How Anthony Bourdain taught young depressed creatives like me to be brave

Everyone knows Anthony Bourdain in two ways: vaguely, through peripheries or obsessively, through his shows. He jumped from network to network throughout the years; starting from Food Network’s A Cook’s Tour, then his culinary adventures in The Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and finally to CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. That is how the usual following of celebrities gather.

Who doesn’t admire that? So when the news broke out last Friday that he passed away via suicide, his depression getting the best of him, it’s hard to act indifferent towards it, especially if you’re diagnosed with the same hell.   

I fell on the vague side of the tracks, knowing basics about his life to carry a conversation. He’s a celebrity chef, a damn good writer, and a lovable badass. Two years ago, he kicked back at our local Jollibee and declared that our sisig will win the hearts and minds of the world. There’s no shrine of him plastered on my teenage walls. His out of the box spirit and surprising kindness are universal pop culture knowledge. Who doesn’t admire that? So when the news broke out last Friday that he passed away via suicide, his depression getting the best of him, it’s hard to act indifferent towards it, especially if you’re diagnosed with the same hell.   

There are many things that Anthony is that I am still not or couldn’t be in a thousand years. He’s seen as a demigod of the food world, while just last week, I was asked by a motorcyclist why do I bear a man’s name. He’s a cultural phenom with an unapologetic attitude everyone admires. I relish every rare moment where people find my dry sarcasm hilarious and not off-putting.

One thing that binds us, unfortunately, is the fact that we’re both members of an unspoken ‘depressed creatives’ club.

One thing that binds us, unfortunately, is the fact that we’re both members of an unspoken ‘depressed creatives’ club. Before he took his own life, people who barely knew his show don’t even consider him to be the type to do such a thing. His status has been so elevated that I imagine his life would be free of any stumbling blocks. Traveling and eating around the world—he’s living the dream, right?

Parts Unknown is a show that weirdly follows me around. A clip of the show never fails to go viral and most of what he does never leaves conversations with friends. That show captures every person’s dream of adventure and seeing the world. Travel to young people like us has been heavily marketed as a one-way ticket to happiness.

Hell, seeing the world is a huge reason why most of us stuck with the arts in the first place. We all watched him lived the dream that we still long for. But of all the hole in the walls and eateries that borderline on sketchy, what stuck with me weirdly enough was his analogy on depression as a bad cheeseburger.

Going to therapy in Argentina is the norm. Anthony Bourdain gives it a try and gets some things off his chest on #PartsUnknown Sunday.

Posted by Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown on Thursday, November 17, 2016

He filmed this part of the show in Argentina, a place that embraced mental health. It had pushed him to visit a psychiatrist while he’s there. That’s when we saw a side of him beyond his tatts and dry humor. “It’s an insignificant thing, it’s a small thing, it’s a hamburger, but it’s not a good one. Suddenly I look at the hamburger and I find myself in a spiral of depression that can last for days,” he says as he lies down in a psychiatrist office at Argentina of all places. “There’s the evil cheeseburger that sets me off. Suddenly, I’m super depressed for days. It’s like that with the good stuff too. I have a couple of happy minutes there where I’m thinking, life is pretty good,” he continues.

“There’s the evil cheeseburger that sets me off. Suddenly, I’m super depressed for days. It’s like that with the good stuff too. I have a couple of happy minutes there where I’m thinking, life is pretty good,”

That cheeseburger analogy echoed in my head again after the news broke last week. People immediately speculated on his death as any celebrity’s death affects the public. I’ll take on Illuminati theories about his death any day, but people accusing him of failing to fight is part of the problem that people like Anthony and I face. The mindset of not having the strength to face personal demons hinders conversations about depression to start. He was living the dream. But the thing is, it was a dream for many of us. Did people wonder that it might not be the same for him?

While he was shooting in Paraguay, he struck up a conversation with a local and they got to talk about his thoughts on his mortality. “My father died at 57. His father, I think, [died] in his 20s. I’ll be 58 in June, I think I am the longest-living male Bourdain possibly ever.” He reflected on that thought and saw it as lonely. I thought of it as brave.

Living life is the bravest decision you can ever make when you battle something like this. Everyone has a tipping point, even a man with a façade as strong as him. Anthony Bourdain may have passed, but I’ll drink a cold bottle of Pale Pilsen for him having the balls to explore and create art regardless of the evil cheeseburgers he had to swallow. 

Art by Chelsea Madamba

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