“Sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human condition,”
wrote Graham Greene in his second autobiography, Ways of Escape, a book which the chef, author and travel show host Anthony Bourdain, who died on June 8 2018 at 61, kept on his nightstand.
Bourdain’s suicide, which followed shortly after that of fashion designer Kate Spade’s, was a one-two punch to our belief that there are some people who are living the perfect life. That each of them chose to end an existence that, to outsiders, seemed so idyllic and enviable is a mystery to people.
Kate Spade created what many women would consider the ideal way of living. Her world was filled with creativity, beauty, family and meaningful work. Having brought into being a fashion line alongside her husband, she sold it and was able to take years off to raise her daughter. She had a successful, creative, family-centric business that gave her time to be a parent. After she died, so many women spoke of how she made them feel seen; how her fun, quirky feminine handbags and style made them realize they were not alone.
Anthony Bourdain managed to be masculine without being swaggeringly macho. He was rugged and adventurous and knew how to use big knives, but he had his own literary imprint, Ecco books. Tall and handsome, he got to travel to exotic locales constantly and won awards, fame and wealth. And he ate so well. He was also seen as a rare male hero in the #MeToo movement, for championing Asia Argento’s claims against Harvey Weinstein and for siding with women over fellow chefs. What more could a person want?
And yet these two could not bear to live their lives any longer.
Many lives are not as they appear. Happiness is not the end result of a sum of accomplishments. The person whose wealth/wardrobe/job/talent you wish you had has his or her own struggles, and they could at least equal our own. Bourdain seemed to hint at his, when during an episode shot in Sardinia, he asked in a voiceover, “What do you do after your dreams come true?“
There has long been an assertion popular in mental-health circles that suicide is a symptom of depression and that, if we would only treat depression adequately, suicide would be a thing largely of the past.
It is true that, in someone with a significant tendency to suicide, external factors may trigger the act itself, but difficult circumstances do not usually fully explain someone’s choice to terminate his or her own life. People must have an intrinsic vulnerability; for every person who kills himself when he is left by his wife, there are hundreds who don’t kill themselves under like circumstances.
Modernity is alienating, and it has been alienating for a great while; look at an Edward Hopper painting if you think this post-industrial misery has come about only since the Internet was invented. Isolation is another significant suicide risk. People who believe that no one will miss them have little to stand between them and the final act.
Paintings by Edward Hopper (1882-1967), source