It is true, and sadly coincidental, that my essay "Downbound Train" was published by NAILED magazine on the day Robin Williams committed suicide. It is also true that my relationship to suicide and suicidal ideation is sporadic at best, and my understanding of why it happens, and when, is as surface level as most of us. The death of Robin Williams, who I loved, was a reminder though, that suicide does not discriminate and that being successful, as loaded a word as that is, does not forestall the darkness, fatigue, depression, despondency, anger or abuse, substance and otherwise, that can underlie the act of suicide and the idea that it feels like the best option available when nothing else seems to work. I am also reminded of my most recent bout of darkness and confusion, how I didn't know what I was feeling and that I found some clarity in Episode 238 of the always terrific Other People podcast, wherein the host Brad Listi talked to Jennifer Michael Hecht about the death of Listi's friend and fellow writer Ned Vizzini and Hecht's book Stay: A History of Suicide and the Arguments Against It, which led to my writing "Downbound Train," and which you can read here at NAILED. I've also shared an excerpt below. I hope that for any of you who may be struggling with trying to make sense of why these things happen you will read this piece and it will help, but that you will also listen to Episode 238 of Other People with Brad Listi here and gain some insight as I did. For those of you struggling with suicidal thoughts I hope you will reach out to someone who cares about you or if needed, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also reach out to me. Any time. If it helps. Truly.
"'You never think about death?” my now wife, then girlfriend, Debbie asked me shortly after we first met.
“'No, why would I?” I replied.
“'Because you’re worried about what the world will look like without you in it and whether anyone
will notice you’re gone regardless?” she said.
“'No, sorry, never,” I said.
"And I meant it.
"What does it feel like before you step off of a ledge? What is that moment like? Do you teeter or plunge? Is it a culmination of steps, moments of constant despair and pain leading to that moment? Or is it impulsive, sudden and volatile, grabbed with ferocity? What does it sound like after that step? Do you feel the wind in your face? Do you wonder if in fact you can float, or fly?
I thought about all of this when the author Ned Vizzini leapt to his death while home visiting his family on the East Coast, a place that was ostensibly safe for him, a harbor, but in this case, and at this time, was not. Was it easier for him to jump while visiting a place he knew and had roots in? And was it easier for him to know that his wife and child wouldn’t have to find him because they were home on the West Coast? That it would all happen at a distance, thus not quite as real for them? Removing the ongoing reminders that it happened where they live, even while being no less jolting, or painful. Can the victim of suicide even clearly think through these things? Is it possible that this may be the only moment they feel they’ve been able to clearly think in some time? Or is this kind of thinking only available to those left behind?
"I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, and I didn’t know Ned Vizzini. I also don’t know how often he thought about his death, or whether the possibility of it seemed like a gift. Not an end to life, but an end to what seemed impossible to him, living how he was living and had been for so long. But I did listen to an interview with him not so long before he died, where he joked about death constantly, and I wondered later, whether that was his way of coping, and distancing himself from his past attempts at suicide, or whether these comments were the seedlings of what was to come.
"I don’t know suicide either, not the hold that the idea of it must have on your brain once it clenches, or at least I didn’t until Ned Vizzini took his life, and I had to re-order my thinking about all of that."