(posted a few days later)
This morning the news broke that Anthony Bourdain had been found dead in a Paris hotel room. His death has been ruled a suicide, and although the details have yet to come out, it is inevitable that it must also be related to a mental health disorder. This is barely a breath after Kate Spade was found to have hanged herself off a doorknob in her Manhattan apartment, a result of a cheerfully hidden case of bipolar disorder. But her handbags were so playful!, said every single reporter, which tells me everything about what they understand about the manic part of manic-depression.
This has been a hard week for me.
I have no affinity to either Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain, though it is always sad to discover how desperately someone was struggling, but, thanks to their suicides, I am now surrounded by self-appointed experts on mental health. In the elevator, they talk in respectful and solemn tones about all the people that they’ve heard about–and it is clear from the careful tones that they use that it is a subject that they get to forget about most of the time. Creatives, they tell each other, truly creative people often suffer from depression. Look at Stephen Fry. Look at Robin Williams.
When you are the child of a bipolar parent, this is enraging, even though this is probably just the way normal people cope with bad news. It seems impossible that someone with so much wealth and fame should be so unhappy as to want to end it all, doesn’t it? It’s so easy to look at their lives and say, oh, if I had a few million in the bank, then I wouldn’t have the worries that I do. Money solves so very many problems. Just not biology.
Like Kate Spade, my mom also died at a young age, and, bizarrely, ended up on national news media when it happened. Her death was not a suicide, but without a doubt was influenced by her bipolar disorder. Self-care is hard when you’re struggling to survive.
But I also know that she would have chosen to live. Some days that knowledge is heavier to carry than others. Listening to strangers talk about how sad it is, but also how unsurprising it is, to see someone with bipolar order take their life…well, it hurts.
Likewise, every time another school shooting/suicide happens, the people who want to own guns shout about how the problem isn’t guns — it’s just those people with mental health problems. I always want to shout back, to remind them that if they understood what it was like to live with someone with bipolar disorder, then they would stop thinking about mental health as something that gets cured through a one-time talking cure. They’d know the three states:
1. On meds.
2. Off meds.
3. On meds, but the meds have stopped working.
My mom’s life was dedicated to the balance of those three, though it was generally a balance between states one and three. She spent her whole life just trying to feel normal, constantly working with her doctors to find a pharmaceutical and therapeutic balance that would allow her to keep functioning. She constantly chased activities and pursuits that she hoped would bring her to a state of calm happiness. My earliest childhood memory is going to stay with my father while my mom went to rehab after years of self-medicating. Most of the next ones were entertaining myself in therapy waiting rooms and A.A. meetings.
Given a choice, she would have lived. And that is profoundly painful to know — that she would have lived, but wasn’t given the chance.
Some days, my dead are harder to carry than others. This week they swirl around me, because there is nowhere to go to escape the many reminders of their lives.
And so. Anthony Bourdain. I actually know very little about him — he had some TV shows that I don’t think I’ve ever seen. I can’t pretend to know what was happening in his life. I certainly don’t judge him for it. Life is hard. But there are people whose passing creates ripples in the larger wave of humanity. His is one of them – and the waves have brought on more grief than I was prepared to handle this week. And so, I cannot help but be angry, because anger is so much more comforting than despair.
Rest peacefully, all of you ghosts.