Anthony Bourdain, Vincent Van Gogh and Actually Helping Suicidal People


8 years ago this week, my beloved Doctor Who ran one of the best episodes in show history.

The 11th Doctor and Amy Pond visited Provence and the slightly erratic Vincent Van Gogh. Vincent captured Amy’s heart, and sure she could prevent his upcoming suicide, she and The Doctor plan a Grand Gesture. They bring Vincent to the present time and show him just how important and beloved his art became:

It’s so moving to see this horribly depressed man, who’d been convinced his life’s passion would never amount to anything, discover that in fact he’s among the greatest of all time.

Amy is so proud of herself, and excited when they drop Vincent back off in his own time. Surely now it’s all been fixed, and when they get back to the museum there will be a different story on the walls, and Vincent will have continued painting masterpieces to a ripe old age.

Except when they get back, nothing has changed. All Amy’s Grand Gesture did was bring some temporary comfort.

Anthony Bourdain: June 25, 1956 – Today (June 8, 2018)

Today, the world’s favorite chef-explorer and traveler, who was beloved for really digging in and giving us a sense of cultures all over the world, was found unresponsive in his hotel room in Strasbourg, France,. He was there doing what he was known for, filming an episode of “Parts Unknown.”

The cause of death was immediately labeled a suicide. Reportedly, he had hung himself.

Bourdain threw his back out on a shoot in the Amazon sometime in 2011, and there have been suggestions that he was in chronic pain. Or that could be just a search for an easy answer. However, one of his closest friends had this to say:

Tony was a close friend of mine and it was a beautiful relationship. I’m a transparent person and sober a long time and deal with my own mental health issues, and I try to have honest conversations with people in my life. He was an incredible sounding board, a gracious and kind friend to me.

Over the last few years, he told me many times he had never been happier. So many things don’t add up, as they often don’t. I was thinking of Kate Spade and Robin Williams, who publicly struggled with so much, and that wasn’t Tony’s story. It’s a reminder to me that, as people, we share a common humanity that is always very personal. We all have an inner dialogue that often stands in contrast to our outer appearance and behavior. The hard part for me is to realize you don’t know which of your friends is suffering from not having their outsides meet their insides.

(Emphasis mine)

So What Do We Do?

Everyone I know knows that I’ve been struggling with mental health for at least a couple years now. I’ve gotten grief from certain family members from sharing things that “should be private” but fuck that.

Let me tell you: If I were feeling suicidal giving me the number to a help line is the same as telling me you can’t be bothered. I already know them – there in every fucking article about every celebrity suicide in history. Not to mention this thing called Google.

The ONLY thing we can do is be real friends to people. I have a handful of people I can call, day or night, if things are really bad. They won’t judge. They will listen and try to comfort, even if I’m too damn drunk at the moment (bad coping mechanism, working on that…) to really get what they’re saying.

Better yet, I have a total of TWO people who check on me on a daily basis. Yeah, I need more. But I tend to push people away as part of my CPTSD.

Have regular conversations with those you care about. Maybe they’re fine – or maybe they’re just pretending to be.  But be the damn person they can tell if they’re not fine and feel like you’re going to freak out, judge, or rush them to the ER (unless it’s genuinely warranted.) Sit with them all night if you gotta.

SUICIDE PREVENTION IS ABOUT PUTTING IN THE TIME WITH HURTING PEOPLE. REGULARLY. NOT JUST IN A ONE-TIME “GRAND GESTURE.” Amy didn’t help Vincent Van Gogh. “It’s A Wonderful Life” is saccharine bullshit.

Let me repeat: A ONE TIME INTERVENTION OF ANY KIND DOES NOT “SAVE” SOMEONE WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES FROM SUICIDE. It’s a day-to-day struggle, and if you really wanna help, you gotta be there on the daily.

Yes, it’s draining as fuck. But you know what? If I can talk my 17-year-old anxiety-ridden, Bipolar, Autistic child down in the middle of my own fucking panic attacks, you can fucking check on your friends – and not just superficially – every day.

Or, you know, you can go ahead and figure out what you’re going to wear to their funerals. The choice is yours.

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