Saturday, June 9, 2018

Suicide Isn't Painless


As I was pulling into the parking lot of my job Friday morning, I got a news alert on my phone. Given the political climate, I get quite a few of them. What could it be about? Trump's visit to the G7 summit? Another indictment from Robert Mueller?

When I looked down at the phone, I could scarcely believe what I was reading. Anthony Bourdain, host of CNN's Parts Unknown, had taken his own life. The news hit me right where I live, and not because I know Bourdain personally or that I was a huge fan of his show. Frankly, I think I've watched maybe five or six episodes over the five years it was on the air.

You see, I know a thing or two about depression and what it can do to a person. I suffer from seasonal depression and have in the past taken medication to combat it. I've also suffered personal losses in my life - two pets and several relatives including my father - over the last few years. It's hard enough having to deal with such tragedies on an even keel, but when you suffer from depression, it can feel like you're carrying around a ball and chain. The analogy that comes to mind is a hitter stepping up to the batter's box with the count already 0 and 1.

I don't know what it was that drove Bourdain to commit suicide, but I can tell you this, it was likely years in the making. No one just up and decides to depart this earth. In fact, the very notion of saying goodbye to life is such a violent concept that no reasonable person can conceive of it. Unless, however, you're the person hanging on by a thread. For that person, suicide isn't the problem; it's the solution. In fact, it's the final act of desperation that comes only after every other option has failed.

Once in my life I was at the point that Bourdain found himself in. In 1989, I was this close to cashing it in. At the last minute I reached out to God for help and moments later I suddenly found the will to live. Two years of sessions with a trained therapist helped me sort out the issues that were plaguing me. I got sober and began to put my life in order. Three years later I found the woman who would become my wife.

I was one of the lucky ones. Many aren't nearly as fortunate. For them, the exit ramp could be pills, a gun or, as was the case with Bourdain, the end of a rope. In recovery, we have a saying: There, but for the grace of God, go I. There was no grace from God in those final moments of Anthony Bourdain's life. We'll never know what demons drove him to suicide. All we have left is a series of clues that, sadly, didn't sound the alarm bells.

But then that's the problem, isn't it? We look for the overt signs, but there just aren't any. No one who suffers from depression is likely to announce it to the world. Even in today's day and age, the stigma is simply too great. So we hide it out of fear that we will be judged as crazy or nuts. Instead of confiding in a friend, a colleague or loved one, we hold it in, thinking we can tough it out; as if somehow it was a cut or a bruise. We con ourselves into thinking that eventually it will heal on its own.

Only it doesn't. Just the opposite, in fact. And the longer we deny the obvious, the stronger it gets and the weaker our defenses become. Then, finally, when the pain is too great to bare, we succumb to the unthinkable. I remember thinking that night, twenty-nine years ago, that I really didn't want to die, I just wanted the pain to go away. It was a cross I could no longer carry. Thankfully, for me, God took that cross away.

After the suicide of Robin Williams, I remember asking myself, why do some people make it while others don't? To tell you the truth, I don't know. But that is the question of the age. Of all the organs in the human body, the one we least understand is the brain. Our lives are complicated and messy. Relationships are tough to enter into and even tougher to maintain. But the toughest relationship of all is the one we have with ourselves. And that's the one where we get the least amount of counseling. I remember the greatest challenge my therapist had was getting me to believe I was worth being loved. Imagine having to convince someone of that. How far does a person have to fall to think he or she is unloveable?

Today the thought of being unlovable never enters my mind. I have been married for nearly 24 years and my wife and I love each other very much. More importantly, we express our love to one another. If there's something that is bothering one of us we tell the other immediately. A problem shared is a problem halved, goes the saying.

Easy words to say, but hard to practice. In The Wizard of Oz, the Wizard tells the Tin Man that a heart is not measured by how much you love but by how much you are loved by others. By all accounts Anthony Bourdain was a man who was loved and admired by many people, but somehow that love never penetrated the wall he had constructed around his soul. And in the end that wall killed him.

All of us know people like Anthony Bourdain who display certain personality traits that on the surface seem unusual, such as a curious detachment or perhaps an overly withdrawn personality. On occasion they may even have accidentally let something slip out that caught our attention, but we dismissed it out of concern we might be intruding or that it wasn't any of our business. I'm sure right now there a few people in Bourdain's life who wish they hadn't been so, shall we say, polite. I bet they'd give almost anything to turn back the clock and have a second bite at that apple.

It's too late for them but not for us. We can still make a difference for the next lost soul whose is dying on the inside. They don't have to be famous celebrities; they could be members of our family; or neighbors we've known for years; or friends we hang out with; or fellow employees sitting in the adjacent cubicle; or former students we went to high school or college with. They all have one thing in common: they need our courage, not our timidity.

Do not worry about being a pest; be a pest. You may feel you're imposing; impose anyway. You might get told off; get told off anyway. Do NOT confuse silence for mental stability. Not everyone has a sign stamped on their forehead. If someone does have the courage to tell you've they've had thoughts of suicide, take them at their word. That's as close to a cry for help as you will ever receive. Call the police or, better still, drive them to the hospital yourself. Remember, it's not your responsibility to change their minds; all you have to do is to keep them from harming themselves for another twenty-four hours. And twenty-four hours can mean the difference between life and death.

I learned a long time ago that people don't care how much you know till they know how much you care. Anthony Bourdain could've used some of that caring the day he took his life.

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