Our son, Ludo, is named after Chef Ludo Lefebvre, someone my partner and I find super inspiring, refreshing, and absolutely hilarious. We would never have discovered Chef Ludo without Anthony Bourdain. Watching them together on The Taste was something that we looked forward to every week, especially after our first child was born and my partner was working 80 plus hours a week as a line cook while I was at home with the baby, learning how to consolidate my old life with my new one. Ludo and Tony, these were people who had been to the bottom of the barrel and back, who had been inspired to push on and be someone they wanted to be. It’s funny because people automatically assume that I chose our son’s name as I am the one who was brought up in France but it was actually my partner’s choice.
I have to stop falling asleep reading books on my phone. I did it again on Thursday night, waking up around 5am uncomfortably aware that my phone was wedged between me and my 11 month old. As I automatically went to look at it one of the notifications on the screen caught my eye: Anthony Bourdain has died, committed suicide. After that the battery on my phone died and I fell back to sleep, a sleep that was full of dreams of Anthony Bourdain on stage in what seemed to be Sin-é, of me being trapped in a basement searching for my children, my significant other having also disappeared. They were anything but restful, peaceful dreams. All day Friday I would stop in my tracks as waves of sadness crashed over me. Another one gone.
I’ve recently found myself talking about how I used to hesitate to talk about suicide, abuse, addiction, and mental illness. Not because I was embarrassed about having been witness to all of this from an early age, but because I didn’t want to see the pity in other people’s faces. I would dread the question of “where is your father?” followed by the embarrassed “I’m sorry... How did he die?” whenever I would meet someone new. Sometimes I would divert the question, sometimes I would say “drugs”, sometimes I would whisper “uh I’d rather not talk about it”. But I couldn’t often bring myself to say “he took his own life”. Concern often translates as pity and I still can’t stand being pitied.
Nowadays I tell the truth. My children will never know either of their grandfathers because they both took their own lives many years ago. And no suicide helpline or medication would have helped them: they had made their decision and went through with it. I’ve talked about this before, and will continue to talk about it as often as needed: suicide causes approximately 800,000 deaths a year worldwide, and it’s still surrounded by major stigma.
Every time a celebrity takes their own life I see people asking “why?”; I see others blaming their loved ones for not being there, I see people saying that there is always a new day or some other cliché along those lines. Reach out to someone, they will help you! Of course not everyone who suffers from mental illness commits suicide, and not every suicide is the direct cause of mental illness, but in any situation suicide is usually the last resort in a long road of resorts.
A while back when I went to AA and NA for a while, someone I met there would text me every day to ask me how I was doing. It surprised me and lifted my spirits, and gave me that extra boost to get through another day without resorting to the bottle. Actually setting foot into a meeting room was a huge step for me, but I wasn’t ready to talk about anything right then. That daily check in helped me immensely. They really cared, and they didn’t even know much about me! It also made me realize that I did that a lot with my friends, the genuine check in, and how important it was. It also suddenly dawned on me that people counted on me to be there for them, but I couldn’t always count on a lot of people to be there for me unless I explicitly asked them to be. Over the years I have become more selfish, isolating myself a lot more, maybe too much. I know that I don’t reach out to my friends as much as I should anymore, especially as I now live so far away from everyone, although I do think of them all frequently. It’s something I need to make more of an effort with again. But nowadays I also know who will be there for me too.
All that to say that sometimes the effort of reaching out to ask for help is too much to do. Sometimes the despair is so grand that we don’t know which way to go to reach the exit. Sometimes we do not want anyone to try to change our minds. And sometimes we talk openly about what’s going on and hope that someone will notice what we were doing. And often that is misconstrued, viewed as someone being too “open”, saying “too much”. So basically reaching out and asking for help is not an easy task, and often when people try it’s ignored or just not even noticed.
What I am basically trying to say is that we need to accept that suicide is a real issue and that anyone can or may choose to end their lives at any time. That doesn’t mean that we need to accept that suicide is inevitable. But we can’t expect people who are already suffering to do the extra legwork to tell US that they need help. We can’t expect that throwing out a few phrases like “we are here if you need us” and “call me if you want to chat” people who actually need help will see them and respond. It’s just not that simple.
We can however look beneath the thin exteriors and be aware of what may be happening underneath them. Is a friend drinking too much? Or has a friend disappeared, and you rarely hear from them anymore? Is someone often angry for no apparent reason or withdrawn? Is a family member working themselves into a hole, or no longer interested in anything they used to be interested in? It doesn’t hurt to grab their hands, look into their eyes and just ask them if they are OK. I know there are many times in my life if someone had done that I would have broken down immediately and admitted that I was heading towards rock bottom. But we often shy away from doing that, afraid of being wrong and making a fool out of ourselves, afraid of embarrassment, of making a mistake. Sometimes we create boxes around ourselves, and become afraid of entering someone else’s box, overstepping our own boundaries. But if your gut tells you something isn’t right, what do you have to lose reaching out and saying “hey I’m worried about you?”
Let’s keep talking about this altogether. For every person who commits suicide 20-25 more attempt it. Talk about it with family, with friends, talk about it openly. Teach kids that all emotions are valid and to never feel they have to hide their feelings. Talk about happiness and sadness and how emotions can get all mixed up. Let people speak, even if they have to take their time to find the words. Read between the lines. Hug people hard, hold hands, tell people how you feel about them, and let them know you care. If we all stop for a minute and reach out maybe we can all make a difference in someone else’s life.
I may not have been able to save my father, and people like Chris Cornell and Anthony Bourdain had probably already made up their minds a long time ago, but just a caring word and a strong hand in a time of need may be a real lifeline to someone.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the insanely high numbers of people who are living on the streets in the US, and how these numbers are only increasing. These people are at a huge risk for attempting suicide, but fall through the cracks all of the time. We need to talk about these people when we talk about suicide, just as much as we talk about celebrities.
Places to contact for more information and help: