It was 2008, and I had just arrived home from living in London and saying goodbye to my best friends and this life changing experience I had. I remember landing in SFO, taking my time walking out of the gate, trying my best to keep it together. I didn’t mean to do this, but as soon as I saw my family and a few of my friends at the welcome gate, I suddenly burst into tears.
I hugged all of them and explained how tired and jetlagged I was…pretending to be so happy to be home when deep down inside, all I wanted to do was run back into the plane I just walked out of. The next few days that followed were a mixture of both sadness and exhaustion.
I was miserable. I missed my friends, the family I had created for myself in the UK, the guy I was seeing, and that feeling of adventure and freedom. I all of a sudden felt stuck with no direction to go.
It was the first time that I fell into a deep depression that lasted for months. I wasn’t in school or working at the time, and I found myself in bed all day every day for what felt like weeks. I began reading books from international writers, watching loads of foreign movies, and trying to hold on to that feeling of living.
That was also the Winter I fell in love with Anthony Bourdain. I had seen a few of episodes of his show before I had moved to the UK, but I never embraced it like I did that year. I picked up Kitchen Confidential for the first time and devoured it in two days. His writing style was so unique in the way he used his wit, self-depreciation, and love for music to tell a story about his life as a chef. He was this foul mouthed, troublemaker who dealt with drug addiction and poverty in New York City. And yet, despite the odds against him, he followed his dream.
I became obsessed with the guy. Even purchasing the one season TV show based on the name of his book and his life. It was with an unknown Bradley Cooper, and honestly, it was made way before it’s time.
I watched episodes of No Reservations on the Travel Channel hoping to get glimpses of the places I visited as well as taking notes on places to go next. As much awe as I was in regard to the places he went and the food he tried, what got to me the most…was the way he captured humanity. He told the stories of people around the world…people you would have never met without his cameras. He captured their plight and struggles and really embraced their culture.
The way he lived his life and portrayed the world, was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Travel the world not just for self-fulfillment and adventure…but as a way to embrace these cultures and tell these stories of the human experience. Stories of love, and struggle, and resilience. Stories we rarely ever hear. It’s so easy to see headlines of tragedy and corruption from countries half way around the world then look the other way. Tony found a way to tell the stories of those affected through something everyone in this world could relate to…food.
A few months after going through that crippling depression…I found my way back to London. This time, studying Human Rights and International Politics. I have always been passionate about this subject and the injustice happening around the world, but this was the first time that I became very focused on the individual…and not the collective.
I was able to intern for two international organizations that year, and my biggest take away from my time spent there weren’t the skills I learned, but the people I met and their stories of war, loss, and hope. Sure I studied the politics that lead to these horrific circumstances, but speaking to those affected directly, and finding a way to retell their stories was the difference between undergrad me, and postgrad me. It was the difference between pre Anthony Bourdain, and post Anthony Bourdain.
It sounds naive to say that he was the reason why my lens changed, but I can honestly say that he was such a big influence in the way I saw the world. Despite the ugliness that we see every day, there is still so much beauty in the human experience. It’s the one lesson I learned from Tony.
He helped me deal with the depression I experienced after coming back home and really influenced that need I have to write and learn. It’s the reason why I talk to strangers, have that welcome and open presence, and truly listen. There are so many walks of life, so many experiences, so many different ways of living.
Learning that he took his own life leaves me with such a broken heart. Anthony was a beautiful person who was committed to social justice and human rights. He influenced my entire generation to seek adventure, write, and to explore places you would have never thought to go. He seemed to live the life that so many of us desperately wanted to live ourselves.
As shocked as people are to see someone so successful take their own life, it’s another unfortunate reminder that mental illness is still very misunderstood. You can have everything your heart desires, but if you suffer from this disease, nothing really matters. Depression is an illness that doesn’t have to have a legit reason. It just is.
As someone who struggles with clinical depression and has been through hell and back, I can easily tell you that there is help even if it feels like there is none. Depression has almost taken my life more than once, and as happy as I feel today, I know another bout can be just around the corner. As tragic and devastating as it is to lose someone I admire through a disease I also deal with, I can’t help and look back at the many times Tony saved mine despite his own struggle.
As hard as it is to take in, it’s a reminder of how important it is to reach out to those who might be suffering…and to continue living life the way Anthony lived his. Which was seeing the best in people, embracing the world, and trying to truly make a difference in the lives of those most vulnerable.