Blog

Mar7
2014

Thank You, Ned Vizzini

By Ilana Jaffe

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.

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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.

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Comments (7)

  1. Addison

    I have been distraught and confused ever since I heard of Ned’s passing, and I couldn’t do anything but wonder why and feel betrayed. You have allowed me to perceive him as a human, when I should have all along. Thank you.

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  2. Paige Leger

    As someone who has been in remission from depression for a few years, I read about someone like Ned Vizzini and think, ‘How could this happen? He was a successful author, he had acknowledged his illness, he must have been receiving treatment. How could he just give up?’ Easy for me to think this way now. But when I stop and think back to my 25+ years of struggle with depression, and remember the darkest times, when taking every step felt like I was climbing a mountain, and I just didn’t know how much longer I could hold on, when I remember how helpless and hopeless I felt, I can at least relate to his decision to end it all.
    Now the question I ask myself is, “what can be done to stop this from happening?” To be in that much pain, too feel that alone, to have thoughts so dark that the weight is suffocating, is agony. And yet, there’s hope. I just want to somehow inject hope into everyone.
    Jamie posted about hope on March 5, and I believe that hope is key. I can trace the start of my journey with depression back to when I was around 16 years old. I didn’t realize it at the time, and there wasn’t any dramatic event to mark it. Just a general feeling of insecurity, aimlessness, worthlessness. Some might say that all teenagers go through that, it’s part of growing up. But I never outgrew it. The disease found a place in my psyche and took hold, and never left. I didn’t understand that I had depression, I just shoved it down, fought it, struggled to keep it under control. It kept seeping out. It dampened every event and decision in my life. It prevented me from experiencing life to the fullest. It blanketed everything in a fuzzy gray fog. It came on in cycles. The worst days I felt completely out of control. The best days everything seemed to be OK, even joyful occasionally.
    No body else knew what was going on inside me. I didn’t talk to anyone about it, because I didn’t understand it myself. I just figured this was how my life was going to be. I just kept going. I remember feeling very alone most of my life, like I didn’t belong, never at home with anyone, fearful, unacceptable. And I knew there was no logical basis for these feelings. I had friends and family that loved me. So I just shoved the feelings down and faked it.
    I don’t know if we’re allowed to talk about God, but I’m going to anyway. God is the most important part of my story. It is because of God that I was able to continue to have hope. It was God who showed me that all those negative thoughts and feelings I had were a lie. He gave me strength to keep on and overcome the darkness. And most importantly, He gave me a sense of belonging. My relationship with God was vital to my survival.
    When I was in my mid-30’s, a series of events took place in my life that led me into the deepest depression I had ever experienced. I thought about death daily. I guess I didn’t hide it very well, because a friend urged me to seek help. So, for the first time, at the age of 39, I went to see a psychologist and talk about my feelings. I was diagnosed with clinical depression, naturally, and soon after, I started taking medication to get the depression under control.
    Things definitely improved after that. But I still struggled. After going untreated for so long, it took a while to put my mental illness into complete remission. Several years in fact. 8 or 9 years. Now I feel like I can handle just about anything life throws at me. I’m not afraid or lonely or sad. I see things in bright colors instead of grays. I’m at peace with myself. My struggle has given me compassion and strength. I can sense others who are suffering and have a desire to help. I tend not to judge others too harshly, because I don’t know what they might be dealing with. In some ways depression has made me a better person, I think.
    So I guess what I’m really trying to say is, there is always hope. Don’t give up hope. Keep the hope alive. Life can be so much more than a disease. And there is so much help now. Don’t keep it to yourself. You are not alone. You do belong. You are so much more than you think you are. Life is worth it. Your life is worth the struggle.

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  3. Hope

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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  4. b.e. noll

    Ilana, thanks. I don’t know his books. I think I’ve heard of the movie. I loved what you have to say here. As I read “We have to stop fighting with who we are” I think of ordinary love by U2: “I can’t fight you anymore. It’s you I’m fighting for.” sometimes I have to fight for me…by fighting me. [healthily]
    Your whole last paragraph so resonates.
    We love stories. It isn’t a story worth reading if there isn’t struggle in it. Every story has struggle in it. We want to read “what happens NEXT”. Because …if the hero in this story can live through it. Can come out the other side a better person for/because of it. Than maybe …JUST maybe… I can too.
    Thanks, from someone who is still struggling. From someone who really wishes he could tear out some pages & have his story still make sense.

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  5. Diana Gutierrez

    Ilana Jaffe this is amazing, RIP NED VIZZINI <3

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  6. Anonymous

    Your words are beautiful and honest; I absolutely love your paragraph about our stories not being written in pencil. Thank you for sharing your heart.

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