Before I even opened the curtains this morning, I found out that Anthony Bourdain was dead. I thought, "In his sixties, former drug addict – that's not a huge surprise." But then the next paragraph said that he killed himself. Hung in a hotel room in France while his best friend was in the next room.
I can't know and won't bother speculating on what led to his decision, but it's made me incredibly sad. I certainly didn't admire everything about him, but his shows were always my favorites. I wear light jeans and sand-colored Clarks because of him. He embodied so many of the things I love: food, adventure and travel, combined with a wary eye toward government/authority and how people are treated. And zero tolerance for pretense.
But aside from liking his work, Anthony Bourdain had become something of a strange benchmark for me. For years, especially when I was doing worse than I am now, I would look to him as proof that things can get better. He didn't publish his first book until in his forties, and the TV shows, travel, subsequent books and success all came later.
He seemed to be at his happiest, healthiest and most successful as he approached 60, which left my 33-year-old self feeling not quite so bad for having failed to accomplish much of anything yet. I'm glad I didn't peak in high school, but Anthony Bourdain was evidence that one could peak much later in life, and maybe that was going to be me. It was at least some vague thing to look forward to.
But then he hangs himself and that idea goes out the window.
Bourdain's death comes only a few weeks after the lead singer of one of my favorite bands killed himself in the place and manner he had described in a song ten years earlier. Scott Hutchison of the Scottish band Frightened Rabbit sang in the song, "Floating in the Forth":
"Fully clothed, I float away [...] I think I'll save suicide for another year."
Both of these men were vocal about their atheism, which makes their deaths all the sadder and perhaps even explains their decision. If this world is all there is, there really is no hope. At the same time, I recently encountered someone who said, in effect, that no Christian should ever be depressed. I had to restrain myself from punching him in the face.
I've said in other places that I was severely depressed and socially anxious from age 14 to age 30. While "severe" is admittedly my own self-diagnosis, I think that spending half your life hating yourself, feeling worthless and wishing you were dead surely must qualify.
The best way for me to describe what it was like living with the thought of suicide is like living with a loaded gun sitting out on a side table. Some days, I was so used to it being there that I could walk past without taking any special notice. Other days, I'd sit and stare at it to the exclusion of everything else. But it was always there. And I was a Christian.
"God loves you." That's hard to feel, easy to forget and often hard to believe.
"God has a plan for you." That plan appears to be that I'm an extra in a movie about suffering.
"Things will get better." There's no guarantee of that, even inside Christendom.
God healed me of depression about two and a half years ago, and even being not-so-distantly removed from it, it's amazing to look back on the insanity of how I felt and thought day to day. It's just lies. The problem is that, in that state, those lies are so easy to believe that they look just like truth, and truth is so very hard to believe that it isn't good for anything.
I don't know. This isn't an obituary or essay; I'm just verbally processing. The people I would normally talk to about this are either busy or out of the country. I'm sad people kill themselves. I'm sad some people are so desperate to believe that the world is an accident with no meaning simply because they'd rather play in the street than live with rules. I'm sad that one of my favorite shows and one of my favorite bands are done. And it doesn't help that I just finished reading Ecclesiastes.
I can't speak for everyone, but I think suicide hotlines are a feeble solution. I, myself, can do the correct thing here and offer to be an ear to struggling people—and I am, and I want to be—but that's not really the point. The point is that today has been a vivid reminder of what hopelessness feels like, and I'm afraid of how much stronger it appears to be than hope. A lie, but one well disguised.
Times are tough when heaven is the only thing you have to look forward to. But it's something. And it's strong. And I pray in all earnestness that it comes soon.