Updated March 2022
I know the exact place to sit in the shower so the stream of water hitting my head feels more like a gentle rain; slowly, carefully, cathartically soothing my aching heart. It’s a spot that allows me to put my heavy head down on my tired arms and still be able to breathe, washing away my tears in a slow, methodical downward spiral in the drain.
I’d venture to guess if you asked someone who struggles with anxiety or depression, they’ll tell you about similar spots where they can be alone with their pain, where they feel safe, but almost certainly in shame.
As I awoke to the news recently that Anthony Bourdain had died, I assumed as I clicked on the article, bleary eyed, yearning for my morning caffeine jolt, that it was because of something unexpected. A heart attack. Perhaps, an overdose. I gasped out loud, “No,” as I read he died by suicide.
I was right about one thing, it was unexpected. But, as anyone who struggles to dodge the stigma of talking openly about mental health knows, it’s not something that’s sudden. It’s something that simmers unnoticed as we make our way through the motions of life, even a very privileged one. Even one where you sit in your shower to cry sometimes.
What always surprises me after the tragedy of a suicide is how quickly people revert to the boilerplate of success, as if that solves mental health issues. Career? Money? House? Wife? Kid? Check, check, check, check and check.
So they ask, “Why?” because the absurd perception of the grass being greener would immediately mean that life somehow doesn’t have complex intricacies in a different yard.
If Anthony Bourdain taught me anything in my meager life of travel, it’s that regardless of social status, we’re more alike than different. It’s something we desperately need to be reminded of in this divisive world. Sit down for a meal and you can always learn something from your neighbor, maybe even that you share the same fears and struggles. He made the world feel a bit smaller, more accessible and full of wonder. I traveled to specific cities in certain countries because of the valuable information he shared. Perhaps that’s why this one stings a bit more.
I’ve been very open with friends about how helpful therapy has been for me. Take one look at my bookshelf and you’d think I’m getting my PhD in personal development. I’ve written about it here after Robin Williams died by suicide and here to push past the stigma. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy and it certainly doesn’t mean I have my shit together. Yes, I can travel to exotic locations, smile sitting on a bench in my favorite city in the world and still struggle with self-worth issues.
Very often we don’t ask people who seem to have it together, if they’re okay. We assume our cheerful friends are fine. We don’t see our strong friends needing our help, so we never offer it.
Ask anyone who has sat in the dark, damp crevasses of our hearts and minds and they’ll tell you just how scary it is. Just how alone they feel, even in a room surrounded by people who love them dearly. How they think they are the only person to struggle with a mental battle. I’ve been in dark enough mindsets to know the power it holds; it’s unyielding.
It’s taken me years of coping strategies to pull myself out. Years of practice affirming my worth. And you know what? It will still be a continued, valuable journey.
I wish they offered a “Work in Progress” stamp for my passport.
I’ve learned to say the following things to people when I just don’t have the strength to be your normal take-on-anything self and pretend it’s all okay. Maybe it will help you too?
- I’m out of decision making capabilities for today. Is this something you can handle?
- Are you looking for feedback or just an ear to listen to you?
- I know this seems like a relatively tiny task or I’ve handled this before, but I need to you to problem solve this one.
- I’m not okay and that’s okay.
- Thanks for your patience while I took time to respond when I could/was ready.
- I know the 90’s wedge-heel fashion shoes that had ballerina-like straps are called, “Espadrilles.”
(That last one happened in real life and yours truly came in clutch for her trivia team.)
The problem with telling people to just “reach out” or “call if you ever need to” is you underestimate they may already be gasping for air, bobbing in and out of an ocean of emotions, using all their energy just to stay above the water line. When you’re in it, viscerally in it, very often the last thing you want to do is burden someone else with it. To reach into the depths of our courageous bones and say that life sucks sometimes, when we know we may lead one of privilege, can be an impossible task to complete.
Especially if they’ve been met previously with some toxic positivity garbage of, “Be grateful. Other people have it worse.”
I understand the kind intention, and help should absolutely still be offered, but putting the onus on the person struggling can often mean missing a chance to connect. So if anything from this tragic news has reaffirmed to me, it’s to check in and connect. Check in with your loved ones. Tell strong friends that they deserve “time off” too. Ask that constant ear in your life if they need one too. Simply sit next to a pal when you don’t know what to say (and that’s okay too). And maybe, in memory of Anthony Bourdain, offer a seat at your dinner table.
You never, ever know what someone else is battling. Ever. You never know what a simple, caring connection could mean to someone.
Be kind. Be kind. Be kind, my friends.