Thank You, Ned Vizzini

I wish I could remember what led me to It’s Kind of a Funny Story. I desperately want to share the meet-cute origin story of my love affair with this novel, but I don’t recall it. But that doesn’t stop this book from being one of the most important reads in my life, and it didn’t stop me from feeling completely gutted, three years ago last month, when the writer ended his life.

Page 105 was when I knew I had found a kindred spirit in the book’s protagonist, Craig, as he talked to his psychiatrist about Cycling. For those of you who haven’t read it: no, he didn’t mean going for a bike ride. Cycling is the terrible process where one bad thought turns your brain into a wheel of negativity that keeps bringing the same thoughts around and around again, leaving you paralyzed. If the phrase had been around at the time, I would’ve been shouting “YAAASSS QUEEN” as I read.

Even though I’ve connected to many a character in my decades of reading, It’s Kind of a Funny Story felt like the first time I could point to a book and say “That’s literally me.” It didn’t matter that Craig was a white kid who lived in New York, while I was a black girl suffering through Texas summers. I certainly didn’t care that he was a semi-habitual pot smoker, while my motto was staunchly Hugs Not Drugs. The important thing was that Craig gave voice to the depressed, anxious thoughts I carried around in my head. Vizzini, through his main character, perfectly summed up a state of being that I hadn’t been able to describe to anyone in my life.

As I read, I wondered “How could this man who never met me so accurately describe my life?” I got my answer when I reached the last page: Ned Vizzini spent five days in a psychiatric hospital ward. He knew how I felt because he felt it, too. The fact that he could use these horrible, suffocating feelings to create something beautiful made me feel like maybe it was possible for me.

This belief holds true today, even knowing that Vizzini ultimately succumbed to his dark thoughts in December 2013. The news was heartbreaking, of course. I wanted Ned to be okay, because it would’ve meant I could be okay. Whose footsteps could I follow if he was gone? But as I try my best to honor him in the wake of his passing, I realize he can still be a positive influence. I can simply choose to follow the path I wish he’d taken. I know it won’t be easy, because these things never are, but I also know if I can pass on even the smallest perceptible fraction of the clarity and sense of belonging that he gave me, it will be worth it.

So today, I just want to say thank you, Ned Vizzini. I wish I’d gotten a chance to meet you in life, so I could’ve told you in person how much your work means to me. Whatever your intention when you started writing It’s Kind of a Funny Story, you truly changed me. In your memory, I promise that, at every turn, I will attempt to heed Craig’s final words: Live. Live. Live.

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