I screwed up. When it comes to some close friends who suffer greatly from the kind of depression beyond comprehension — mine at least — I haven’t always understood what my pals were going through or how to truly show up without my fixer-bee faux-super-cheery hero cape on. Instead, to sooth my anxiety over their emotional state, I offered a smorgasbord of solutions that would solve the problem (as I saw it) of despairs if that despair was just some fog the sun of new plans could burn away. True, I also listened well, but listening doesn’t always equate understanding.
With the recent suicides of Anthony Bourdain, who I loved from afar through his shows and writing, rift with irreverent, cut-to-the-chase and take-no-prisoners insights and questions, along with Kate Spade, have brought a flurry of stories about what it really feels like to be suicidal. The one that woke me up a bit more is “Anthony Bourdain, Suicide, and Grace” by the Film Crit Hulk, in which the author writes, “I cannot explain what it means to go through 60 percent of a given day fighting the very thought, but it is one of the most tiring, all-consuming things a human being can do.” He goes on to lay out the very logical solution suicide can seem like to someone struggling to get from one moment to the next, their thoughts and thinking reinforcing the dead-end darkness and incomprehensibility of their very survival. “And there it is: the grand reveal that the biggest problem with suicide is that it is genuinely a good solution,” the writer tells us.
I think about people I’ve known and know with anorexia, and how the brain itself, starving and running down a road to hell in a parallel universe, reinforces body dysmorphia, making it impossible to see the body as it really is: starving to the point of dying. I now wonder if the kind of overwhelming depression that led people like Bourdain and Spade and so many others to kill themselves works in a similar way, making heartbreaking sense to those afflicted with such an impulse to end it all that getting to the next breath takes every ounce of their determination. The Film Crit Hulk, also similarly afflicted, concludes of Bourdain that getting this far was a Herculean act of grace, “And I’m so proud of him for making it this long.”
Just because some of us don’t understand this in a visceral way — and how blessed we are! — doesn’t mean we can’t show up, ask what we can do, suggest grabbing a bite or seeing a movie, just listen, and breath alongside with the one struggling so hard to keep themselves on the planet. The Film Crit Hulk says to “just be yourself, and remind them of the world you share.” Not to say this will be the saving grace, but stepping up helps us better share the depths of this beautiful, sad, mysterious, and suffering common world. For those who have stepped off, may they rest in peace, healing, and power. For those among us, may they continue on in peace, healing, and power. For the rest of us, may we learn to stay, even when it scares us fiercely, with those who could use some company in their suffering.