Last week was heavy. Triggering. Confusing.
Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade – two celebrated, admired, and successful people – took their lives. What the news isn’t covering are the hundreds of other Americans who also took their lives last week. But it’s not stats that shift the tides; it’s stories.
I know Anthony and Kate only as public figures. As many others can also claim, they each touched my life in some way. I have sat glued to my TV, watching Anthony learn the world through its people and their food. A year ago, I spent hours searching for the perfect Kate Spade wallet. The soft black leather container still holds my credit cards, birth control, and lipstick.
Anthony’s rugged handsomeness and lust for life spoke to a lot of us. He had a hell yes, head-first approach to things. He told us to travel, to get to know the world, and to expand our palates in more than one way. He asked to try the slimy oyster, the rotten fruit, the bull testicle – and maybe discover something beautiful in the weirdness. Anthony didn’t want us to be afraid of dirty kitchen floors and bugs on the wall. He wanted us to sit down and dig in. Preferably with a strong drink.
Kate was shrouded in a bit more mystery. She didn’t have a show; I didn’t know what she looked like until the day her death was announced. Her public image was intrinsically linked to her apparel: colorful, high-quality, feminine. Clothes don’t make you, but they make you feel a certain way. Kate’s made me feel accomplished and stylish, yet carefree. Strong and professional, yet delicate.
But despite their enviable images, Anthony had his struggles and Kate had hers. Past substance abuse, divorce, depression, anxiety. Yet they also had access to all the resources to fight their battles.
What does this mean for this rest of us, the ones without fame and fortune? The ones without rehab facilities and top therapists? This question leaves us shaken. As a survivor of suicide loss, it is something I struggle with every day.
My 25-year-old sister took her life in 2016. Unlike Anthony and Kate, she was not rich nor famous. But like them both, she had what was generally perceived as a good life. She had many friends and came from a strong family. She laughed a lot and accomplished a lot. Like Anthony, she loved traveling and new cultures – and struggled with depression. Like Kate, she was pretty and charming – and anxiety shadowed her.
I’ve seen a quote being thrown around social media recently: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
The intention is good, but this quip is harmfully inaccurate. Depression and mental illnesses – which cause the majority of deaths by suicide – are not “temporary issues.” They are (usually) lifelong battles. They demand bravery and vulnerability and strength and pain. They require hard work and unwavering support.
A delayed flight is a temporary problem. A job loss is a temporary problem. Yes, these problems can trigger something deeper, but the resulting demons are not “temporary problems.” They are tremendous challenges that should be talked about and respected and treated.
Anthony is gone, Kate is gone, and my sister is gone. They were all impactful people with persistent demons, not temporary problems.
Suicide isn’t the solution. I don’t have the solution but I have ideas: Instead of sharing platitudes that diminish our battles, let’s talk about ways we can help. Ways our society can change. Ways the stigma around mental illness and seeking help can be reduced. Ways that we can combat the growing number of death by suicide.
Let’s remember that people can’t always ask for help – depression often prevents that, and so do stigmas. Let’s not be afraid to ask about someone’s well-being, to push them to get the help they need, and to support them however we can. Vulnerability on everyone’s part is necessary.
Keep talking, keep fighting, keep asking, keep sharing. To me, that’s the closest we have to a permanent solution.