I was on Instagram, of all places, when I first learned of Anthony Bourdain's death. Last Friday, between therapy and boxing (which is, in truth, another form of therapy), I was casually getting my social media fix, when I saw a post from a big name editor, mourning the loss. I dropped my phone almost immediately and opened my laptop, where the shocking, sobering news was confirmed.
To have not one, but two celebrity suicides last week, just days apart, was almost unbelievable. And yet, here I was, here we all were, navigating this reality. Both deaths are a tragedy, but I was personally very deeply affected by the loss of Bourdain.
From a young age, I was obsessed with food. Food Network was higher priority for me than Disney Channel (back in the early 2000's when Disney Channel was still quality), and whenever I traveled, I took pictures of what I ate. I loved to cook, loved to eat, and loved to learn about cultures outside of my own, which is probably why Anthony Bourdain had long held a soft spot in my heart.
Sure, his bad boy persona was a far cry from my buttoned up, rule-following young self, but there was something about him, a genuine curiosity, transparency, vulnerability and raw human-ness that made him not just a force in the food world and a thoughtful journalist, but a person who you could imagine having dinner with and feeling right at home the entire time.
On his TV shows No Reservations and Parts Unknown, Bourdain pushed preconceived notions of 'otherness' to the very limit. He did not just travel to far-flung corners of the earth for the thrill, but to open audiences' eyes to the complexities of the world. He journeyed with purpose, and at the end of the day, no matter where he landed, he showed us that people everywhere are essentially the same. Our traditions may look different, our languages may not sound alike, we may use unique spices in the kitchen, but everywhere there is joy, sadness, resilience, defeat, wealth, poverty, love and hate. No one culture is perfect, and no one culture is wholly flawed. The world, despite our best efforts to believe the contrary, has never been so straightforward.
In the aftermath of his death, the outpouring of love and nostalgia on social media was incredible. And it became clear that the intensity of what I felt was shared by so many others. An adventurer, an explorer, a thinker, a free spirit--these are all the ways he appeared in the public eye. So when I look at his legacy and the way he moved through the world, the fact that he was driven to suicide is almost too difficult to comprehend.
How could a man who achieved so much, and who, in some small way, opened the eyes and touched the lives of so many people, decide to take his own life? How could that outward freedom be hiding such dire inner imprisonment?
Of course, we will never know. But his and Kate Spade's deaths cast a sharp light on what is an increasingly resonant lesson for the 21st century: outward success does not equal inner happiness. We can present our lives one way on the surface, while battling great demons below. And this is where I can relate.
Who among us hasn't posted something on social media or behaved one way in public, while feeling something completely different in private? Who hasn't felt pressure to continue being strong, when you really need a break? Who hasn't woken up or gone to bed questioning, "is this it?" while still holding down a steady job, caring for a family, showing up for friends?
I feel and I fear that many, if not most of us, have.
Especially for those of us who compartmentalize--and I speak from experience--the ability to put forth one image while pushing down the reality is all too familiar, and becomes, with practice, the most dangerous skill. In an effort to curate the life we want, to keep up appearances, to meet some standard, we become more and more disconnected from who we are. And I think, it is this disconnection from our light that plunges us into darkness.
The truth is that life is not easy. Life is beautiful, but it is also painful. And while the recent high-vibe, admittedly-yoga-related-love-and-light-focused-life is a wonderful thing, what it lacks is the fullness of what it really means to be human. We cannot know light without darkness, we cannot know love without fear.
And so we need to shift our conversations. We need to make space for authenticity, to allow our friends, our family, and most importantly ourselves to be honest with what we are going through. We do not have any more time for superficiality. We cannot continue to lose our loved ones or our selves to unspoken pain.
So when you wake up in the morning and ask yourself how you are doing, listen. And when you ask someone how they are doing, listen. Don't just hear what is being said, but hear the words that are hesitant, those that are waiting for your love to spill out into the light. Seek the truth. Don't jump to conclusions or try to fix it before you know what it is. Just create space in yourself and in your interactions with others for vulnerability, because no one should feel ashamed to tell you the depths of their reality. But it is up to you to set the tone, for yourself and for others, to honor that deep honesty, to cherish it more than a social expectation of constant success.
We are not our sadness, just as we are not our joy. And instead of continuing to participate in a world where we must reject one and favor the other, we need to support ourselves and each other in embracing them both. Mental health is, I would argue, just as much a community responsibility as an individual one. And shifting the conversation so that truth is valued over image is of the highest importance.
After any tragedy, we mourn. So mourn if you need to, I know I am. Surround yourself with your loved ones, reach out to the people you've been thinking about, find strength in small moments of beauty. And then make a choice. Do you want to change the stigma around mental health? Do you want to be a force for shifting the way we talk about how we feel? Then do it, be that change. We need it. We need you.