Time to rethink depression
September 16, 2020
“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life—and travel—leaves marks on you.”
Author’s note: This column was originally written shortly after the passing of Anthony Bourdain. With it being Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, I felt it fitting to finally publish.
I woke up early on June 8, 2018 and I checked my phone as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I caught the words “Anthony Bourdain” and “suicide” and I was suddenly awake. The upside of subscribing to news alerts: you get news as it happens. The downside of subscribing to news alerts: you get news as it happens.
For those who don’t know, Anthony Bourdain was a celebrity chef, author and television host. He hosted “No Reservations” on Travel Channel for several seasons before heading over to CNN for a new show entitled “Parts Unknown.” It was while he was filming in France for an episode of the latter show that Bourdain took his own life.
I was shocked. I was sad. I was angry.
Here was a man who had one of the coolest jobs in the world! He traveled all over the globe to different countries, met with different people and ate food and drank booze all while teaching viewers something. I, myself, have watched with fascination as Bourdain went from food trailers in Texas to a sausage stand in Denver, Colo. (where he tried rattlesnake sausage) to Saudi Arabia’s answer to Kentucky Fried Chicken. His “Parts Unknown” episode on Iran was mesmerizing to say the least.
A man who got to travel the world, eat food and talk to people and he took his own life. For one fraction of a second, I asked myself “Why?”
“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom...is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”
It was only for that fraction of a second I had to ask myself, because I realized I knew the answer. It doesn’t matter whether you have the world’s greatest job, a life that everyone is envious of or all the money in the world. When you are battling depression, or any mental illness, these things don’t matter. When, at the end of the day, it’s just you and your mind it can be frightening.
I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety. I have also, I’m none too proud to say, have attempted to take my own life or very seriously thought about it. I struggled all through high school and in my adult life. In September 2015, I spent five consecutive days in an acute behavioral facility at Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie due to suicidal thoughts exacerbated by being on the wrong medication.
Suicide is often called “a permanent solution to a temporary problem” and, I will admit, I would often use that same phrase when talking about suicide and depression. Then I began to learn more about depression first hand. I struggle with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), but when left unmedicated it will grow and lead to depression and, with it, disassociation and apathy and exhaustion. Even with medication, it can still be a struggle.
Whether you are taking Prozac, Zoloft or any number of other antidepressant or antianxiety medications it doesn’t “fix” the issue. Many people refer to them as “happy pills,” under the assumption that they make you happy when in reality they work to correct a chemical imbalance. Even when the medication is working, you will still have bad days. Medication doesn’t make bad days not happen.
For some people, suicide is a permanent solution to a permanent problem.
“[When I die], I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time. My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted and advantages squandered.”
Another misconception about depression and suicide is that all it takes is one bad day or to be triggered by a television show like “13 Reasons Why.” This, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. Those of us who deal with depression and anxiety and any other number of mental illnesses have multiple bad days throughout our life - sometimes one after another for what seems like months on end!
We are in pain. When we have days where, even with medication, our own minds are telling us we’re not good enough or hyperbolizing a mundane conversation, we struggle. We fight. When I worked at the grocery store, I did my best to keep my battles on the inside. I didn’t always succeed. One of my coworkers at the time didn’t know what to do one night as I broke down into tears while at work. What could she do to help a 6’6”, nearly 300 pound behemoth who was crying like a child in the breakroom?
When you deal with these issues, when you are having to fight yourself on a daily basis, every morning is a victory. Every birthday is a battle won. When I was 15, I didn’t think I would see 20. When I was 20, I didn’t think I would see 25. When I was 25, well, you get the picture. It’s not like I was exactly planning to take my own life at any particular moment, but I sometimes wasn’t sure if it was smart to plan too far ahead in my life.
“And I’m not going to tell you here how to live your life. I’m just saying, I guess, that I got very lucky. And luck is not a business model.”
When I was younger, I viewed suicide as I believe most people do; it was a moral failing. A person who committed suicide was, in one way or another, not strong enough to continue living their life. On top of that, they were selfish because they never considered how they friends or family they left behind would feel. The older I became, however, the more my views on suicide changed.
When someone dies of cancer, we don’t say they died because they lacked courage or strength. The same when someone dies after battling with any other number of deadly diseases. On the contrary, we often comment on how hard they fought and for how long. We remember them as brave warriors who battled with death until the bitter end.
Why don’t we do the same with depression and suicide? Why do we, instead, admonish them and curse them and try to scrub them from our collective memory? Why do we make their death about us?
It is estimated that approximately 16 million people in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in 2012. Additionally, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention estimates that around 44,965 Americans die by suicide each year and that for every suicide there are at least 25 attempts.
We need to rethink our stance on suicide.
As for Bourdain, he will be missed. Not only by friends and family, but by fans all over the world. He used his shows to present the human side of many different cultures and countries through food as well as highlighting the struggles of others while going through struggles of his own.