In December of 2013, author Ned Vizzini took his own life. It was a tragic passing for multiple reasons, and we know many of our supporters were affected by it. It’s been a few months since then, and though tributes to Ned are no longer making headlines, we know some of his fans may still be processing the loss of a writer who so honestly dealt with mental health in his life and work. So when a supporter reached out to us hoping to pen her thoughts on Ned and why his writing had so impacted her, we felt it was important to share it now. Even if you aren’t familiar with Ned or his books, you may be familiar with the pain and questions that follow when a public or inspirational figure dies by suicide. We hope the words below might encourage you that the story doesn’t have to end there.
Some books get stuck in our hearts the way some songs get stuck in our heads. For me, that book is It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by the late Ned Vizzini.
For those who are unfamiliar with this book (or the film adaptation), it tells the story of a teenage boy named Craig who suffers from depression. When the book begins, we are at a point in Craig’s life when he is feeling a lot of pressure from his ultra-competitive, highly academic high school. On top of that stress, Craig has stopped taking his medication because “it worked and he felt better.” But his depression again proves too strong to bear, and he checks himself into a psychiatric ward. The rest of the book takes place within its walls. The characters are one of a kind, and Craig’s inner monologue is, in my opinion, very relatable. This stands out to me even more knowing that some of the elements of the story were actually based off of Vizzini’s own week-long stay in a psych ward.
I love this book. I know it’s a bit dramatic to say a book changed your life, but it really did leave a huge impact on me. It also came into my life when my depression was at its worst. I had been having a tough time getting my medication right and spent a few days in a psych ward myself. Aside from the beautiful story Vizzini wrote, I was and still am inspired by his willingness to share something so personal with complete strangers; to open up about an experience I was so ashamed of having experienced myself.
Retrospectively, however, I can see now that I was a bit naïve when I first encountered It’s Kind of a Funny Story. I read this book, assuming that by turning such a struggle into literature, Vizzini was saying he was done with it; the struggle was gone. This gave me hope that one day I would be able to take all that I had faced and turn it into something—a book, or a poem, or a painting—and never be touched by it again.
As some of you may know, sadly, Ned Vizzini took his own life on December 19, 2013. Death is tragic in itself, but anyone who is familiar with this storyteller and loves him as much as I do can understand how upsetting his passing was. When I found out, I couldn’t help but ask myself a very silly, very rhetorical question: How could someone so inspirational be so … human?
If I’m completely honest, at first, I couldn’t help but feel a little abandoned. Not by Vizzini as a person; I didn’t know him. It would be selfish and ridiculous of me to say and feel such a thing. But it did feel a little like a superhero just told me the villain would win this time. In my head, I kept asking, “What? Why? After everything I’ve learned from you?”
Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I’m reminded that, even though he impacted me so deeply, Vizzini was still, well, a human being. And even though he had taken his mental illness and turned it into powerful literature, he was not impervious to hardship. None of us are. We can address our struggles and learn to live with them, but they may not fully disappear. I don’t mean this in an “Everything is always going to suck and be awful, so get used to it” kind of way. I mean it to say, rather, “What can we make out of all these broken pieces?”
How do we move forward from deaths like this, and how do we prevent them?
If there is one thing I have learned from Vizzini, it’s that struggles are not written in pencil. You can’t erase the past, and if you try to cross it out, it only looks worse. If you try to rip out the pages of your story that you don’t like, the book won’t make any sense.
We have to stop fighting with who we are—and who we aren’t—and learn to become friends with ourselves. What if we learned to love our own stories the way we love our favorite books? Love the pages that make us laugh, respect the chapters that make us cry. We don’t have to like them or look at them too often. We just have to value them enough to let them be as they are, and then keep writing. When we accept where we are and where we have been, maybe, someday, we can look back and say, “That really was kind of a funny story.”
Thank you, Ned Vizzini. It was an honor to learn from you.