Suicide Is Not Selfish: Anthony Bourdain & Kate Spade

Suicide is not self-indulgent. In fact, very often, there’s little the self can do to fight the negative thoughts that overwhelm to the point of destruction. In that respect, suicide is like a volcano. If your brain is wired for depression or suicide, like a volcano is wired to erupt, when the sleeping dragon awakes, the fire and frenzy flows down to the sea, and there’s no turning back. When that TNT fuse is lit, it’s only a matter of time before the explosion hits.

According to a new study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there were nearly 45,000 deaths by suicide in 2016. Rates have risen 30 percent since 1999.

I’ve lost two friends to suicide. One was Jeffrey (not his real name), an ex-boyfriend who died last summer after a bit less than a year sober. He just couldn’t shake the booze. The other I learned of just yesterday via Facebook: a Wall Street exec I had a fling with back in 2007. He too was an alcoholic.

We lost two very successful celebrities last year to the day: Anthony Bourdain, 61, and Kate Spade, 55. The culinary mastermind and the luxury handbag designer held a special place in the hearts of their fans. They were one-of-a-kind entrepreneurs who kicked ass, thriving in their respective industries. And their suicides were not inconsequential.

It’s a little-known secret that restaurant life — from servers to chefs — is teeming with excessive drinking and even drug use after hours, most notably cocaine. Bourdain, who also fell into this trap, was a former heroin and cocaine addict who had also dabbled in crack and LSD.

Working in a kitchen at a restaurant in New York’s SoHo neighborhood in the 1980s, he picked up a heroin habit and would send a busboy to Alphabet City to fetch his smack. Later that decade, he used methadone to kick his heroin addiction and succeeded, but continued to drink and smoke marijuana.

In recent days, Bourdain was known to get drunk and stoned on occasion.

Photo courtesy Discovery Channel

He was a wiseguy who told it like it was, a renegade chef akin to a punk rocker, an unconventional television personality who reveled in the obscurities of international culinary culture with his Travel Channel show No Reservations and Parts Unknown on CNN. On those shows and, apparently in his personal life, he was a heavy drinker, cigarette smoker, and rebel through and through.

Just before his death, Bourdain was in the French town of Kayserberg in Alsace-Lorraine, where he was set to explore the region’s cuisine for an episode of Parts Unknown.

But Bourdain took his life on the eve of the shoot, and fellow celebrity chef Eric Ripert found him the next morning. The gravity of his death was instantaneous among his CNN comrades.

Bourdain was beloved among foodies and even the general public, who were entertained by his storytelling.

He wasn’t merely a celebrity chef like Bobby Flay or Emeril Lagasse. He transcended that realm. Bourdain was cinematic. His television tomes were like mini movies. He invited us into his life as he trotted the globe in search of the best pho in the world or trying the most adventurous of edibles, like cobra heart and maggot fried rice.

Bourdain was a journalist in his own right, interviewing the people and soaking up the ambience of nether regions throughout the world, having written the quintessential book on life and food, 2008’s Kitchen Confidential. His time on Earth was the epitome of joie de vivre. He inspired his viewers to test the limits of their own palates and will continue to do so through his legacy. Bourdain’s death wasn’t all for naught.

I used to frequent Bourdain’s French restaurant Les Halles in New York, where my favorite dish was his delicious take on coq au vin. At the downtown Manhattan restaurant, well-wishers gathered to pay tribute to the fallen superchef.

Kate Spade also died by suicide last week, found by her housekeeper last Wednesday in her Manhattan apartment. The legendary designer, who has more than 175 stores throughout the world, had a profound impact on American fashion.

Buying a Kate Spade bag was and still is a rite of passage for many a young career woman. Her colorful handbags were decidedly stylish and whimsical. Spade’s clutches and handbags are a status symbol for women climbing the corporate totem pole.

Spade was a self-made entrepreneur who launched her venture in 1993, along with husband Andy (brother of actor David Spade). They sold the company in 2006, but stylish Kate Spade handbags continued to be produced and sold under new ownership. The company was most recently purchased by Coach for $2.4 billion.

Last year, celebrities like Reese Witherspoon, Chelsea Clinton, Kathy Griffin, and Lena Dunham took to Twitter to pay their respects to the fashion icon.

Like many others, Spade suffered from depression and anxiety.

Whenever I hear of a celebrity dying by suicide, I feel a mixed bag of emotions. Sorrow, that we have lost yet another pained soul who was unable to escape the abyss that is depression. Yet, I also feel thankful that I somehow managed to pull myself out of that same chasm. Every depression is different. Some are darker than others. While other individuals are simply fortunate enough that their darkest hour was surrounded by circumstances that allowed them to escape.

In my situation, I was fortunate enough to be saved by ex, Jeffrey (not his real name), who took me to the ER after discovering I’d swallowed a fistful of Lithium. Had it not been for him, I might not be writing this blog post. And had I not sobered up a few weeks later, I might still have traveled down the same path that Jeffrey did last year. I have him to thank, as well as my family, who pushed me into rehab.

When I attempted suicide, it was because I felt that I had no alternative. I was experiencing such emotional pain that I couldn’t see an end — other than the ultimate end of killing myself to make it all go away. It’s true I wasn’t thinking about my family and friends when I gulped down those pills, but it wasn’t because I didn’t care about them. It was because the pain wouldn’t even let me see beyond my immediate circumstances. I was living in such a void of black that no light could get in. In that void, the only things that existed were me and depression.

People who think suicide is pompous and self-centered have likely never been in a suicidal headspace. When you’re severely depressed, it’s easy to sequester yourself, to isolate while crying hysterically, feeling ashamed and dejected. Depression is a kryptonite that weighs so heavily on your brain and body that you feel there’s no escape. There is no rhyme or reason to this kind of deep depression. It just happens to us who are chemically unstable. And it is unbearable.

A monster commandeered the lives of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. A monster called major depression.

If you are in crisis, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800–273-TALK (8255).

Conor Bezane is a writer who covers mental health. He’s contributed to MTV News, AOL, and VICE. His first book The Bipolar Addict is available now on Amazon.

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