Ned Vizzini, the author of It’s Kind of a Funny Story, committed suicide, losing his battle with clinical depression, in 2013. He would have been 38 years old today.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story is about 15-year-old Craig, who has depression and checks himself into a psychiatric ward following an overwhelming urge to commit suicide. The book is brilliant because of the subtle way it approaches the entire spectrum of issues that can plague a teenager.
Vizzini’s success lies in portraying that no matter how big or small our problems are, we can always find the strength to get back up after we fall. The book, which normalises hospitalisation for mental illnesses, was inspired by Vizzini’s own brief stay at a psychiatric ward for depression in 2004.
Vizzini began his writing career at 15, working for New York Press with an article published in the New York Times as well. He wrote candidly about teenage angst and common issues faced by his peers who were coming of age.
In It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Craig feels his life go off the centre in the aftermath of securing admission in a very exclusive and competitive high school, for which he studied extensively, completing tests after tests for the entrance exam.
During his stay in the hospital, Craig makes friends and is able to eat again without throwing up. He explains to his therapist, Dr Minerva that he does not feel constantly strangled by all the “tentacles”. Craig refers to studies, emails, homework, activity clubs and social life as tentacles which have the effect of suffocating him all the time. He discusses a way to deal with these tentacles with Dr Minerva, coming up with anchors which help him to stay afloat.
We, Vizzini’s readers, would like to think that Craig has a better life ahead of him and that upon gaining perspective from his hospital stay, he would be better equipped to deal with life's struggles. We would have hoped the same for the author, whom we lost to a mental illness. In that sense, It's Kind of a Funny Story is perhaps one of the most bitter instances of irony in the contemporary literary landscape.
It is safe to say that this book and his subsequent work surrounded an activism for mental health, which obviously had very personal roots.
Vizzini's suicide sheds light in a new way on the fact that we are so far removed from reaching the full functionality of the systems that deal with mental illnesses. It is truly frightening that those who battle with depression are able to do so in silence.
In answering why he became a writer in an interview, Vizzini had said that he took up writing to create something that would outlast his death. As his fan and someone deeply impacted by his work, I am glad that his dream came true.