Everybody has offered their two cents on Anthony Bourdain. Here’s mine.

9 Jun

We want one-size-fits-all advice. All of us. Links that promise “This one simple trick will make any woman fall in love with you!” or “How to win your fantasy league every time” get attention because hey, it’s a cheat code. Up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-start, and suddenly life is that much easier. It sucks if life is hard. It sucks that much less if it’s hard but you can pretend you’re that close to unlocking the way to make it not suck.

Except one size pretty much never fits all. (This actually includes one-size-fits-all clothing, which is just so very much a lie.) What works for one person might work for several people, might work for a lot of people, but might not work for anyone else. I have the job I have because another site, several years ago, put out a call for writers during a time when I was unemployed, and I said the heck with it, and that grew to another job, which grew to a chance at PFF. I hadn’t been pursuing fantasy sports work for years, didn’t think I wanted to do journalism anymore, and just happened to find my way here. I love it, and frankly it’s what I should have been doing, but I wasn’t. So if someone asks me for advice, what do I tell them? “Get fired right before someone needs something you’re decent at but don’t realize it yet”? “Pursue a career in an industry where who knows if your job will even exist tomorrow”?

The best advice is the most generic. Work hard. Don’t give up. Love one another. Get more specific than that and you’re losing applicable listeners by the swath.

Twitter on Friday was a mass of advice. In the wake of the suicide of Anthony Bourdain — about as close as we’ve come to a universally liked celebrity, at least since … well, the suicide of Robin Williams — my entire feed spent the day telling you to call a hotline, or reach out to a friend, or speak to a professional if you are feeling desperate. Or they said to talk to a friend, reach out to a stranger, do a nice thing for somebody, and you just might save a life.

It’s all true, of course. I don’t mean to belittle a single piece of that advice. Even if doing something nice for somebody never saves a single person from suicide, you’re still doing nice things, you know? Even if you reach out to a professional for meds, and the end result is you are just as depressed as you were before … well, you can’t go below rock bottom.

I was sad for years. I have no idea if I was clinically depressed, because even today I’m not clear on the difference from an internal perspective, and don’t try to explain it to me because it won’t help. I told my dad one day that I didn’t care if I stayed alive. It was very specific, very intentional wording. I wasn’t contemplating suicide (not then; I can clearly remember crying into my bathroom mirror and asking “What do I do?” while wondering how many towels it would take to seal off any air gaps in my garage), but I didn’t really care. If I lived? Okay, life’s there, whatever. If I died? I mean, just as well.

That of course led to an appointment with my regular family doctor from when I was a kid. He suggested I see a professional, but knowing my insurance situation at the time (I had none), he settled for prescribing my Paxil. It did nothing for me except make me feel dizzy for a while, so after a couple months on that, I switched to Cymbalta, which had the effect of … making me dizzier. Beyond that, neither drug felt like it helped at all.

So I stopped taking them. Some six, seven months later, some people (my sister and a friend of mine) independently of one another asked how I was doing with my meds.

“I didn’t feel like they were doing anything for me,” I said, “so I stopped taking them.”

Both of them chided me for the decision, as they could definitely see a change in me since I’d been on them, and even if I didn’t feel the difference, the fact that they could surely mattered.

“Okay,” I said, “then when was I taking them?”

Both guessed that I had quit them in the preceding few weeks, when I had been off them for months. Satisfied that they had been victims of placebo-by-proxy, I continued my oft-stated mantra: I was sad, not depressed. After having been one of the top high-schoolers in the state (full ride to multiple colleges, near-perfect SAT and ACT scores, multi-sport athlete, editor of the yearbook, all-around decent dude), I was in my mid- to late-20s, working in the same restaurant I had worked in when I was in school, living in my brother’s basement, getting fatter every day, growing ever more confident that I’d be single forever, and struggling to afford to do more than live day-by-day in a life that I was increasingly unhappy with. I listed my credentials earlier in this paragraph, but it wasn’t to brag, because what I did with my life for the next 10 or so years rendered just about all of it moot.

Today, I’m sitting here at my computer, doing a job I love, married to a woman I love. I have two kids of my own and a stepdaughter that I claim as my own and never use the prefix to describe. I own my own home and have a vacation next month to a beach house in Florida. I’m still fat (need to work on that) and I’m hardly making enough money to consider myself some fancy rich guy, but as my situation has gotten better, so have my spirits. I’m a happy guy now. I have anxiety, I wonder if I’m making enough to take care of my family, I wonder if I am motivated enough, I still curse myself for eating more than I should, but all in all, I’m happier than I was from my late teens to my early 30s.

I was sad for years, but it was a legitimate, earned sadness. Those exist, and just because the outward symptoms largely resemble depression doesn’t change that.

On the other hand, what does that story do for anyone who isn’t me? It’s true that I was sad and now I’m less sad. And it’s true I did it without seeing a psychiatrist, without devoting any more than cursory effort toward medication. But I wouldn’t dream of advising anyone else to try to work through sadness that way. Professional help is there to be professional help. The stigma is fading all the time, and could easily just go away altogether. Meds are good things. They just weren’t what I needed. Or maybe they were, and I’d have gotten happier faster, or I’d be even happier. I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know: Anthony Bourdain apparently killed himself the other day. That led to a lot of advice from a lot of people. Just about every last bit of that advice was good, and you should follow it. Reach out to your friends if you think they are hurting. Reach out for help if you are the one who is hurting. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255, my DMs are open @danieltkelley, and you have more people who care about you than you realize.

At the same time, it’s very possible none of that information helps. People who knew I was sad said all sorts of pithy things about permanent solutions to temporary problems, about me having my health, about thinking about all the people who were worse off than me. That sort of bumper-sticker-level advice is worth about as much as the bumper stickers they’re printed on. But even if I had been told exactly the right thing (I have no idea what that would have been), even if I had been told of the future that awaited me, there are definitely times it wouldn’t have mattered.

Here’s my hot take that will make some people mad: Suicide isn’t so awful. I’m not considering it to even the slightest extent (so don’t worry), but life can be really hard for some people, even those people who would surprise you. It’s absolutely not selfish to take the ultimate step — it’s far more selfish to expect someone to continue living in agony just so you don’t have to miss them. Please understand that I’m not advocating that anyone kill themselves, but I 100 percent understand how it could come to that and would never think less of a person who has decided that was the right answer.

Sometimes, all the hotlines in the world fail. Anthony Bourdain was 61. Robin Williams was 63. Tell them about temporary problems.

Life isn’t short. Life is long. It’s the longest thing you’ll ever do. Something it feels even longer than that, and watching another who-knows-how-many years stretch out into the future can be daunting.

I have the start of a novel in my computer. It’s about a guy who hears that the average age is 76, works out some math, realizes that average includes people with diseases, people in gangs, soldiers in war, all sorts of people dying early and bringing the average down, all sorts of people who don’t apply to him. He realizes that for him, an ordinary, run-of-the-mill human in the 21st century, his real expectation is probably more like the mid-80s. He realizes he has that much more life to live, and he breaks down crying. I wrote that when I was struggling, to be sure, but the notion still holds with me, and I still like that as the opener for a sad book.

Life is just so long. We like to say “life is short” to encourage people to pursue what they can when they can, but it’s a lie. Life is so very long. For many people, that’s fantastic. More time to be happy, to do stuff you love. For some, it’s torture.

Help who you can. Seek help when you can. And be as understanding as you can if none of that works. Life is real hard. Sometimes it’s just too hard. Make it easier whenever you can. And accept that sometimes you can’t.



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