Our ‘Strong’ Friends | A Sad Week for the Quietly Hurting

Anthony Bourdain was found dead at age 61 this morning in his hotel room in France, forever at rest after an apparent a suicide. I told my wife about it as she got dressed for work. The news soured the start of our day. We both enjoyed his positivity and his Parts Unknown CNN show, where he explored lands far and varied via food and conversation with both dignitaries and common folk alike. Bourdain admittedly was a heroin addict in his twenties before cleaning up and becoming a renowned chef. Clearly, he was still dealing with other issues.

It’s the kind of day where people get on social media and share grief, along with numbers for suicide hotlines and one-liners like “Check in on your strong friend.” That saying’s a popular one, because those who seemingly “have it all”—a family, money, a good attitude, flourishing career, and so-on—are typically the ones who do more of the helping and unfortunately receive less actual emotional support.

The last week has been peppered with sad, surprising news and reminders of highly regarded creatives and public figures suffering from or succumbing to depression and hidden demons. Kanye West’s latest album opens with “I Thought About Killing You,” where he admits he’s considered suicide. “They’ll say, ‘He died so young,’” West raps, thinking of what fans would utter if he ended it all. “I done had a bad case of too many bad days,” he continues in a relatable when it rains, it pours string of bars.

On Tuesday (June 5) fashion designer and billion-dollar brand boss Kate Spade was found dead at 55 in her New York City home. She reportedly hanged herself with a scarf. Another suicide. June 7 would have been Prince’s 60th birthday, had he not died of a fentanyl overdose in Spring 2016. The bottle that contained the drugs he used were not prescribed, nor was it labeled properly, suggesting he abused the painkiller and got the pills from an unofficial source. I wonder how many people genuinely asked him—a philanthropist who often gave in secrecy and offered his mentorship to gaggles of next-gen musicians—of his wellbeing.

Really, it’s possible that your “strong” friend may be putting on a front. A smile can be a deadly mask. The idea that a thoughtful conversation opening with an earnest “How are you?” can save someone from themselves is one that should be championed. Like the signs on New York City subway cars say to discourage crime, “If you see something, say something.”

If you catch someone you’re following on Twitter shoot out a thread of gloomy messages or lyrics to grim songs, it’s probably worth reaching out to them. Notice what people are connecting with. If someone sounds a bit off on the phone, try to come over and see them. Some people are screaming for help quietly.

I’d also like to encourage another sentiment: Check in on yourself. Ask yourself how you’re doing. How are you feeling? Not so hot? Talk to your friends. Don’t be scared to put yourself out there. See a therapist. It doesn’t make you weak.

Do something to help your emotions out of that rut. I’ve never been in a mental ditch deep enough to do anything drastic. Though I’ve surely been in the dumps and know that the power of my wife’s hug and kiss, a laugh on my cell with my parents or a solid text exchange with a homeboy can be transformative.

Others sniffing out your ills and coming to the rescue is awesome. But I just wanted to remind everyone to start within, then look beyond. Help yourself. Help others. Let’s all try to be the reason those close to us find peace here on Earth, instead of hoping it meets them in heaven.