something incredibly profound in response, “at least it was a misery I knew.” So often I’m afraid of dealing with my problems because then I won’t have those problems to blame anymore. Like I said in the video above, who you are when you travel is who you are when you’re at home. Likewise, who you are when you’ve lost 20 pounds is probably who you are right now when you have 20 pounds to lose. These things we want to change about ourselves will not by definition fix us when they go away.
- Attack the problem, not the symptom – Let’s go further into the previous point. Let’s say you’re sad because you’re overweight and then you lose twenty pounds and you’re still sad. That simply means being overweight was a symptom, not the problem. The problem might be depression, it might be false humility, it might be actually hating yourself, and that problem manifested itself in many ways, one of them being emotions that you felt could only be controlled by food. Now, if it seems like this stuff is really hard to figure out, guess what: you’re right! That’s why I recommend everyone visit a counselor regularly, they’re great at helping you sort out your thoughts and notice habits and patterns which you can’t.
Dealing with this crap is scary and can be really hard. But life isn’t supposed to be easy, it’s supposed to be worth it.
Admit your weaknesses. Your friends and family love you and want to help. Bravely face your flaws. Attack what is killing you. Defeat the dark quiet vulnerabilities you have. Face life with courage. We all have but a short time here and there’s a lot of good that needs doing in this crazy broken world we occupy. Figure out what brings joy to your soul and go do that thing.
Tony, in death I hope you inspire many to live life renewed.
If you need to talk to someone and don’t feel comfortable speaking to your friends and family, please call 1-800-273-8255.