Pearls: “I am successful. You are successful. And I’m wondering: are you happy?”

By Dan Ayer, Co-Founder, Oyster Creative

Last week, Jeff and I took the team out to see Roadrunner, the new film about Anthony Bourdain’s life.

Not exactly the most uplifting idea for a team outing. But an important one.

Due to the pandemic, we haven’t had a chance to be together as a team much and I think it’s taken a toll on all of us (me for sure).

Most of you know how the story of Anthony Bourdain’s life ended, but the film tries to gain an understanding as to why. How could someone who has not only their dream job — but literally THE dream job — end their life?

I was lucky enough to dine in the same room with Anthony Bourdain in 2017 as part of his Pittsburgh episode of Parts Unknown and long before that loved the authenticity of writing and the stories he told.

But this story isn’t about him. It’s about me.

Now, I’m not comparing starting Oyster with Jeff to jet-setting around the world to dine with everyone from Iggy Pop to Obama, but it’s become my dream. And, if I do say so myself, it’s become pretty successful.

Jeff and I merged two companies, survived a pandemic where we were able to keep and grow our team, and are creating work we are truly proud of.

That success made me think long and hard about an email Anthony Bourdain sent a friend in the documentary:

“Dude, this is a crazy thing to ask, but I’m curious, and my life is sort of shit now. You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?”

It takes unimaginable courage to reach out and say you aren’t doing so well. That you are hurting. That you need someone or something.

I know this. Because I’ve been there.

In 2015, I experienced a bout of depression (and it’s really shitty cousin anxiety) that rocked me to my core. I legitimately felt like I was dying on a day-to-day basis for several months. If I wasn’t convinced I was having a heart attack one minute, I was passed out on the couch from the stress of it the next.

And I can tell you this — I would never have gotten off the couch if it wasn’t for my family, friends and a friend-who-turned-into-my-wife. The Internet’s character count isn’t large enough to allow me to describe their — and her — support.

Fast forward six years later and I’m still dealing with the impact. I still enter periods of depression and my anxiety is still a problem I deal with on a regular basis.

So why did Anthony’s email have such an impact on me?

Back in 2015, I was afraid that mentioning my struggle to co-workers or people in the highly competitive ad industry would make me look weak or not up to the challenge of being a success. That if I revealed my pain, I would be relegated to some sort of second string or thought of as damaged.

And that’s why I am writing this post today.

Because that thinking is the exact thing we need to remove from our industry.

We all know that we need to offer support and understanding to people dealing with their mental health. And that there should be no stigma attached to talking about it or any perception that mental health issues are a sign of weakness.

But in this industry our job is to be communicators and storytellers. That means we have to be some of the very first people open to talking about mental health and telling stories that erase stigma and promote actions to address it.

I hope there are a few people who look at Oyster and see what we have built as a team and would like to be in our waders some day.

But more importantly, I know that there are more than a few people who are struggling and afraid that admitting it will prevent them from being a success or being happy.

I am here to tell you — it won’t.

How to get help: In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also can provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.

Raw ideas to real results. Creative agency based in Pittsburgh, PA.