At 61, Anthony Bourdain seemed to have been living his best life. Anchor of widely viewed CNN lifestyle documentary, Parts Unknown, Bourdain brought the world to living rooms of his loyal viewers by exploring the cuisine and cultures of communities across the globe.
Using a simple yet vital vehicle of our lives, food, he brought to fore the uniqueness and communality of the human experience, interacting with young and old, poor and rich, important and everyday people in his many fearless travels.
An exceptional chef, writer and broadcaster, “He taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown. We’ll miss him,” former President Barack Obama said after the news of his death went public.
Bourdain was found unconscious in his hotel room in France where he had been to film new episodes of Parts Unknown.
I can’t remember watching any of Bourdain’s episodes of Parts Unknown but if the stories abounding in his death are anything to go by, I would have loved it. It definitely sounds like it had a feel of Morgan Freeman’s Story of God and Story of Us. Happy, completely absorbed into whatever he was doing, super talented, sensitive, had a lot of bravado, curious – these are a few ways that family and friends have described the late chef who died a few days after news of the death of designer Kate Spade made its rounds.
Spade was found hanging in her Manhattan apartment by her housekeeper on June 5. Founder of popular colourful handbag line named after her, she and her husband, Andy Spade, sold 56% of the brand to Neiman Marcus for $33.6 million in 1999, according to CNN.
In 2007, Liz Claiborne acquired the company. The luxury fashion company, Coach announced plans in May 2017 to buy Kate Spade for $2.4 billion.
Suicide is a growing problem in the United States. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a survey on Thursday showing suicide rates increased by 25% across the country over nearly two decades ending in 2016.
Twenty-five states experienced a rise in suicides by more than 30%, the government report finds.
But it’s not just in the US. Since the death of Bourdain, there has been increased social media campaigns in the country about depression and mental health. The last time this was a thing, a medical doctor had stopped in the middle of Third Mainland Bridge and took a big leap of faith into the Lagos Lagoon in March, 2017. Following the incident, there was so much outcry that security details were posted along the checkpoints on the stretch of the bridge and some water bodies across the state to prevent people from jumping to their deaths.
It seemed to work for a while and as usual, we moved on to other things.
Until Spade. Until Bourdain. Until yesterday, when social media was flooded by on-site footage
of another leap of faith on the Third Mainland Bridge. This time, a young woman, who had parked right in the middle, hazard lights still on and jumped over before anyone could stop her.
I do not like to claim that I have suffered depression but there have been mornings where there seemingly was no reason to get out of bed. There are days where I question my choice to write as a path to fulfilment and wealth (it’s a tall dream in this country). Except the occasional silent prayer for the biblical end of the world to come, I have nonetheless, never thought about taking my life. It’s not that I love this life too much, it’s more of the fact that I haven’t scratched the surface of what I intend to do and leave behind when the time to go comes. As I get older, I get more nervous about the concept of time and quantity, how much should have been accomplished by so and so. Sometimes it’s not so much about what A or B has done in a similar timeframe but an inbuilt accountability system that continues to ask questions: did I do enough? did I push for this enough? did I waste this year, this month, today? and so on.
The College of Medicine, University of Ibadan describes signs of depression as the persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest which can lead to a range of behavioural and physical symptoms. These may include changes in sleep, appetite, energy level, concentration, daily behaviour or self-esteem. Depression comes in a lot of varied forms. You’ve heard of postpartum depression in women post-delivery. There’s also psychotic depression, persistent depressive disorder, seasonal defective order, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a federal agency in the US in charge of research on mental disorders.
According to NIMH, if you’ve experienced any of the following symptoms for a whole day, or every day for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:
Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
Decreased energy or fatigue
Moving or talking more slowly
Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
Appetite and/or weight changes
Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment
About 1.5 million cases of depression occur annually in Nigeria alone. According to the World Health Organisation, Nigeria ranks 30 out of 183 countries in a “most suicide-prone” country index. While it can happen to anyone, teenagers, young adults and women are more prone to depression, researchers say.
While having both clinical diagnosis and treatment, a lot of support for depressive thoughts and depressive individuals is psychological – therapy with a trained psychologist, close support systems and a mental re-awakening of some sort. In recent days, there’s been a lot of urge to check up on your friends whom you haven’t heard from in a while, or your strong friends who seem to be solving every other person’s problems, or those who are always finding a new source of ‘high’ – parties, hangouts, career success, relationship wins, drugs – like they are desperately trying to escape something.
But if you followed BET television drama, Being Mary Jane, especially up until the season where the lead character’s best friend, Dr Lisa Hudson, takes her own life, you’d realise that there’s an enormous burden that comes with deciding to bear the sadness of another especially someone you care about deeply.
“….I said ‘Oh I’m fine. How are you?’ because that’s what you say when you go to a coffee shop and somebody says ‘Hey, how are you'”, she says at Lisa’s funeral.
“I used to ask her a thousand times… ‘How are you?’… ‘HOW ARE YOU?’ But I don’t know if I actually wanted to hear her truth. I don’t think any of us did. And now she’s gone.”
And this sadly, is the reality of support systems. They can be intuitive, send help your way when they feel like you’re caving in but the burden of sadness is enormous. And sometimes, only you can be your only saviour, in the end.
As the world continues to converge online and alternative lifestyles are on the increase, we frankly cannot continue to take an occasional stance where mental health issues are concerned. There are now more than a million external triggers and external influences that can fuel depressive thoughts or cause them to linger and take form.
Here are some of them, things so subconscious and sublime that you don’t realize is taking a toll but when combined with all the hassles that comes with living, is stealing your sanity and joy piece by little piece:
We are a plugged-in generation. On the bus, on our feet, while at work, when about to sleep, some of us cannot leave home without a headset or an earpiece. On average, a young Nigerian spends at least 4 hours of his working day listening to music.
But what are you listening to? I’ve been told that I play a lot of sad songs. As someone who is strongly inclined to loving a piece of music because of the lyrics or sound arrangement, it is not unusual that in my quest for depth I run into music that was made from a place of pain or sorrow. For instance, James Arthur, one of my current favourites, makes music from a place of pain, a young man from a broken home thrown into the spotlight after winning one of the biggest music reality competitions in the UK.
It’s important for me to create an internal check and stay away from certain songs when I feel low but it is harder for someone who is depressed because it is like drowning but loving the feel of the water on your skin. And instead of fighting yo come back for air, you sink deeper and deeper until you can’t.
And this is also obtainable with our Afrobeat Nigerian music. As long as the messaging does not uplift your spirit, be wary of binging on it. And by the way, uplifting music doesn’t only have to be gospel, I believe.
You’ve heard it time and time again. The problem with social media is everyone is in love, happy, successful, have life going for them, have just given birth, just got engaged or proposed to in some grand manner, just bought a new car, travelled to Santorini in Greece all-expense paid, yada yada yada.
There’s the desire to either match up to these ideals, publishing and posting all these fun details so everyone can see how happy you are even if the opposite is the case in reality or there’s the event that you start feeling sorry for yourself and sad about how more unfortunate your luck in life appears to be.
Both extremes and everything in between you need to be wary of.
One of the reasons the episode of Being Mary Jane I mentioned earlier hit home was how well it brought to light the shame and silence surrounding suicide in the black community in the early 2000s and beyond. It is still somewhat a thing of shame, at best or a subject of ridicule, at worst to be identified as having a mental health issue in this part of the world. And for the life of me, I don’t know why. If not for anything, there’s a lot of depressing history behind the black race. And religion hasn’t helped us much.
We want to pray away our enemies, our troubles and our illnesses especially the ones that have no names, no cures or that we simply do not understand and so reject as something from the other end of the ethereal spectrum.
Refer to the list above. Be wary of anyone who assumes that depression is racially or religiously selective. This has never been farther from the truth.
Endnotes: The idea of alternative lifestyles although seemingly freeing, is ensnaring. And until e wake up to this reality and choose some other anchor for meaning in our lives, the suicide rates will continue to increase. Never has the biblical injunction to “guard your heart” been more urgent than the times we live in.
You don’t have to wait till you’re drowning to call for a lifeguard or life support and drowning is so easy. First, you are enjoying the feel of the water as the waves crash into the shore and next you’re being carried away by the waves farther and farther into the depths of the ocean.
If you need help or you know anyone who does, please visit the Mental Health Primary Care Lagos website: www.mehpriclagos.org
In Lagos, they have over 50 centres where you can walk in to receive help. You can also send a private message on their Instagram page (@mentalhealthinprimarycarelagos) and be assisted.
There’s also the Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative, a non governmental NGO working tirelessly to reduce the stigma around mental health issues, which you can visit at www.mentallyaware.org/ or on social media @mentallyawareng.
Guard your heart fiercely and jealously and in the eventuality that you fail, find the strength to scream for help as early on as possible. There’s a lot to live for if you look closely.
Image Credits: The New Yorker