Like most people around the world, today I am mourning the loss of Anthony Bourdain.
I’m not usually one to get sentimental about the death of a celebrity. I always feel sorrow for those that have passed away too early, I might watch clips of their movies or listen to an album or two if I was a fan of their music, but I normally can’t relate to the world’s most famous people.
Bourdain’s decision to end his own life has affected me harder than most celebrity deaths though. So much so that I’ve found myself tearing up as I rewatch some of his best episodes of No Reservations, or when reading old articles he had published over the years.
My heart feels heavy as I recall hunting down Banh Mi Phuong in Hoi An, for the sole reason that Anthony called it a ‘symphony in a sandwich’, and I had to try a banh mi that the legendary chef had claimed was the best he ever had.
While Alesha and I sat there eating the delicious baguette we met another couple, who had also searched for Banh Mi Phuong purely because of Bourdain’s episode, and we struck up a conversation with them that soon turned into a friendship. A friendship formed over a sandwich Bourdain had recommended.
He famously took the President of the United States to a bun cha diner in Hanoi filled with locals, placed him down on a plastic stool, drank beer, swapped tales, and while it made for good TV, he also subtly showed the most powerful man in the world exactly how millions of people eat every single day.
It was something that almost all travellers to Vietnam had experienced – those same plastic chairs, those same chopsticks, those same interactions with smiling people who make a living from serving local delicacies.
Perhaps that’s what made his various TV series so powerful – His ability to delve deep into a culture and tell stories that would bring people together beyond just a love of food.
For anyone who had the pleasure of watching his shows or reading his books, Bourdain appeared to have a perfect life. He was paid to travel the world, eat food and explore different cultures.
This is what makes the news of his suicide so difficult to comprehend. How could a man that had come from nothing, who beat the throes of heroin addiction and went on to create fame around a career that combined his love of travel and food, secretly be battling demons that proved to be too overwhelming for him to go on?
His decision to end his life has left a world that loved him in utter shock.
He had inspired countless people to travel, to conquer their fears and to be open to experiencing foreign cultures and beliefs.
Anthony Bourdain was a true global ambassador, and his death has left more questions than answers.
Maybe that’s why I have such a heavy heart today. Numbly sipping my 4th cup of coffee, wondering what was so wrong behind the scenes that a man who had the admiration and respect of many and seemingly lived a fulfilling life couldn’t bare to live anymore.
“I have the best job in the world. If I’m unhappy, it’s a failure of imagination.” – Anthony Bourdain
Bourdain’s suicide brings up an issue that most people feel more comfortable ignoring – Depression and mental illness.
What has affected me so much with this tragic news is that Anthony Bourdain was one celebrity I could relate to. Not just that we both shared what people consider to be amazing jobs – Getting paid to travel and document our experiences of destinations, cultures and people to a global audience – But that he also hid away demons behind the scenes.
Depression can affect anyone, and today’s news shows that even the people we think must be the happiest aren’t necessarily so.
It touches on something that so many people might not realise – that travel doesn’t solve life’s problems.
It’s easy to assume that seeing the world is a way to escape our inner demons, and Bourdain himself constantly encouraged people to travel, but it isn’t always the answer.
Alesha and I have created a career as travel bloggers, photographers and influencers. While we don’t have anything like the celebrity that Bourdain held, we are told on a near-daily basis just how lucky we are to be ‘living the dream’.
We realise just how lucky we are to be paid to travel the world, and we know that thousands of people would swap places with us in a heartbeat. The truth is though all dreams come with a price.
We live in a world where social media is filled with people trying to outdo each other. We only share images and videos of ourselves that make us look happy, content, or that make our lives seem ideal.
As we scroll our Instagram feeds we are given a heavily edited and filtered version of people’s existences, carefully curated to be beautiful and exciting.
It’s easy to draw comparisons when we follow people who we feel are leading the lives we all want to live. The musician who just embarked on another world tour, the artist who launched their first exhibition, celebrities jetting off to exotic destinations, even influencers like us who seem to be on one permanent holiday – the truth is we only see what those people choose to share with us.
A few years ago Alesha and I were battling our own demons as we wandered across Asia. On social media life was great, and for reasons unknown to us, tens of thousands of people were following our journey.
Every day we’d put pressure on ourselves to share another photo of whatever seemingly-incredible place we’d find ourselves in. Our followers would like and comment on them, often telling us how they’d always wanted to travel and how lucky we were to be there.
What we weren’t sharing was the anxiety Alesha felt every time we needed to move onto a new place, or the way I’d bottle up my stress and emotions so much that we’d both end up fighting constantly.
When the pressures became too much, we wrote our ‘Behind The Scenes‘ article, where we talked about the problems we were having on the other side of our online personas. It went viral, and hundreds of people emailed us saying they had felt the same at some point in their travels, but believed something was wrong with them, as they didn’t ‘deserve’ to be depressed.
Our story wasn’t unique, and it eased our own pain knowing we weren’t alone.
When the media attention died down Alesha and I promised to be more honest about our feelings, not just with ourselves but also with our followers. Not dealing with our negative emotions had almost driven us apart, and we realised that the topic of depression and anxiety should not be swept under the rug.
More than two years have passed, and we found ourselves slipping into the same, dangerous wormhole.
“Life is complicated. It’s filled with nuance. It’s unsatisfying… If I believe in anything, it is doubt. The root cause of all life’s problems is looking for a simple fucking answer.” – Anthony Bourdain
Travel is our business, and as our business grew so did our travel opportunities. One minute we’d be sitting on a beach in Thailand, the next we’d be hiking in the Austrian Alps. We’d fly from Easter Island to Kyrgyzstan, then to Brazil, because that’s where work led us.
Another successful blogger we met a few years ago had said to us, “Ride the wave guys, because who knows how long it’ll last.” We took this to heart, and did everything we could to make sure we wouldn’t fall off that wave.
We put immense pressure on ourselves to keep travelling, to keep growing our business and to keep delivering amazing content for our clients. On social media we were the luckiest couple in the world. On the other side of the laptops we were hiding in AirBnBs in Buenos Aires, too exhausted to leave the apartment for days on end.
For most of 2017 Alesha was battling anxiety. She would skip meals if it meant she didn’t have to go outside and deal with the crowds of a foreign city. The thought of getting in a taxi and possibly being ripped off was too much for her to cope, and she’d insist we walk 5km with our bags in the rain rather than deal with the stress of what ‘might’ happen if we scored an unscrupulous cab driver.
I kept telling myself I must be happy because I was ‘living the dream’, even though deep down I felt completely lost. “Don’t fall off that wave,” I’d tell myself, while spending far too many hours staring at a laptop screen to keep whatever that dream was meant to be alive, feeling empty inside.
We’d talk for hours about how we needed to stop moving, stop travelling, and settle down for a bit. Our health was falling apart, we were constantly tired and we started fighting again. Then we’d get another opportunity to go somewhere new, and we’d say, “Ok, one more trip, then we need to stop.”
We’d meet people in hotels and bars who’d hear what we do for a job and say, “Wow, you guys are so lucky!” and we’d agree, thinking to ourselves how dare we feel stressed, anxious and upset about our lives when people looked at us thinking we were so lucky. We felt like we weren’t allowed to be unhappy, which meant we didn’t deal with our true feelings.
At no point did we share our emotions with anyone, because we felt completely selfish to not be feeling like the happiest people on the planet.
It was a curious position to be in, because nobody was forcing us to travel and to keep manifesting this perceived idea that we were living the dream. Every decision we made to keep going was entirely our own.
At any point we could have stopped and dealt with our problems. But we didn’t. Because dealing with our problems meant admitting that something was wrong, and that was even scarier than the anxiety and depression.
“As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.” – Anthony Bourdain
Eventually we did stop, and for the last 6 months we’ve been based in Australia surrounded by family and friends. We built a routine of regular exercise, socialising and not travelling full-time, and now we’re happier, energised and ready to take on the world again. But the pressure remains, even though we’ve never publicly admitted it.
Bourdain’s suicide broke our hearts. A man that inspired us, who the world thought had it all, must have felt such immense sadness and pressure behind the scenes that it drove him over the edge.
We’re still waiting for details to come out over what exactly happened, but early signs seem to be that behind the cameras, Anthony suffered from depression. And it finally consumed him past the point of no return.
It leads me to wonder how many people out there are also suffering. How many millions of people stand bravely in public with a smile on their face, while fighting demons on the inside?
It’s far too easy to gloss over the truth, that depression can affect anyone, even those that we aspire to be or look up to. Anthony’s death proves that no matter how successful, or inspiring, or lucky someone is, we are all at risk of suffering if we don’t admit there is a problem and seek help.
Today’s news is a lesson to not feel alone. Everyone has their own battles, and it’s only by being open and honest with ourselves that we can beat them. Don’t allow the pressures of whatever heavy emotions you hold deep inside to get the better of you.
If you are feeling lost, confused, anxious or depressed, reach out and speak to someone. There is nothing wrong, or less manly, or uncool, about admitting you need help.
I used to work on the mines in Australia, a notoriously tough and hardened industry, and it used to be considered weak to talk about your problems. Alesha’s family are farmers, where people work hard and never let on that the constant pressures may be getting the best of them. Is it any wonder that these two fields also have some of the highest rates of suicide in the country?
We need to break the stigma that comes with being open about our emotions. It’s not tough to fake being strong. It’s ok not to be ok.
If you feel like you have no one around you that you can share your emotions with, see a counsellor or call a suicide hotline. Email us if you feel like that will help (firstname.lastname@example.org). Remember, you are never alone.
Anthony Bourdain was an inspiration, and his loss is a tragic reminder that depression can affect anyone, even those of us that appear to be living the dream.
He was today’s greatest travel journalist, and he brought the world closer to us with his positive connections with the people he met along the way.
Let’s not let his legacy fade away. In his death we can draw strength to unite with one another. We are all in this together.
It’s ok not to be ok.
“If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.” – Anthony Bourdain