I’ve started writing something like this several times, before ramming the delete key so hard I knew there was shame.
I don’t like using social media or the internet to air personal shit—too private, I’m a Cancer—there’s already so many people writing on this topic right now—various other rationalizations circling around the point that I wasn’t ready, or was scared, but now I just don’t care.
I had a poster of Anthony Bourdain in my room growing up. The guy was, hands down, the reason I wanted to travel. I’d watch No Reservations to quell my boredom and heavy depression in boarding school. He made me want to do my own thing, and exacerbated my love for spicy food and writing. The potential to travel became my ‘light’ at the end of the tunnel.
Since then, I’ve dutifully sweated into street food soups all over the world, scooping heaping spoonfuls of chili oil. When I hopped onto the back of a stranger’s motorbike and drove into the Amazon, I had Bourdain in my heart. When I dined alone in Myanmar, looking up from my book to see a room full of men watching me eat my noodles, I had Bourdain in my heart.
Now when I consider his death, and look back at the dark period of depression I’ve just come out of—I do, again.
After a few days of being inundated with suicide hotlines and posts imploring people to reach out, the chatter has largely died down. Life creeps on by—and where does this leave the depressed, the struggling?
Probably in the same place they were before Bourdain’s death: depressed, struggling.
I know I come off as a happy person. When I’m not depressed, I love life deeply, laugh and dance and play. Which only makes it all the more striking when the despair hits. Gratitude and depression are not mutually exclusive, nor on the same playing field.
I have spent a long time hiding my depression, isolating myself from others, and while I have never really considered that a suicide hotline may be able to help me, I have been able to find solace, even salvation, in other people’s words.
I feel compelled to speak up. Here is my airing out of my depression-demons-dirty-laundry, my coming out of a different sort.
When I was very young, I experienced my first seemingly random, engulfing feeling of sadness. I have come to think of this sensation as a black hole that lurks in the corner of my mind.
I call it my black hole because (like the space ones) I lack an understanding of its inner entropic functions—but know that deep inside, somewhere, lies my destruction. It invites me to retreat into the darkness, to wonder what if, and why, and how come this, and not that? An insidious disease, I am familiar with its trap, yet still fall when it says, you are alone.
And I think, yes.
And then yes, I am alone.
I am swallowed whole, I swallow myself whole. For days or weeks or months to come. When I fall in, my black hole feels like a different reality. It looks like a rumpled bed, like candles burning in the daytime. Because the most I can do is aspire for comfort. Sometimes, reaching up from the bed for a glass of water is too much effort: state, catatonic.
These last few months, I almost entirely stopped going out and dancing. I love dancing. I let go of my yoga practice. Avoided social gatherings.As my teacher Les says, it is exactly when we need to be seen the most that we do not let ourselves be seen.
I am not sure what I did with my days – they blur together. I laid in bed, a lot. Walked around. Went to an acupuncturist. Took long showers. Slept. I did share with certain friends, and rode the wave of depression through self-care rather than destruction. And when it got bad, luckily, I went to see a therapist.
In the past, this kind of depression has landed me in the hospital instead. The first was two weeks before my high school graduation. The second, when I was twenty, short-circuiting from the stress of living in New York.
Now I have the tools to at least keep away from that place of suicide ideation and desperation. It feels crazy to even give “tips” or “advice” on such a taboo topic. In some ways, I suspect our society’s wide berth around mental health issues stems from the fact that someone’s life is at stake, and we fear speaking at all for fear of triggering or misunderstanding.
Even more so, this is why we need to share. My gentle advice, when the black hole begins to swallow you whole?
Find your center, however small. Breathe into the discomfort.
This is my mantra for holding out. The breath gives you the wiggle room to get through the next moment.
At the end of the day, I am learning to be grateful for my depressive periods (easier in retrospect, for sure): for the change of pace they provide, for the creativity and the empathy they nurture, for the way I climb out with a little more resilience and self-understanding every time. Suffering increases our empathy. Sensitivity is my superpower.
So hear this: I see, and feel, your sadness. You are not alone, not the only one who feels your consciousness scissored by pain. It is exactly how the depression works to convince you otherwise.
When the dark thoughts come, hand in hand with my black hole—I will continue to face them. The more I try to hide my black hole, the more it owns me.
I do not want to swallow myself whole.
Thank you, Mr. Bourdain, for inspiring at least one person to travel the fuck out of the world so deeply it helped them stay alive.
One more time, for the back, fuck the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
~ painting : error on green by paul klee, second image : a still from the movie persepolis, based on the book by marjane satrapi ~