On Bourdain, Loss & Depression
That was the last line of a short piece I read aloud for a writing class this past week.
Our writing instructor didn't intend for her exercise to prompt such a dark line, she had asked for us to think of something we lost. "For you travel writers," she said, "think of luggage you may have lost or items you left behind." I sat at my desk for a good two to three minutes repeating to myself, "don't write about anything depressing, don't write about death, just think: what material possessions have you lost?" Try as I might, I was drawing up blanks and finally decided — after seeing how quickly the rest of the class was scrambling down thoughts — to hurry up and just go with my gut. So I wrote about the major losses in my life: my childhood friend, my childhood dog, my aunt.
Just two days later, on the morning of June 8, 2018, I lost one of my heroes, Anthony Bourdain.
It wasn't even 9am on that Friday morning. I had barely gotten out of bed. Philippe had got up to make us coffee. We both, at the last minute, had decided to work from home before he left for a performance in New York that night.
A few moments later, he hurried over to me in the hallway, teary-eyed.
"Babe. Babe. Anthony Bourdain died."
"What?" I chuckled back. "You're playing with me right?"
"No. No. I'm so sorry. I swear."
I ran over to my laptop and Googled as fast as I could, "Anthony Bourdain." The stream of news results yelled back at my screen: "Anthony Bourdain dead at 61. Suicide."
I fell apart. I was sobbing uncontrollably at my desk, unable to comprehend what I had just read. I became inconsolable. My hero... was gone.
I exhausted my brain with countless think pieces, Instagram photos and stories, honorary and reminiscent tweets, and online dedications to a man I tried to emulate for most of my adult life. If it wasn't for Bourdain, I wouldn't be so passionate about traveling, about eating, about writing and telling as many people about it all. I haven't been able to stop myself from seeking any and all Bourdain-related content. Friday morning I replayed guest interviews he'd done with Marc Maron and Terry Gross just to hear his signature voice again. I tuned into my regular morning Twitter news show as they aired one of my devastating tweets live. I sobbed even more. I searched my photo archives for pictures from his 2010 Medium Raw book signing at Union Square's Barnes & Noble. The blurry photos still revealed nothing but his smile. I went downstairs to grab all of his books I owned, bringing them to my desk to have him near me. His autograph in the front flap of the same book I saw him read from eight years ago. I scrolled back in time on my Instagram to find the photo of him arriving at the "purple carpet" at The Paley Center of the Media back in 2015. It was my first big celebrity interview for Bio.com, a short-term freelance gig I scored through editor friends. He made the whole experience a dream come true. I spent three whole minutes talking to the tall, skinny, silver-haired, chiseled man I kept following around the world on television.
Immediately after the news of his death circulated, I received an onslaught of messages via text and Facebook and Twitter. They all read similarly, "I thought of you as soon as I found out." It was a crushing reminder of how big Bourdain was in my life. I had almost forgotten how many friendships were made because of this one man. My six and half-year relationship maybe even wouldn't have lasted past date number two if my now partner hadn't stated, "If I could be anyone in this world, I think I'd want to be Anthony Bourdain" while chowing on a burger in front of me. My own family would brag to friends at parties about their daughter and sister who once interviewed Anthony Bourdain and who had a fan blog. This very website features his name in at least eight different pages.
Friday afternoon after seeing so many "reach out" messages urging depressed people to stay strong (myself included), I decided to be honest and ask for help. I scrolled through my phone's address book texting just about everyone and anyone I knew who lived in my city, to see if someone, anyone wouldn't let me fall asleep alone that night. As it always happens, everyone was too busy or unresponsive.
On Friday night as I laid alone in bed, I decided to revisit my old Tumblr blog where I had posted so frequently about him, I had created a second Tumblr blog entirely dedicated to him. I searched "Bourdain" in the archives and an endless stream of old posts appeared: favorite quotes and excerpts, dreams I had wherein he and I were best buds in Uruguay, article clippings, favorite photos, episode recaps, itineraries of trips I planned or eventually left for after seeing said episodes, diary entries from recreating Bourdain moments in the same cities, restaurants and bars he had patroned in past episodes. My whole purpose in life for such a long time was to answer and live out the question, "What would Bourdain do?"
Now I was asking myself a different question, "Why did he do this?"
I knew too well why. I didn't want to be reminded about that reason. But as the texts responded back with "so sorry I'm busy tonight!" or "can't be there but hugs!" or "feel free to give me a call instead," that reason crept back up to the forefront of my mind.
I've been depressed for as long as I can remember. I wouldn't call myself a "happy kid" who had a "great childhood." I grew to be a teenager with an "attitude." The first two years of college I was having suicidal thoughts but never mustered up the courage to act on them. But every year around the holidays those thoughts would resurface. Depression isn't something you beat one day and claim victory. For me, it's always been a build up from one, seemingly insignificant thing. A day not going my way could be frustration that leads into anxiety which could lead into a panic attack which could lead into self-blame and anger which could lead to crying which could lead to more anger because you're crying about something stupid which could lead into self-hatred which could lead into WELL WHAT'S THE POINT OF LIVING ANYWAY. You get the idea (if you don't, please stop everything and read this). The thing is: depression doesn't allow any logic to come into play. It doesn't allow you to think that being surrounded by loved ones, or having fame and money and success is enough. It lies to you and tells you you are nothing. It eats away at your brain, it carries you down a dark void, it paralyzes you. So while I read too many thoughts and opinions about why this beloved hero would choose to end his life, I thought to myself, "Fuck. I get it." He probably had a bad day (or a few) and one thing led to another and he didn't have the strength to fight off his demons one more time, so he made a bad decision. Depression is an ugly and vicious cycle that can be impossible to break through without the right tools.
I started to go down that dark void on Friday night after no one could console me, and the one friend who was generous enough to check in on me in person had left. As I cried hysterically wrapped up in my blankets, I battled with myself to not let this happen to me. I forced myself to stay awake to avoid falling asleep to any bad thoughts. Worse, I knew falling asleep meant he might appear in my dreams. I put on trashy TV shows on Netflix. I turned the air conditioner on loud. I got up every once in a while just to move. Eventually though, I fell asleep and I *did* have dreams about Bourdain. One in which he gave me a goodbye note, and the last thing I said to him was, "But tell me, has my writing gotten better?" to which he nodded, smiled and disappeared.
The next day I awoke, still depressed. It took everything to get out of bed. The small blue towel I was using to clean my face from so many tears was still wet. If it wasn't for a street art tour that afternoon I don't know if I would had left that bed. The outing was a pleasant distraction for a few hours but as it ended and the rained poured, I shriveled back into sorrow. Dinner at one of my favorite French bistro's (something we decided he would have loved) was consumed by my partner and I discussing what tattoo we might get in his honor. A few hours later at a live concert, I held back tears as the band sang, "What's your favorite way to dull the pain? I haven't found a way to replace you." During the headliner's set, I simply decided I couldn't fake this enjoyment anymore and left the crowd.
Today, Sunday, I found temporary peace at morning yoga but was reminded of Bourdain as the teacher discussed how yoga allows us to search within ourselves to find the "weeds we want to cultivate" and "manage the shit we don't." I couldn't help but think he reached a point where he no longer could manage that shit anymore. I spent the rest of the day stress cleaning and giving attention to neglected spaces in my home, trying to keep myself off the internet, off my phone, and embrace #SelfCareSunday like I normally would.
But I knew I'd have to face my emotions. It's only been two days and to the surprise of some, no I'm still not doing well. I've lost someone that I now realize was a central piece to my being and I'm not sure if that loss can ever be filled. Like the other big losses in my life, I never saw it coming. I've been blind-sided yet again, and this time from someone I don't even personally know! What I know, though, is that I need to allow myself to mourn and to heal on my own terms. What I know is that my feelings are valid. What I know is that I am loved and I want to continue to love back. What I know is that I will not stop fighting. I will not stop traveling. I will not stop writing. What I know is that sharing stories, especially the most raw and vulnerable ones, as he always did, will help others live. I know that is what I need to do to continue answering, "What would Bourdain do?"