Amber Skye Forbes

Writing Words With the Tips of My Toes

The Devastation Mental Illness Brings: Good-Bye, Ned Vizzini

In case all of you haven’t heard the news, YA author, Ned Vizzini, died a few days ago. He committed suicide, but I won’t go into the details because you can simply click the link over his name.

His most notable book is It’s Kind of a Funny Story, which was made into a feature-length film, and a novel that I hold very close to my heart. I do consider Ned Vizzini somewhat of a celebrity, if authors are even allowed to be called such. But a celebrity’s death has never affected me so deeply as his. I was sad when beloved children’s book author Diana Wynne Jones died, because I loved her books, but she was also in the prime of her life, and was able to spend a good bit of her life living her dream as an author of beloved children’s books. She lived what was hopefully a fulfilling life, leaving this incredible magic behind that I hope people of all ages will enjoy.

I saw a Tweet that said ‘So sad about Ned Vizzini. His family is in my prayers.’ My heart immediately jumped to my throat because I knew exactly what happened, because it always seems to happen to artists who suffer with mental illness. Always. I frantically typed his name into Google, and there it was, my fear confirmed: Ned Vizzini died at the age of 32. I immediately burst into tears, the kind of tears where it’s hard to breathe, and I have never, ever experienced such grief from a celebrity’s death before. Ever. I only briefly talked to Ned Vizzini on Twitter before, and a Tweeter and I even made a little hastag for him called Fanzini (which, by the way, is totally spelled wrong). He was even on board with it, as you can see in the picture below.

Screenshot (16)

It wasn’t this brief chat on Twitter that did me in. Not at all.

Before I was hospitalized at Summit Ridge for self-harm and suicidal ideation, I read It’s Kind of a Funny Story in order to have a better grasp of what it was like to be a young, depressed person being admitted into a mental hospital for the first time. I was terrified, as well as severely depressed, and I finished the entire book while waiting for the ambulance that would take me to Summit Ridge, which is a few hours from where I live. There were no beds available in my area.

The story comforted me in ways that no one who has ever been hospitalized with mental illness can ever understand. The fact that it was semi-autobiographical, 85% of the book being based off Ned’s experiences, made it all the more precious to me. It was especially the last paragraph in the book that was so uplifting for me (it’s long, just warning):

“Run. Eat. Drink. Eat more. Don’t throw up. Instead, take a piss. Then take a crap. Wipe your butt. Make a phone call. Open a door. Ride your bike. Ride in a car. Ride in a subway. Talk. Talk to people. Read. Read maps. Make maps. Make art. Talk about your art. Sell your art. Take a test. Get into a school. Celebrate. Have a party. Write a thank-you note to someone. Hug your mom. Kiss your dad. Kiss your little sister. Make out with Noelle. Make out with her more. Touch her. Hold her hand. Take her out somewhere. Meet her friends. Run down a street with her. Take her on a picnic. Eat with her. See a movie with her. See a movie with Aaron. Heck, see a movie with Nia, once you’re cool with her. Get cool with more people. Drink coffee in little coffee-drinking places. Tell people your story. Volunteer. Go back to Six North. Walk in as a volunteer and say hi to everyone who waited on you as a patient. Help people. Help people like Bobby. Get people books and music that they want when they’re in there. Help people like Muqtada. Show them how to draw. Draw more. Try drawing a landscape. Try drawing a person. Try drawing a naked person. Try drawing Noelle naked. Travel. Fly. Swim. Meet. Love. Dance. Win. Smile. Laugh. Hold. Walk. Skip. Okay, it’s gay, whatever, skip. Ski. Sled. Play basketball. Jog. Run. Run. Run. Run home. Run home and enjoy. Enjoy. Take these verbs and enjoy them. They’re yours, Craig. You deserve them because you chose them. You could have left them all behind but you chose to stay here. So now live for real, Craig. Live. Live. Live. Live.”
This last paragraph was a piece of hope for me. Not only had Craig been able to accept his situation and move on from it, but it was also directly from Ned himself–Ned, who suffered from chronic depression; Ned, who wrote that book and others to inspire young people struggling with these things; Ned, who was a mental illness advocate; Ned, who was older than me and survived and seemed to be doing well and seemed like he would always do well and fight through the depressive moments and live and live and live to give hope to people like me. I even once told him on Twitter that his story helped me when I was being admitted into a mental hospital, and he told me that he was glad it did.
It would have been different if Ned had died in a car accident. I would have thought it tragic, I might have even cried a little bit, but, no, he took his own life, after all that hope and light and love he gave through his books alone. Suicide, to me, is the most tragic thing in the world, more tragic than war or famine or any other terrible non-suicide-related thing. Suicide is standing at the edge of the universe and realizing that the universe isn’t going to keep expanding for you anymore the way that it should. Suicide is saying that there is nothing left, that there is no more hope, no more light, no more love. Suicide is also saying that none of that matters. Some individuals may feel suicidal after a break-up, a divorce, or some other earth-shattering thing. But for people like me, suicide is a diagnosis, a reality we struggle with in conjunction with our mental illnesses. Suicide, AKA suicidal ideation, is a symptom of a mental illness. In my case, It’s Bipolar Type I.
I couldn’t believe how hard I was crying. I cried over my grandpa’s death, but not as hard as Ned’s. I cried over my former boss’s death, but not as hard as Ned’s. I cried over my dog’s death, but not as hard as Ned’s. And I knew why I was crying, too: because I know what it feels like to be at the edge of the universe where you can see no more stars.
I’m sensitive to suicide. I cry whenever I hear that someone ended his/her own life. I cry when I hear songs implying suicide. I cried when I wrote a scene in All Shattered Ones about my main character committing suicide (it’s not a spoiler).
Ultimately, I cried for a somewhat selfish reason. This is something I have never, ever admitted to anyone, not even my therapist, but I’m finally coming out with it because I want you all to understand what was behind those tears I was crying when I found out about Ned’s death. Bipolar disorder is forever. It’s not going away. It claims lives every year, in higher numbers than many other mental illnesses because of the devastating highs and lows. I was on Remeron first, and it gave me back who I was. But then it made me severely manic, hospitalizing me again. Then I was put on Trileptal, which did nothing for my depression, but did put a stop to the mania. It took almost half a year before I got put on Abilify, and then I thought the darkness had finally ended, that it was gone for good, so long as I kept taking this little miracle pill. But then it stopped. For good. Upping the dose did nothing, and I was back in that darkness again, suicidal ideation once again taking residence in my mind. Not every person with a mental illness struggles with suicidal feelings. For many, the thought never crosses their minds. But for others like me, who see mental illness as an intolerable thing to live with, it does…and it did every day.
Then I was put on Lamictal. It didn’t work right away. I believe it took about two months for it to finally start working, and now I am back to being stable–but now I can no longer believe that that stability will remain. Oh, certainly I hope it’ll just take a rise in dosage to help, but what’s going to happen to me in those in-between moments, those moments when I am temporarily depressed, when I am seeing the endless chasm of no return, when I see that there is no way to go up?
This is the thing I most fear more than anything else: I fear that ultimately my life will end by my own hand. Do I want it to? No. But sometimes I feel like it’s not a choice. And I have never told anyone this.
It sounds illogical, irrational, maybe even a little silly. After all, how can someone such as me who seems to have it all, who has endured depression before, who has a tight, loving support system, fall prey to such a terrible thing? That’s what everyone thinks…until it’s them. That’s what I thought about Ned Vizzini, that’s what people think about so many artists who took their own lives. One of my favorite singers, Emilie Autumn, attempted to take her own life. Thank goodness she failed. But I’m also afraid that one day she’ll try again…and succeed. I haven’t attempted yet, but I’m scared that one day I will–and one day, that attempt may succeed.
So, ultimately, that’s where the tears stemmed from. If Ned Vizzini, someone who lived his life to help others, to inspire others to fight their own battles, ends his own life, who’s to say that I won’t one day? Of course I don’t know what the future holds, but for someone like me, I HAVE to take it one day at a time. I can no longer look at the future anymore and see a world full of promise and hope that I’m going to be at this stage of life doing this thing and loving this thing and being this thing. I can’t do that, because I have to accept that bipolar disorder limits things. People with chronic mental illnesses have low stress thresholds. Even with proper medication, we can still fall prey to depression if even a little bit of stress is applied. I have to be on anti-anxiety meds for crying out loud, even though I am stable depression-wise. Otherwise, I tend to get panicky when I have a full day.  
And there is nothing I can do about that. So I sometimes irrationally await the day when my dosage of Lamictal stops helping me. And then I wonder ‘what is going to happen to me then? How am I going to feel? Just how severe will it be? Will I be tired of the constant tug-of-war battle and just think it’s better to quit on this life?’ My therapist tells me I’m so brave and strong, but Ned Vizzini seemed like he was, too.
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7 comments on “The Devastation Mental Illness Brings: Good-Bye, Ned Vizzini

  1. maryl1123
    December 22, 2013

    I didn’t know Ned Vizzini but this is very sad. So young, it breaks my heart. I will keep his family in my prayers 😦

  2. lindalitebeing
    December 22, 2013

    thank you for this moving tribute Amber. I applaud your honesty and vulnerability as a writer and a human being. The truth is healing. Perhaps Ned’s ability to serve others will continue not in spite of his suicide, but because of it.

  3. Laurie Buchanan
    December 22, 2013

    A beautiful, heart-based tribute to Ned Vizzini — thank you.

  4. 1WriteWay
    December 22, 2013

    I have friends who struggle as you do, and all I can do is offer prayers and warm thoughts. It doesn’t seem like enough. It isn’t enough ultimately, because only you can keep yourself alive. It is a “one day at a time” struggle and I just hope you always have another day.
    Thank you for your honesty. As Ned Vizzini’s honesty helped you, yours will help others.

  5. feltenk
    December 23, 2013

    Thanks for sharing, Amber. I hadn’t heard until reading your post. I loved “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” too. It’s heartbreaking to hear of his passing.

  6. Pingback: 41: Happy Holidays!

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