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Dec3
2014

It Didn’t Matter That He Was Funny

By Sammy Nickalls

I remember the day when I discovered that my friend was having suicidal thoughts. He didn’t exactly give me much time to prepare.

We used to message each other late into the night, every night, pretending to be philosophical. We talked about crushes and AP Psych homework and inside jokes and the meaning of life.

But late one night, an IM popped up on my screen that shook me to my very core.

As I read the words – his confession that he had just tried to take his life – my heart caught in my throat.

I used to think that, when a situation like this presented itself, I’d know what to do immediately. Without a moment’s hesitation, I’d respond heroically; I’d save the day. After all, isn’t the right course of action so obvious?

I always used to think that would be me.

But instead, I went completely numb with shock.

My hands shaking, I typed something in reply; it was something like “hold on” or “breathe” or “I’ll get help” or whatever desperate thing my 16-year-old brain could come up with first. I grabbed my little pink flip phone, clutching it for a couple of seconds, staring at my knuckles as they turned white.

I don’t know why I didn’t call 911. I still don’t.

I dialed his home phone, praying that his mother was there, hoping to any god that may exist that I was doing the right thing.

The phone started to ring.

Ring.

I remember vaguely thinking that of all people who would attempt to take their life, he would be the last person I would expect. Except, no, it wasn’t a thought; coherent thoughts didn’t present themselves during my panic. It was more instinctive, something I knew even when I couldn’t think.

Ring.

He was so charismatic, so vibrant; his laughter was contagious, infectious, booming. He was one of the most hysterical people I knew. He could keep a crowd laughing as long as he liked – and oh, did he like to. He had it all – a lovely family, a beautiful house, and even a pool (a bit of a rarity in our small town).

He was so intelligent, filled to the brim with potential.

Ring.

How could a guy like that feel so wretched inside when he seemed to live such a charmed life?

Oh my god, I should have called 911.

The ringing stopped.

His mother picked up the phone.

She’s one of my dearest friends now, but at the time, I had never spoken to his mother. And I felt terrible that I, this mystery girl, had to be the one giving this news to her about her son. As I frantically explained the situation, I braced myself for her reaction: panic, desperation, grief that her son would even attempt to remove himself from her world, anger that I called her instead of an ambulance.

But when she responded, there was none of that.

There was nothing at all except calm, mingled with a muted melancholy.

“You’re Sammy,” she said. “He’s talked about you.”

After she and her husband checked on him and found that he was OK, she told me his story.

I had known my friend for a little less than a year at that point. Not a lifetime, sure, but we had become quite close. I knew he struggled with moments where he was depressed. I thought I already knew his story.

I hadn’t had a clue.

He had been struggling with mental illness ever since he had hit puberty, she explained. He had been living with these struggles for years.

Her voice was level. In that moment, it sounded steadier than anything I’d ever heard.

That made it all the more heartbreaking when I heard her pause, then say, “I am constantly afraid that one day I will wake up, and he will be gone.”

My friend survived that night, and he kept on fighting for four more years…until eventually, his mother’s worst fear came true.

This September marked two years since he’s been gone.

It didn’t matter that he was funny. It didn’t matter that he was charismatic or that his laughter could electrify the most frigid room in a matter of seconds. It didn’t matter that his family was as wonderful and supportive as humanly possible or that he lived in a beautiful house. And it sure as hell didn’t matter that he had a nice pool.

Though I, like the rest of the world, mourn the loss of the wonderful, energetic, kind, and hilarious Robin Williams, his death proves what I have already learned the hard way: Mental illness knows no bounds.

It doesn’t care about fame, fortune, or family. It doesn’t care about personality. It doesn’t even care about the way a person can light up everything – everyone – they touch.

Mental illness tries to steal that light, to extinguish it altogether.

And we, as a society, have turned our backs to it as it stealthily moves through the crowd, extinguishing flames one by one. We can hear the hiss, smell the smoke.

But we dismiss it.

“Get out of bed already.”

“Everyone has problems – deal with it.”

“Just live life normally, and it will go away.”

“You’re not even trying to be happy.”

“Don’t be so selfish.”

Hiss.

It’s time that we start having honest conversations about mental illness. It’s time we realize that not everyone experiences the world the same way, that a smile or a joke doesn’t always mean someone is OK.

It’s time that we saw mental illness for what it really is. It’s an illness, a terrible sickness of the same caliber as any physical illness, that can claim anyone – a famous comedian, a talented actor, a son. My friend.

It is only then can we start approaching how to treat those struggling with mental health in a new way. It is only then that we can go after that terrible thing dimming the lights in our world, one flame at a time.

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Comments (47)

  1. Anonymous

    Thank you for being that friend. As someone who is that mother, I’m constantly afraid she’ll do it and succeed. Every day I am thankful for her friends. So thank you. <3

    Reply  |  
    1. SammyNickalls

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I am so sorry for your struggle, and the struggle of your daughter. I’m sure she has friends who recognize just how amazing she is and are willing to do anything to lift her up. <3

      Reply  |  
    2. Anonymous

      I have suffered most of my life with depression and more than I care to recall attempts to take my own life. I saved my roommate when she tried but no one knew I struggled with the same thing. Until my second or third attempt when my Ex found out and called my parents. Still that didn’t help it continued for a few more years and the attempts and thought more frequent. Thankfully I found a personal growth course called the Journey by TMC productions that completely saved my life!! It worked for me and a lot of other people I know. It isn’t therapy but it take personal growth to a whole new level. That light that no one could see anymore now fills up every room I am in. Might be worth looking into for your daughter. My mom thanks god every day for this weekend course. Hell my whole family has now taken it and has brought us so much closer.

      Reply  |  
  2. Katie

    This article is so well written. It struck me in a deep place. When I was 16, three boys in my high school killed themselves. It was so hard to understand, of course… they were smart, friendly, and very funny. Mental illness really has no reigns. Stay strong everyone.

    Reply  |  
  3. Kimberly McGee

    Thank you for writing this. <3

    Reply  |  
  4. Bradley

    I have two immediate family members and two more in my girlfriend’s family that suffer from bi-polar and severe depression, and this article frames it perfectly. Thank you for taking the time to write it. People like you make a difference.

    Reply  |  
  5. Anonymous

    Thank you so much for writing this. A dear friend of mine took his life a couple weeks ago and I’m still trying to understand why, even though I can’t know why. He was so funny and intelligent and had so much to offer. “Mental illness knows no bounds” is so true and I haven’t thought about it that way until now. I’ve learned that I cannot do anything to understand why this happened, but I can choose how I respond to it. Since my friend’s passing, I’ve been trying to talk about mental illness as much as possible and I’ve actually been learning a lot about my friends and their own struggles with depression. Thank you again and I’m so sorry about the loss of your friend.

    Reply  |  
  6. Kathy Booh

    Thank you for sharing your story. My husband of a short 4 1/2 months committed suicide ladt year. He was much like your description of Robin Williams. He always appeared happy to others. He was incredibly intelligent. He had a good life and lived very comfortable. Still he would hit bottom out of the blue, over the smallest struggle. He went from saying he was the happiest man in the world and months of making me feel like we finally was over the rollercoaster days to suicide. It hapoened in a flash. I never saw it coming. It’s been a little over 15 months ago. It has been the worst thing I’ve ever had to live with (in combination of losing my oldest son 6 months prior to losing him). I have been blamed by family and friends and totally disowned, leaving me to get through the loss on my own while taking much abuse from his ex and daughters. I know he didn’t develop this illness over night. He attempted once a few years ago when we were dating. Looking back, I was blindly in love. He hurt me many times, over & over, in our first few years together. But I loved him and mafe up (or accepted) reasons for his behavior. Now I wish I would have done more. I wish I wouldn’t have helped him get out of counselling and from taking the medicine they prescribed him at his first attempt. I am still here & miss him more than words can say every single day.

    Reply  |  
  7. Chrissy

    Thank you for writing this. Its beautiful in a sad way. Ive been the friend to answer the phone in the middle of the night to talk a friend or actually the first time my now really good friend called i barely knew her and she got my number from facebook. You cannot save everyone but you can try.

    Reply  |  
  8. Lia

    I lost a friend just about 4 months ago to suicide. I’ve known a lot of people who have struggled with mental illness. I’ve attempted to take my own life. But he was different. None of us knew. & when I found out, I thought it was some sick joke. But it wasn’t. He is gone. I barely got out of bed for weeks. I cried and cried. When our friend group got together for the first time without him, it was awful. We discussed it and we realized that we had all seen the signs. But we didn’t register them because he seemed so happy. He knew. It wasn’t some spur of the moment decision. The last time I saw him, he knew I’d never see him again. I was doing really well in my recovery until this happened. & now it’s like the world is cold. & I’m not sad for me. I’m sad that his parents are experiencing their first holidays without their son in 21 years. He left his parents, and the rest of us, wondering.. Why? What could we have done differently? Why didn’t I help him? If you’re reading this. I hope you never feel like suicide is the answer. Because it’s not. & I really hope you don’t ever lose a friend to suicide. Because it sucks. & if you have experienced either of these things, I’m really sorry. & I love you.

    Reply  |  
  9. Anonymous

    this one hit a little too close to home.. i have a friend that we would talk every night and i knew he was struggling with depression, but still when he came to me and told me that he had just tried to take his life i was frozen. i should have called 911 but i didnt. i convinced him to wake someone up and tell them which he eventually did and got to the hospital it was the scariest night of my life.

    Reply  |  
  10. JP

    We can’t always do things on our own. Our lack of self-confidence and self-respect inhibits us from doing for ourselves, what we can do for others. We can’t trust and we can’t truly feel what everyone else feels, because we are so loaded down with self-judgement that we don’t have room for other peoples criticisms anymore. But what we can do is understand others far more than most can. We are too overcome with fear of being let down again, just like so many other times. We can’t stand the pain of rejection or of loss or of loneliness. Which is why when we finally do open up to someone, and perhaps fall in love, we fall in love deeply and truly. I know this from experience. For us there will always be pain and sadness because when we fall in love, we never truly forget. We can move on and fall in love with someone else, but it will always hurt to remember past loved ones. It will hurt to think of would could have been and it’s terrifying to think of what there is to come.For those of us “lucky” enough to become numb to life, we resort to self-harm and bodily mutilation. We cut and burn and hurt ourselves, just to feel again, because the sadness is too much.
    I’ve finally been able to put my life into words…

    Reply  |  
  11. Nikki

    How hard it is to understand something like suicide, you’ve put it to words wonderfully. You show no judgement, no hate towards him for doing what he did. When I decided that it had been enough, I had a friend like you, who called 911, who called my parents, who saved me. After that, I felt judgement all around me. I felt like so many people around me, my parents especially, did not understand me and hated me for what I felt and went through. You were his true friend, the one who stood by and you were there when he needed you. And I want to thank you for being that friend, for being the person who still tries to make a difference through this experience. I wish everybody who’s battling with this black cloud has a friend like you. Thank you for writing this down.

    Reply  |  
  12. Tara

    i had the same best friend, many years ago. He was the funniest person I ever knew. But I never got the warning message. After 7yrs of talking and laughing every day, I got a call from another friend to tell me he was gone. I felt horrible because I didn’t see it. Never suspected he was anything less than happy. I still feel like I let him down. He was always there for me. He never gave me the chance to be there for him.

    It took me a while to even believe it, and even longer to accept it. It’s been 11yrs since he left us. But I still miss him every day, we all do. It’s weird how someone can impact your life so much after so many years without them.

    Reply  |  
  13. Gwenna

    Your heart reaches out to so many. I am glad you wrote about this. I suffer from depression still to this day though it’s not violent anymore it is still a burdening illness. Reading this has made me sad of the contacts lost that were once so strong and wonderful.

    Reply  |  
  14. tylor

    Thank you for sharing it lifted me up in a time of need

    Reply  |  
  15. Anon

    Couple of weeks back, found out that my first ex killed himself. He was successful, bright, kind and a wonderful person and no one probably knew that there was so much pain and loneliness beneath that calm exterior. We had stayed in touch over the years and I so wish he’d talked to me about this darkness that was pervading his life. Thank you for these words, they have helped me heal a little and given me a new perspective.

    Reply  |  
  16. Lydia

    As someone who has struggled with depression for 6 years, I am so sick of the stigma put on any mental illness. It’s not, “WHY CANT YOU JUST BE HAPPY?” Its like an internal prison that you can’t get out of. God has called me to help people like me who struggle with mental illness. I am four months clean from self injury… Something I battles with for 5 and a half years. God has brought me through, but I still battle depression day in and day out. Its hell. You can’t just “get over it.”

    Reply  |  
  17. Christina

    What’s sad is that you try not to be alone and your all this brightness to the world but there’s something inside you cant ripout of yourself that brings you to just that

    Reply  |  
  18. Michaela

    Thank you so much for sharing this ❤ I am so thankful for people like you.
    I wish I had a friend like you in my life, and wish I had had a friend like you in my darkest times but I did and do have my family and I couldn’t ask for anything more ❤

    Reply  |  
  19. Anonymous

    Beautifully true and a lovely tribute to your friend and true friendship.

    Reply  |  
  20. Corrie

    You are so right. We have to remove the stigma, by openly talking about mental illness. So few people seek treatment. People don’t speak of it, so those struggling feel more alone.

    Reply  |  
  21. Liz Tailor

    Thank you for sharing this personal and beautiful story!! Such true words. I was taken aback by Robin Williams’ death for that very reason. He was so funny, how could he be struggling like that and still able to smile. But it doesn’t reflect what’s happening inside sometimes. You may never know a person’s internal battle. So kindness and understanding should always be the order of the day. Sadly it so often isn’t.

    Reply  |  
  22. Hannah

    If this quote was on one of twloha shirts I would buy it in a heartbeat.

    It didn’t matter that he was funny. It didn’t matter that he was charismatic or that his laughter could electrify the most frigid room in a matter of seconds. It didn’t matter that his family was as wonderful and supportive as humanly possible or that he lived in a beautiful house. And it sure as hell didn’t matter that he had a nice pool.

    Reply  |  
  23. Anonymous

    Thanks for this. I suffer from depression and I know how hard it is to deal with it and on top of that to listen to people talk about it as if it were something easy to handle.
    I wish everyone knew how serious depression and mental illness are, and I also wish I had a friend I could trust. Thanks for sharing your experience, and I’m sorry for your loss :/

    Reply  |  
  24. Vicky

    I dont know why i am writting all this , i just want to take out everything which is inside me. It becomes very difficult to struggle when having all this stuff inside you and you still have to behave normal, when there is no one who cares, when there is no one who is ready to listen or ready to pretend that he cares. You have to live by your own and you have to run when even you cannot walk, hide yourself from the whole world with an artificial face.

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  25. Anonymous

    My son took his own life 9 months ago. No one knew how he suffered with this disease all his life. He too was funny, had an infectious smile, was smart and very much loved. I don’t know how to process that he is gone. He had just turned 25. My heart is broken.

    Reply  |  
    1. SammyNickalls

      I’m not sure why it tagged you with my name, but I’m so sorry for your loss. Mental illness is a terrible, terrible thing. Stay strong. <3

      Reply  |  
  26. Cass

    I wish I had a friend. I struggle everyday.

    Reply  |  
    1. Lisa

      You are never alone.
      You are important.
      You are here for a purpose.
      You are loved. ❤️

      Reply  |  
    2. Mary OConnor

      Please know that you are not alone. There are many people who do not understand what you are going through and that it isn’t just a matter of making yourself think differently. However, there are some who do understand and are willing to help. You are not alone! Call a hot line – tell someone – you are important. My son never really knew how many people cared about him until it was too late. Don’t make the same mistake…..

      Reply  |  
  27. Anonymous

    beautifully written

    Reply  |  
  28. Sofia

    This had tears rolling down my cheeks. It’s so true, all of it.. And the others standing on the other side of the fence don’t even know…

    Reply  |  
  29. Anonymous

    My brother committed suicide in 2011, as much as I tried to help him, it didn’t matter. Thank you for such a honest story. The day my brother died is forever in my mind.

    Reply  |  
  30. KL

    Thank you for putting your thoughts into words. Whether or not you know this it is of great help and importance to many. Most folks don’t take the time to have conversations with loved ones or friends to try and understand mental illness. Often times I have not shared it with some because they do not understand and will not invest in educating themselves on the facts. What helps me is surrounding myself with those who ‘get it’ so to speak. Today is a good day for me. Tomorrow? I don’t know. What I do know is the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve learned, the more I cope in new and different more manageable ways. The loss of your friend is heartbreaking. A hurt that will never heal fully. That you share it with everyone reminds us that we are loved and supported even in our darkest hours.

    Reply  |  
  31. Thandeka

    It’s comforting to know that there are people who really understand what we go through. I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody because it is the worst pain to ever deal with, a constant and persistent struggle that we deal with and if we’re lucky enough will have people like you Sammy that care enough to want to understand and help out as best as you can.

    Being a black South African you g adult (20) and having struggled with this since I was 13, has made it impossible because such issues are not addressed and my ethnic group doesn’t believe in things such as mental illness/wellness. I’m really sorry about your friend but I do hope as time progresses that the world will open up more to these extreme topics at hand.

    Reply  |  
  32. Anonymous

    Thank you for posting this. I was the same as you I thought I would be prepared I mean its what I do for a living. But NOTHING prepares you for that call, all the classes and drills, nothing prepares you for picking up and recognizing the voice on the other end. My best friend committed suicide three weeks ago Friday. Death and I are old friends but losing her it still doesn’t compute she’s gone. She had everything to live for a husband who WORSHIPED the ground she walked on, 4 AMAZING BEAUTIFUL kids, and so many who loved her. My therapist had told me to set a boundary and to stop taking her calls when she was drunk or high. So I did. I talked to her that Tuesday and told her she needed to stop calling if she didn’t want to get help. She kept calling me on the hour for the next few days txting me she needed help. I thought I was doing the right thing. Friday morning I woke up to the news she was gone. And I won’t ever forgive myself she needed me and I was more busy inserting boundaries than listening. Suicide is not a joke or a bid for attention.

    Reply  |  
  33. Rose Perovic

    You sound way much older and wiser than any 16 year old or were you 20 at the time this tragic day happened. My heart goes out to you, I feel your pain, I feel your guilt, I feel your thoughts and I understand. There was nothing you couod have done – don’t judge urself for that last night. Allow yourself to revover and give urslelf the gift of forgiveness

    Reply  |  
  34. Maggie

    THANK YOU for writing this. It is beautifully written and true to the core. I have been that friend. The friend who knew and didn’t say anything because “she would NEVER kill herself.” The friend who stood in stunned silence and then fell apart when, 7 days later, my best friend was dead. My hilarious, always-smiling, friends-with-everyone, more-like-a-sister BEST friend. Gone. And though that was over 7 years ago, I still wonder every single day what she’d be like if she were here. You’re a wonderful friend. And I’m so terribly sorry for your loss

    Reply  |  
  35. Lisa

    Thank you for posting this. You were a blessing to that mother and to your friend. As a mother, I would love for my child’s friend to come to me directly. By doing this you not only saved him during that time, but you were able to hear the rest of the story and understand. A story that his mom didn’t share everyday because she wanted people to love her child as much as she did (a good mom never wants her child judged) . It was a also a story your friend was ashamed to share and needed to know deep down that someone cared and knew his history, yet still loved him. ❤️

    Reply  |  
  36. Susan

    If available, contact your behavioral health, mental,health, or public health dept and ask if they know of a survivors’ group. Having people to talk to who are working through the same things you are and that helps.

    Reply  |  
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  38. Brittany

    I lost a friend twelve years ago to suicide. The last person I’d imagine. I’m not over it. I just can’t wrap my mind around it. I struggle with depression. He made ME feel better. Why didn’t he say anything?
    I go through cycles. I’m depressed for a while, then not… But this time, I feel like someone is literally chocking the life out of me. My friends all tell me to pray and trust Jesus. I have and do. But I still feel like this. What is wrong with me? I don’t remember the last time I felt normal…. I want the world to disappear.

    Reply  |  
    1. Claire Biggs

      Thank you so much for sharing part of your story with us.

      TWLOHA is not a 24-hour helpline, nor are we trained mental health professionals. TWLOHA hopes to serve as a bridge to help.

      If this is an emergency or if you need immediate help, please call and talk to someone at 1-800-273-TALK or reach out to the LifeLine Crisis Chat at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx“. We also have a list of local resources and support groups on our FIND HELP page. Please know that we also respond to every email we receive at info@twloha.com.

      Reply  |  
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  40. Roni Arnold

    So true.

    Reply  |