I write about this every year. I probably will for the rest of my life. That’s ok—if I lived to be a thousand, I couldn’t retell this story enough. How could I? To me, he was beyond all words, which is so ironic, because all he gave me were words.
I picked up It’s Kind of a Funny Story in, well… let’s see. I went to Moses Cone Behavioral Health in December 2008, and I first read It’s Kind of a Funny Story not one month later. So it was January 2009.
In those days—middle school days—I went to Barnes and Noble every week to pick out a new novel. That was my lifeline, the novel that I picked up on Friday, read it over the week, then packed it away on my bookshelf and picked up another the next Friday. It would go on endlessly.
It's Kind of a Funny Story was written by Ned Vizzini. He was a dork. The book is about a 15-year-old suffering from depression and overwhelmed with life. After calling a suicide hotline, he checks into a mental hospital, and it goes from there. It's based on Ned’s personal experience.
I cannot tell you how much I resonated with that book. It was like Ned pulled those thoughts and feelings right out of my head—from the stressors he calls “tentacles” to the unattainable girl he crushed on to the antidepressants to that hopeless feeling of just not being good enough—and he put them down on the page for everyone to read. For me to read.
Ned committed suicide on December 19, 2013, meaning that by the time this article goes live, it will have been exactly 3 years since his death. I remember when I learned of his death. I had just gotten home from school and hopped on Twitter, and I noticed that he was trending. I thought it was big news; maybe a new book. Instead, I sifted through those tweets, some somber, some shocked, some frustrated, all mournful.
Earlier, I had emailed him a series of questions for a school assignment. They were standard questions: tell me how you’re doing; do you have any tips for those suffering from depression; what gives you strength to get through the bad days; etc. He replied back the next day, which I thought was just so damn amazing, because Ned had a lot on his plate and he still took the time out of his day to write me back.
One of his answers will stick with me forever. When I asked him what his present self would say to his young self teetering on the edge of suicide, he replied with this:
“I would say, ‘The problems you are experiencing now are small. They only feel big because you are young. You can overcome any problem as long as you are able to find strength within yourself. Don't do it, man!’”
Just 29 days later, Ned was gone. At some point later, I realized I had the ability to touch people with my words like he touched me with his. Now, readers have been messaging me to tell me that they felt inspired by my articles, and I cannot possibly tell you how much joy that brings me. I hope that Ned would be proud.
Years later, in March 2016, I found myself back in Moses Cone Behavioral Health. It was Thursday night—karaoke night. In the movie adaption of It's Kind of a Funny Story, there is a karaoke scene where the protagonist, Craig, sings 'Under Pressure' by Queen and David Bowie. I thought it would be fitting if I also performed that song, so I went up there and sang it. I knew hardly any of the words but I sang from the heart, and when the song ended I yelled "this was for you, Ned!" and dropped the mic.
I was discharged two days later. Mom picked me up in her Highlander and I didn't necessarily feel 'better' but I did feel clearheaded, which was something. We pulled out of the parking lot and cruised down the road; I turned on the radio. Guess what was the very first song that came on?
I'm not a particularly religious guy. I try to be morally sound, but as far as a higher power goes, I am more confused than anything else. But if that wasn't a sign, I don't know what the hell was.
In It's Kind of a Funny Story, Ned writes of something called a Shift; this is when your depressed, misaligned brain, for whatever reason, falls back into place and opens up the door to recovery. Something like that happened when I heard that song. There was no immediate gratification accompanying this epiphany, but there was a Shift. And a deep rooted belief, buried under years of darkness, sprouted back through the ground: I will always be able to push through. In Ned's own words, you can overcome any problem as long as you are able to find strength within yourself. Even when mental illness twists and contorts my mind and my image of the world, that belief never quite gets snuffed out. I hope it never does; that's why Ned died.
But I don't think it ever will.