Thoughts on Depression Sparked by Anthony Bourdain’s Suicide

I imagine a lot of people have fantasized about being Anthony Bourdain, the star of CNN’s Peabody-winning “Parts Unknown” series, in which he traveled the world eating exotic food and meeting the people who made it. That was probably the most enviable job on television.

Friday, CNN announced that he had committed suicide. He was 61, my age. So I’m having a Richard Cory moment.

Bourdain’s suicide, coming so soon after that of fashion designer Kate Spade, has sparked a lot of discussion about depression. (I’m not sure we really know that either was depressed at the time, but it’s a plausible assumption.) Here’s my contribution to that conversation.

No one close to me has committed suicide, but I have watched both parents and at least one close friend deal with depression. I’ve also skirted the borderlands of depression myself on occasion. In my view, the most insidious thing about it is that it first attacks the faculties that you will need to fight it off. (That’s why all the “snap out of it” advice never works. The command center that could have received and acted on that message has already fallen.) You may not even notice what’s happening until the depression has you encircled.

That’s why I think everyone needs to set alarms at the border, so that you notice the slide while you still have the resources to turn things around. In my case, I’ve flagged two thought patterns. Whenever either of them shows up, I’m in danger and need to implement high standards of mental hygiene:

  • I can’t lean on my friends because they aren’t really my friends. Secretly, it would give them satisfaction to know that I’m doing badly.
  • I can still imagine things that would make me happy, but feel like they’re not worth the bother. Whether or not I enjoy my life is really not that important.

Those are mine; you may have other typical borderland thoughts. Try to identify them and notice when they start showing up.

So what are “high standards of mental hygiene”? Obvious stuff, mostly: Eat right, sleep well, get exercise, drop unrewarding responsibilities that cause unnecessary stress, indulge any creativity or playfulness you happen to notice in yourself (even if it seems silly), spend time with people who love you (and trust that they really do), expose yourself to whatever kind of beauty moves you. If you know any children who aren’t your responsibility, they tend to make good companions: They are naturally playful, and it’s hard to believe that they are devious enough to fake caring about you.

None of that cures a depression after you’re in it. But if you’re not quite there yet, maybe you don’t have to go.

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Comments

  • Roger Owen Green  On June 11, 2018 at 11:18 am

    What you said.

  • Linda Buechting  On June 11, 2018 at 11:51 am

    An interesting suggestion from a nationally known doctor: Wake the depressed person at 2 a.m. and keep them awake until 10 p.m. the following night. I don’t envy the person having to do the waking and keeping awake, but supposedly this will reboot the brain.

    • weeklysift  On June 11, 2018 at 12:11 pm

      I’m not a doctor, but I’m skeptical. Strange sleeping hours is one of the primary symptoms of depression; I’d be amazed if it helped.

    • Larry Benjamin  On June 12, 2018 at 7:23 am

      I’d be interested in knowing who this “nationally known doctor” is – Dr. Oz? Dr. Phil? A specialist in homeopathy? A citation would help.

    • Kat  On June 12, 2018 at 11:57 am

      Given the disturbing technically-possible-but-unlikely waking nightmare scenarios which run through my brain in the wee hours of the morning [for example: Trumpist rednecks (aka “neighbors”) breaking down our door and shooting my husband and cat in front of me; etc.] I really have to wonder about this advice.
      I am – still – always able to recognize and discount these Hour of the Wolf thoughts even while having them, but can imagine what that mindset could do to someone already down…

  • Paige  On June 11, 2018 at 4:47 pm

    One major red-flag for me is when I catch myself extending one negative experience into a reflection of something bigger, and eventually into my entire sense of self-worth. A phone call with a client doesn’t go well, I must be bad at my job. There is a brief window to break the cycle before it transitions to I’m terrible at everything and everyone secretly hates me.

    • reverendsax  On June 12, 2018 at 9:01 am

      This is a helpful addition to the Sift’s great contribution to preventing depression from leading to something worse.

    • weeklysift  On June 17, 2018 at 8:01 am

      A related symptom I’ve noticed is when good things can’t overcome bad things. One time I was watching a baseball game on TV, and I was getting upset because my team was blowing a big lead. Then the game went into extra innings and we won. Afterwards, I was still in the state of upset. The fact that the game was a win didn’t overcome the fear of an embarrassing loss.

  • John Robison  On June 14, 2018 at 9:56 pm

    Pish! Posh! Depression is quick sand.

  • ccyager  On June 16, 2018 at 12:48 pm

    Wise words. I’ve talked one friend out of suicide, have seriously contemplated it myself, and dealt with black depression off and on since I was a teen. I don’t listen anymore to all the voices on social media that are responding to depression or someone’s suicide — 99% are not helpful or even knowledgeable. Each person is unique, that person’s pain is unique to them. The best thing anyone can do for someone who’s depressed is to tell the person that you care about him or her, that they are important to you, and you’ve noticed they’re depressed, then offer to help them find help. Call the local or national suicide prevention hotline. Be willing to drive them to therapy appointments. Demonstrate your caring and friendship even while acknowledging that suicide is an option but only ONE possible option and one that is final and therefore not constructive.

Trackbacks

  • […] week’s featured posts are “Who won the Masterpiece Cakeshop case?” and “Thoughts on Depression Sparked by Anthony Bourdain’s Suicide“. This morning, bad news broke on a voting rights case. I’ll have to cover that next […]

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