TW/CW: Depression, Suicide.
Starting with this link: Suicide Crisis Hotlines and with the statement that, if you find yourself staring into the abyss, know that you are not alone. There are people out there who care and will help.
Now, for the rest of it…
Death is no stranger to me. If you’re a regularly reader of this blog, this is not a surprise. If you’ve stumbled across this blog for the first time, then let me introduce myself – Hi, I’m Aisling and I see dead people. That is to say, my spiritual path is focused largely on the liminal places between life and death and helping those who linger between the two. I am a psychopomp and keeper of memories who has been able to see and communicate with the dead since I was a child.
Death may be no stranger, but sometimes, the death of an individual leaves me reeling. The news that Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide hit me in this way – a terrible punch to the gut that left me keening in a heap on the floor and that, a week later, still trying to fully process. I did not know him, had never met the man, and yet his death has been a difficult one.
Why should I feel a grief sharper for this stranger than I have felt for some friends? I have spent more time than I should trying to untangle and understand the reasons for this. It wasn’t simply that he’d been a prominent figure who committed suicide. If it had been the manner of death, I would have shed tears for Kate Spade as well. I did not and, if I am going to be brutally honest with myself, her death passed almost completely under my radar.
The timing may be a small piece of the puzzle. Bourdain died on the one-year anniversary of my sister’s death and her loss was on my mind in the minutes before I opened the news feed on my phone. It was also in the month of June that my friend Sam committed suicide, a loss that after three years still feels a bit raw and painful. I’d also, as mentioned in an earlier post, been thinking of another friend lost to suicide.
Seventy-two hours after hearing of Bourdain’s death, I rolled out of bed on Monday morning to get ready for work, something I’d been dreading. I’ve been regularly waking up at no-such-time-AM questioning my capability to do the job that’s been tasked to me, as well as my desire to do the work long term. As I thought with a bit of dread of what the week held in store, I found myself feeling a little nostalgic for my first post-school job working as a line cook in a restaurant.
And click… on goes the light bulb bringing with it an uneasy understanding of why I have been, to borrow from Dr. Seuss, in “mangled up in tangled up knots”. Things became so suddenly and abundantly clear, that I’m a little embarrassed to admit that it took me three days to recognize it.
What I realized is this: I saw in Anthony Bourdain where my own potential might take me. Not that I will ever be a celebrity chef, but that I might have a life in which food, travel, and storytelling could be a sustainable way of supporting myself. That I might be able to reach and inspire other people with the things that I make my soul sing.
There’s another ‘that I might’ here… and it’s the one that I think, brought me to my knees sobbing, when I heard about his death. I saw in Bourdain my own potential to give in to the underlying and unrelenting darkness. That I might share his same end.
I have alternatively battled with and embraced my own depression for years. I am fortunate, if the word can be applied, that it mostly takes on a mild, chronic form that puts a patina of discontent over everything. It’s the liesmith in my own head that tells me that I am not good enough to forge a life in which I can sustain myself doing things I love, that I inspire in others boredom and disgust, that I simply am not worthy to be a part of this world.
There have been some deeper, major depressive episodes in which I stood at the edge of the abyss and longed to plunge headfirst into it. During the last of these, I was quite literally perched at the edge of an abyss, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. There is something magical, sacred, and transformative about that place.
It was there that I finally accepted Darkness, what I call the source of that unrelenting depression, not as a flaw or weakness, but as a part of myself, a part of myself that needed to be recognized and cared for, that needed my attention so desperately that it pushed for its own self-destruction. It is a monster, yes, but it is my monster, one that needs to be regularly acknowledged and fed, lest it become so hungry that it dines indiscriminately on the better parts of me.
I have realized that my grief over Anthony Bourdain’s death is two-fold: The first and lesser is the knowledge that someone who I’d admired for his openness and handling of his own Darkness succumbed to it. It is a grief for loss of a sliver of my own hope. It is only a sliver though, fed to my own Darkness, a large enough serving of sorrow to sate its hunger for a while.
The second and greater grief is for Bourdain’s suffering. I do not pretend to know his or anyone else’s struggles with depression, but I do know the understand in which it can cause pain. My heart breaks that anyone could experience such despair that all hope ceases, that anyone else could know the same level of hopelessness that has visited me during the darkest hours of my life.
I am still untangling the knots and trying to find some internal equilibrium. No loss is ever without a lesson or opportunity to improve our worlds. Eventually, I may find the lesson in this one. In the meanwhile, RIP Anthony, may you find on the other side of the veil that which eluded you here.