World's Oldest Fledgling

The blog of Stephanie Wardrop, Y A Author

what we lost with ned vizzini

on December 21, 2013

I’m at a loss to say anything eloquent or right about hearing about the death by suicide today of YA writer Ned Vizzini, but I’m going to attempt to say something anyway. I admire his work so much not just because he was a wonderful (YA) writer but because he talked about suicide and depression so honestly, so warmly, and even with such humor. And writing about depression, I have found, is almost as hard as living with it. This fact has been hammered home to me in the past few weeks as I try to write about what it is like to be a depressed, suicidal, or mentally ill young person, but I’m going to keep trying. Because somebody has to do it, and now one of the most eloquent voices on the subject has silenced himself.

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When I first heard the news I felt sorrow come over me like a wave, and that tingling started in the corner of my eyes and in my nostrils that means I’m about to cry. And then I felt something else: terror. His death reminded me of the thing we “recovering” depressed people can never quite forget – the best you can do, sometimes, is stay one or two steps ahead of the beast. And too often we fail to do that. I was reminded, again, that no matter how even-keeled, even (dare I say it) happy I feel now, depression is always lurking somewhere in the corner of my brain, threatening to take over. It’s an imperfect analogy but it must be a little like being in remission for cancer, or being an alcoholic and knowing that you’re always in recovery, that you never really “beat” alcoholism. Depression is like that, too.  Vizzini captured it so well in a line from his most famous work, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, when a character contemplates jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge: “There wasn’t anything to keep you from falling off, just your hands and your own will.” Sometimes your will just isn’t enough.  Sometimes your will fails.

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Which is why I understand, and want others to understand, what a lot of people won’t when they read the obituaries for Ned Vizzini. On the surface, he looked like he had it pretty good. Best selling, critically acclaimed novels, promising projects in the works. But the thing that’s so hard for the non-depressed to understand –  it’s what makes us depressives sound like a bunch of whiners who need a good butt kicking sometimes – is that our mental state often has nothing to do with the way things are objectively but how they seem to us. What looks like a spectacular win on the outside can feel like a crushing blow, or evidence that we’re just fooling the world into thinking we’re really smart or talented and eventually the world will figure out we’ve scammed them and get really pissed off at us (or maybe that’s just my own personal mental hell). This twisted view means the depressed person has to bear, in addition to a crippling depression, the shame of being depressed, of not knowing how good they have it or of not feeling sufficiently grateful. A line from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited struck me when I was a depressed teenager and when I recall it, it can still make me up crumple up like a Kleenex inside: “He was ashamed to be unhappy.” 

Better than Waugh, I think, Ned Vizzini captured that shame and managed to do it with such grace and honesty and humor. And as I said before, somebody needs to do that, especially now, especially for young people. According to Psych Central, “It is estimated that about 10 to 15 percent of children/teens are depressed at any given time. Research indicates that one of every four adolescents will have an episode of major depression during high school with the average age of onset being 14 years!” I’m going to keep trying to capture the experience of living with depression in my own work in progress, but I’ll never replace what Vizzini might have done had he lived to keep writing. I wish him peace wherever he is, wherever it is that we go after this life. I have to believe there is something more.

what i’m reading (as cosmic coincidence would have it):

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what i’m listening to:

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Next week I’ll wrap up my first year as a published writer here to offer my thanks to all who made it possible. 

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One response to “what we lost with ned vizzini

  1. Thanks for your comments; it really hit home. A few years ago I finally had the courage to tell my doctor that I have had suicidal thoughts for most of my life. I had counselors who knew, but never a medical doctor. She prescribed Prozac, and said that I would probably be on it for the rest of my life.
    The other day I heard Robin Roberts say that when she feels anxious, she’s getting caught up in the future. She tries to avoid worrying about the past or the future, but focuses her energy on the present. There’s so much magic in the present. Life is a gift. I know that. Intellectually I get it. But sometimes that little voice undermines my intentions to live a “happy” life and despair settles in. I liked what you said about just staying a couple steps ahead of the demon. This too shall pass, I tell myself. In the future, I want to embrace all of my emotions and share them, especially to the youth that need to know that they are not alone.
    thanks for this message.

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