What I pray for after the loss of Anthony Bourdain

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 6/12/2018, 10:31 a.m.
I did not know Anthony Bourdain. I do not know the anguished family, close friends and colleagues who are grieving ...
Anthony Bourdain

Tamia Barnes Tomasek, a licensed clinical psychologist who practices in Maryland, told me that many individuals who actively contemplate suicide "can be very high functioning -- at the top of their careers, managing healthy relations and are extremely intelligent. They have the capacity to hide their suffering."

Was Bourdain, like my relative, similarly masterful?

"His is the best job in journalism." That's what my husband would often say about his CNN colleague, when, on occasion together, we'd watch an episode of Bourdain's show. That's debatable, of course. And it's a perfectly Bourdain-worthy dinnertime topic, best contested with raucous laughter, copious amounts of food and intense drink.

To arrive at the "best job in journalism" -- and feel free to replace that with any of our culture's most coveted professional and social stations -- what innermost parts of our struggles, or worse, do we become masters at disguising? Those parts unknown, to borrow from Bourdain's celebrated program, which actually require care, treatment and self-love?

From my all-too-recent and frightening experience, I do know that, even when you have prior knowledge that someone is mentally ill -- as I did -- you don't always know what you're looking at. You ask yourself: "Am I witnessing the normal imperfections of being human, or something more worrisome?" For me, discerning someone's everyday challenges from severe life-threatening ones isn't always simple.

If the same attributes, skills and gifts that make certain individuals incredibly successful and exceptional are the ones also used in the remarkably effective service of hiding the truth of their anguish, how do you know when to activate the smart, sane list of suicide-preventive measures?

Barnes says to "ask them directly, and you'll likely get the truth." But, she adds, we don't think that way. "It's counter (to our) culture and that's part of the problem. Everybody has struggles," says Barnes. "Can you name the struggles of those you are doing life with? If not," she counsels, "dig deeper."

With time and counseling, my feelings of guilt have lessened. My loved one's struggle made me acknowledge my own mastery of disguise at suppressing emotions I thought made me appear weak. Dealing with that reality has been a most uncomfortable experience, but allowing myself to be vulnerable is a necessary part of recovery.

I strive every day to limit expecting the worst and increase practicing hope. Every day, I offer gratitude and work on forgiving myself. My healing comes from my faith, and ironically, from my cooking for family and friends, especially during times of illness and suffering.

Over these meals with family and friends, I will continue to try to talk more about my struggles and listen and learn more about the travails of my loved ones. I will ask questions and dig deeper.

My prayer is we can talk more openly about the layers of mental disorders with increasing candor, support, hope and faith for healing, so that fewer of us feel the need to master a disguise, and fewer of us leave those disturbed parts unknown.