2 weeks before Jr’s birthday he announced he wanted a Chainsmokers hat. After much bickering and back-and-forth about what we would listen to in the car, electronic music had become our common ground of choice the summer before – so this was not TOO shocking….
That being said, I gave him a hard no on that particular band name, as a 7 year old wearing a hat that says “Chainsmokers” was sure to earn us some heavy sideeye at the supermarket. So I told him to name his current favorite songs, and ordered the hat of the artist with the heaviest representation.
His birthday came and went, with the hat on back order. A month later my son’s prized Avicii hat arrived – 4 days after Tim Bergling passed away. When we talked about it, Jr sat on my lap and said “I guess we are lucky he left his songs so we can keep him forever.” Oh my heart… yes my sweet doodle, we are lucky for that.
Still, I thought – oh I won’t write about that… Maybe it was ok to write about my experiences with generalized anxiety disorder, but I am no mental health expert, after all. I am so far from having my shit together, who am I to say anything about this man and his impossible decision?
Of course we talked about it, my friends and I, and said how our hearts hurt, and “oh how young” and nodded silently with eyes closed tight when someone commented about the importance of destigmatizing mental illness. Like you do. Because we all kind of know, don’t we?
And then the news came of Kate Spade, and we all shared pictures of our first KS bags on social media, and told the stories about how she was kind of everything to so many women looking so intently for SOMEONE to look up to – to show us how it was fucking done. And her husband was eloquent and honest and raw and perfect in his truth about her and it was far more than we were entitled, I think. But it meant something to so many – and again we nodded with closed eyes, like you do. Because we all kind of know, don’t we?
Then as we were marinating in the news of that truth, Anthony Bourdain was gone.
ANTHONY FUCKING BOURDAIN. This cannot be. (If it seems like my use of the f-word is increasing as I keep writing, it is exactly because my use of it has increased with each news story as well.)
Chef Bourdain was… he was a lot to me when I was very young, very lost, and VERY angry.
A friend shared his first piece in the New Yorker with me because of my love of all things culinary – and early 20’s me soaked it up like a sponge. At the time I told myself it was just the whole “kitchen thing” of it all – and I hung a copy of the essay above my desk in my single-girl condo and read it over and over again. (If you haven’t read it – read it here. He was such a gifted storyteller.) He was talking about a world I felt locked out of by doctors and diagnosis…. But he was doing it in a voice that was almost my own, and OH how I ate up everything he did after that.
TV Shows and cookbooks and essays and interviews – his connection to all things human was a magnet. His driven desire to embrace the entirety of humanity, using the tools he understood – it was all a substantial gift.
Which could be said about them all.
It couldn’t hold them here. It couldn’t keep them from that action.
And then we are quiet and we nod our heads knowingly, with closed or downward eyes, so we don’t accidently make eye contact.
BECAUSE WE ALL KIND OF KNOW, DON’T WE?
We are all thinking of the family member who lost the fight, leaving us all shocked and sad in their absence. The friend from college or high school who tried and failed and everyone knew it, but it’s ok now because they are on facebook looking oh-so-perfect, so we can pretend that we know they are fine.
Or maybe we are thinking of ourselves. No one wants to say that – no one wants to give voice to an intimate understanding of those thoughts. Maybe because they have clawed their way beyond that enveloping darkness and they fear that if they even glance back towards it, they will be sucked in once again. Maybe because admitting it might mean confessing that is still very much where they are, and the true bitch of being in that space is that you really don’t think you want anyone to come into your darkness and try to connect with you – though that connection is the very thing that might save your life.
When I read that New Yorker piece – I was 23, and drowning in the sadness and anger and hopelessness that surround a Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. I lashed out at those who tried to help with my (now I see) obvious and profound depression. Everything was a scary and painful unknown. The only truth I knew in my heart was that everyone EVER would better if I was not there. I was not able bodied, I could not take care of myself, I was costing everyone near me in time and money and energy and I was the least deserving and worthy of all they spent. I was a horrific and total failure, at every single thing I tried to do. Knowing that I was such a failure that any attempt to leave this life would probably just be something else I fucked up, making me even more of a disappointment to the world, was the only thing that stole my thoughts from that most painful and permanent of choices.
I was lucky. Because in that blackest, deepest, loudest, longest night trying to consume my soul, the people who loved me did not shut their eyes or nod knowingly and turn away in silence. They fought. They fought like hell, and they did not let me push them away – they grabbed on and clung to me and dragged my ass kicking and screaming away from that darkness, and tied me very unwillingly in the light. They unflinchingly reminded me of the truth of who I was, shouting over the demons of the darkness telling me I was the reason for all of their shame and pain.
I am lucky, because for me – it eventually worked. That is not the case for everyone. Not every battle waged is won, not every lifeboat offered is boarded. It can be impossibly hard and feel like the dawn will never break. It can be uncomfortable, it can be scary, and it can force us to face our own truths when we may not want to.
But never again will I nod knowingly, eyes cast downward, speaking in whispers, succumbing to the stigma that makes the already hard job of reaching those who are hurting even more difficult.
It may not be music, or fabulous shoes, or cookbooks and conscientious travel, but EVERYONE is a substantial gift to SOMEONE. Everyone deserves to be seen, to know that the darkness tells lies, and that they can escape for the light of the truth.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255