Emil Guillermo: Suicidal thoughts after watching CNN's Anthony Bourdain marathon

June 11, 2018 12:03 PM

"I'm so mad I want to kill myself...."

That's essentially a voicemail that I heard after this weekend from a loved one that sounded more like an alarm than anything else.

What could rise to that level? A money woe? Your favorite team lost? (Not the Warriors!)

We have come to the point where suicide isn't a joking matter anymore. 

We all have to be like the TSA now-- Don't tell me the joke about the pistol in your carry-on and the bomb in your briefcase.

Not now.

No one is laughing after the coincidence of two noteworthy suicides on the pop culture front, plus the Center of Disease Control's release of new data showing suicides grew by 25 percent nationally from 1999 to 2016.

And that doesn't include accidental deaths which frankly may not be so accidental.

As much as I love bags, I didn't know much about Spade, but I knew of her brand. It was everywhere. That didn't buy her happiness.

But nor does whatever you take away from Anthony Bourdain's enlightened debauchery. 

I hate to break it to you, but eating everything, drinking everything, or living life to the fullest, somehow isn't the quite the answer to happiness either.

I knew a little more about Bourdain from watching his insightful shows, where food was the entree to something more nourishing and enlightening--that thing which is hard to find on any commercial television show these days, and not on Netflix.

On the surface, it's clear Bourdain was an Asian slurper from day one. A bowl of noodles would send him into raptures. He ate them with Obama. He ate them on the road everywhere. 

All food was soul food to Bourdain. And he communicated with people and their cultures through it. That was his TV show at its best. Whether it be sharing a Filipino feast in Manila at Christmas with the nanny of one of his staffers as he once did to show the heartbreak of the Filipino diaspora during the holidays; Or sharing a bowl of noodles with New York City Sushi master Masayoshi Takayama in a rural part of Japan. 

On that show I learned about the idea of ichi go- ichi e.

It's a zen phrase I'd never heard of, which loosely translated means to treasure every moment as a once in a lifetime moment that will never happen again.

In Bourdain's passing, seeing that show was like a gift from the dead.

In 2016, I saw Bourdain in his sold-out "The Hunger" tour, where it was just Bourdain on the stage. It wasn't exactly spoken word or a speech. He was just talking, telling some jokes, some stories, but basically feeding off the adulation of his fans.

But somehow his real "hunger" wasn't fed. 

Megastar rockers Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell both could have told Bourdain how it all doesn't add up in the end. 

So while I was shocked by the news of his death, I just wasn't really surprised. 

After all, Bourdain wasn't on a health food kick. If there's one thing I learned from any of his shows, it's that I don't drink or eat nearly enough. When he pours, I start pouring. It's catching. Then I'm drunk and have binged on ten hours of TV and gained ten pounds.

Or ultimately 30 pounds. And heading closer toward my Asian American destiny with cardiac arrest. My father whose death day from arteriosclerosis is June 14 (coincidentally Trump's birthday). It's a constant reminder of what I can avoid if I can be a bit less like Anthony Bourdain. 

With all his drinking and meat consumption, I initially thought Bourdain had succumbed to a heart attack. 

That's just one of the ironies of Bourdain. For all the compassion and empathy Bourdain could show on a trip to Southeast Asia, or an underdeveloped country, he had practically zero tolerance for vegans and vegetarians. 

To prove that, he once joked that he detested everything the hunter/rocker Ted Nugent ever said. But he found common ground in the fact they both liked barbecue. 

So they could share a belch and a hearty bowel movement? And that's whirled peas?

But he had to know that when the gas passed, he couldn't get to what really mattered with Nugent like he could have with even a vegan like me.  

Still that was the bad boy at play, the image he cooked up for himself.

Bourdain lived life off the edge of a fork, but the answers to life mysteries aren't necessarily found at the bottom of a cup or plate.

So maybe the problem with Bourdain was simply his ultra fame and success. If Asian Americans are considered the "model minority," Bourdain was the model white guy. How many people were envious of the man who was paid to eat everything, go anywhere, and taste it all? The "Life," right? 

Except, that is, for the missing ingredient, that thing we all crave that sustains us and makes us want to live another day.

What is it? Was there a morsel or drop of it to make life worth living? 

Was it love?

Reports say, there was no indication of any depression or sadness leading up to Bourdain's death.

But it's common that no one leaves bread crumbs.  

Nearly 80 percent of people who commit suicide deny any suicidal thoughts or intentions in their last communications, Matthew Nock, a professor of psychology at Harvard told The New York Times.

Which is the real problem--no one talks about this stuff. And when confronted, they lie. Or stay quiet.

What does this mean for the Asian American community suffering from some mental health issues?

We're quiet by nature. We are shamed by the stigma. We internalize. We isolate. 

Do we seek help before it's too late?

Likely not. That must end. 

Maybe it has for some among us in a higher tax bracket. Lawyers with anxiety? Psychiatric help was once considered for the worried well. And definitely not for people of color. 

Mental health? See a psychiatrist?  Freud wasn't our cultural standard in the Filipino community.

Maybe you'd see a family elder. Or see a priest, even if the priest may have caused the psychological trauma.

Better outreach to ethnic communities is needed. 

In my youth, you rarely heard anything about mental health in the Asian American community. Meds were heart pills, not Zoloft. Silver Linings Playbook? Filipinos didn't get that movie. Unless you were under 30 and being given downers to offset the Adderall. 

But now I know of people close to me who have come right up to the edge and have benefitted from treatment. On more than one occasion. 

Mental health is for real. Pills are better than nothing. But talking works. And I've got nothing but words.

Of course, it's our presumption that people in need of help want it.

And maybe that's the only way Bourdain's suicide makes sense. The man was a recovering drug addict. He consumed food and drink seemingly without a care. He was killing himself slowly with lifestyle. Suicide sped up the process, where he took control and rebelled against his fans, his loved ones, and his maker to prove he was a bad guy, after all.

It doesn't sound like he would have wanted to be talked out of his final act.

But there are those among the legions of his fans who feel a moral obligation to at least attempt to find words. Or maybe, a last meal.

Donald Trump wins in Singapore, scores with Kim (another world dictator), creates a new kind of cold war with Canada, isolates America from its allies, and wins a second term.

That's still a bad dream, right? 

My prescription in my next Amok. 

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.

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Note: If you know someone in need of confidential assistance, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Posted by:Emil Guillermo

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views or policies of AALDEF.


1. Hi Emil - Thanks for putting your attention and good writing on mental health/suicide.....Here's a question to chew on ;-) - Is it possible that suicides in the U.S. are up due to fears of a nuclear war? Since Trump was elected many, many people are feeling hopeless, along with feeling fearful. Feeling helpless in the face of impending disaster and lead to hopelessness...... Not sayin'...just sayin." Peace and love, Joy
Posted by: Joy Marcus | Jun 12, 2018 8:02 PM

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