On Friday, Anthony Bourdain died in France, found by his good friend, chef Eric Ripert, in his hotel room as they were working on an episode of his cooking and traveling show, Parts Unknown. He reportedly died by suicide.
Bourdain's death effected many, many people who were influenced by his approach to life, food, and connecting with other people. And the manner of his death has inspired a great deal of conversation about how we should be reaching out to one another, especially people who are experiencing depression. You may not know how someone is suffering, or if they are. One of the many suggestions is that you "check in" on someone, and let them know how loved they are.
Film and TV critic Sheila O'Malley shared a long Twitter thread in response to this idea, relating a time in her life when she felt incredibly low. O'Malley had a very close relationship with her father, and after his passing she was finding it very difficult to function.
She says that she moved to a new apartment and found herself unable to pack. She cried day after day. And being surrounded by everything she needed to do may it even harder to get started.
The year after my dad died was so bad I don't remember 90% of it. I moved to a new apt and was unable to unpack. For MONTHS. I was ashamed I couldn't unpack. How can you be UNABLE to unpack? Just open the g.d. boxes. That was the year I cried for 19 days. Straight. /1— Sheila O'Malley (@sheilakathleen) June 8, 2018
But she had this friend named David. David tried to do the checking on her thing, but it didn't make much of a dent. She was too depressed.So she says, David took a risk and arranged for more extreme intervention.
My good friend David - whom I've known since high school - knew I was struggling and he felt helpless. He said "you are loved" "we need you". I was like, "Doesn't matter, but thanks." So he took a risk. It very well could have ended badly. I could have lashed out. /2— Sheila O'Malley (@sheilakathleen) June 8, 2018
I could have been really REALLY offended. But he took the risk. He sent out an email to a group of local friends (w/out my knowledge) and said, "Sheila is struggling. She needs our help. Let's all go over there and unpack her apartment for her. Bring food. Let's make it fun." /3— Sheila O'Malley (@sheilakathleen) June 8, 2018
O'Malley says he arranged to have a group of friends come over to her place and just clean up for her. He didn't warn her it was coming, except to ask if she'd be home on a particular night. And in they barged!
David sent me an email saying "will you be home Thursday night? Can I stop by?" I said "Sure." Sitting surrounded by 200 unpacked boxes. /4— Sheila O'Malley (@sheilakathleen) June 8, 2018
At 6 pm on Thursday night the doorbell rang and 10 of my friends barged in, bearing platters of food, cleaning products, and complete unconcern for my 'wait ... you CAN'T COME IN HERE I HAVEN'T UNPACKED YET" protestations. They ignored me and got to work. /5— Sheila O'Malley (@sheilakathleen) June 8, 2018
They unpacked my boxes. They put away my 1,500 books. They hung pictures for me. They organized my closet and put away all my clothes. Meanwhile, someone set up a taco-making station in the kitchen. People brought beer. By the end of the night, my apartment was all set up. /6— Sheila O'Malley (@sheilakathleen) June 8, 2018
At first, O'Malley was confused and not sure how to act. She was still unable to function, even as a surprise host. But her friends make her feel okay with where she was at, and just did the business of unpacking her house for her.
I literally was unable to do THE SIMPLEST THINGS. And nobody judged me. They were like superheroes sweeping in. One friend arrived late, stood in the hallway, looked at me and said, "PUT ME TO WORK." /7— Sheila O'Malley (@sheilakathleen) June 8, 2018
One of my friends basically took over hanging all of my posters and pictures. "I'm really good at measuring stuff. Let me put all these up in your hallway." I hovered, not wanting to give up control: "wait ... put that one there maybe?" She said, "Go away." I did. /8— Sheila O'Malley (@sheilakathleen) June 8, 2018
She shared some pictures of the busy worker elves:
And their hang out pizza session.
I was overwhelmed at the sight of all of my crazy friends turning themselves into Santa's workshop. On my behalf. W/out asking me. They just showed up and barged in. I was embarrassed for like 10 minutes but they were all so practical and bossy I had no choice but to let that go.— Sheila O'Malley (@sheilakathleen) June 8, 2018
She even got help from people she wouldn't have expected it from, or didn't know particularly well. But they just saw it as a good deed, like a community fundraiser:
At the end of the night, I looked at my friend's husband - a quiet tactiturn guy who drives a tugboat on the Hudson - practical, man of few words - and I just looked at him, speechless, not knowing how to say Thank You, especially to this tough resilient self-sufficient man.— Sheila O'Malley (@sheilakathleen) June 8, 2018
He looked at me, saw the look on my face, understood the look, understood everything that was behind it - and said, “Listen, baby, what we did today was a barn-raising.”— Sheila O'Malley (@sheilakathleen) June 8, 2018
O'Malley wants people to know that sometimes they can't ask for help, or they need more than a message and phone call. When you're depressed, you don't always think you deserve help.
That's the end. The "ask for help" advice is well-meaning but not really thought through. There's shame, there's enforced helplessness, there's the feeling you're not worth it, etc. My friends didn't wait for me to ask. They showed up. They took over. They didn't ask.— Sheila O'Malley (@sheilakathleen) June 8, 2018
When they all swept out of there 4 hours later, my place was a home. Not only was everything put away - but now it had a memory attached to it, a group memory, friends, laughing, dirty jokes, hard work. These are the kinds of friends I have. Be that kind of friend to others.— Sheila O'Malley (@sheilakathleen) June 8, 2018
She warns that it could have gone a completely different way, and David took a big chance on her warm reception to the idea. But it changed her life!
To reiterate: this plan could have backfired. I very well could have been offended, insulted, hurt. David took that risk. Being a friend takes commitment. A willingness to take that risk.— Sheila O'Malley (@sheilakathleen) June 8, 2018
And she's so grateful to have warm and lovely memories in her home.
Here's a pic from the tail-end of the night. When you hang Christmas lights for your bereaved friend, you never know what will happen. My favorite part of this is Liz's head low in the corner. She's not even paying attention. She knows it's happening. She just doesn't care. pic.twitter.com/EIoA0pzMeX— Sheila O'Malley (@sheilakathleen) June 8, 2018
Plus, it looks great.
If you can, do more than check in. Show up.
In the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.