Bo Burnham released a new special on Netflix last Friday. Make Happy. I know that his brand of comedy is polarizing, but if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend stopping what you are doing and taking an hour to watch it. It is, simply put, incredible art.
Bo is undeniably honest and genuine throughout his entire performance. That may seem odd, considering how scripted the show is, but there is not a single moment that I felt that he was not being true to himself. His jokes were an extension of him, the material an example of his perspective on the world.
The structure of his jokes and the show as a whole felt like a look into his mind, allowing us to see how his thought process works, drawing parallels between things that most wouldn’t consider.
The final segment of the show is where Bo becomes extremely personal with the crowd, having an honest discussion with them, explaining why he does what he does and what he tries to be. These last 15 minutes resonated with me more than I could have imagined.
Putting It Out There
This post has been a long time coming. Not because I’ve been waiting for Make Happy., but Make Happy. has inspired me. It’s weird to think that an hour-long comedy show is what got me to this point, but in my mind, I don’t think anything else could have done it.
No, this post has been a lifetime in the making. That isn’t me being dramatic or abstract. My entire life has made me who I am at this very moment, sitting at my computer, carefully organizing my thoughts so that I can express them in the most effective way, because I don’t know that I can afford to screw this up.
I’ve told a few people this over the last few years. Some family, some friends. The reception, honestly, could have been better. I get it: people don’t know how to talk about this. It’s uncomfortable. We don’t know how to respond.
For the past 3 years and change, I have been suicidal.
Boom. It’s out there.
Quite frankly, I hate that it’s almost taboo to talk about. I think it’s silly.
But don’t take me making a joke after revealing that as this isn’t a serious matter. It’s beyond terrifying to have to deal with, but I am, fortunately, in a good state of mind right now, and we all deal with things differently. I, personally, love to make light of dark situations, especially my own.
Quick example: my dad was bitten by a tick recently. He went to the doctor, gave some blood to get tested and told us “They’re going to check to see if the tick was carrying.” Instinctively, I responded with “Like… guns?”
Now, back to the dark stuff.
How To Talk About It
I think this is probably the most important thing I can cover right now. I’ll get to explaining how I got to where I am in a bit, but if there is anything I want people to take away from this, it’s having at least a starting point for how to talk about suicide.
From here on out, I’m going to be speaking generally about people who are suicidal. Obviously, everyone has their own story, their own problems and their own ways of approaching them, so behaviors and preferences will vary. But from what I’ve come to learn through my experience and personal researching is what I’m going to share.
It takes courage to admit to anyone that you are suicidal. If someone is admitting this to you, you better believe that they have spent countless hours trying to work it out in their head, trying to figure out how to deal with it without having to be a “burden” to anyone else. Yes, we are afraid that we will be a burden to the people we tell. We don’t want to add to the list of things everyone else is already worrying about in their day-to-day life. We know everyone has problems, and we don’t want to be one of them.
Here are some tips for how to talk about suicide:
- If someone tells you they are suicidal, please, DO NOT dismiss what they are saying. Do not respond with “You’re having a stroke of bad luck” or “I have days where I just want everything to stop, too.” Dismissing what they are saying will make them instantly regret opening up to you and may make them doubt reaching out to anyone when they need help in the future.
- DO NOT assume you know what they are thinking or feeling. Unless you have battled with being suicidal (in which case, you probably don’t need this advice), you don’t know what is going through their head. Ask non-leading questions, encourage them to expand on their answers, be patient and allow them to say what they need to. Please, do not interrupt them.
- No, you will not “fix” them. There is nothing wrong with them that needs “fixing.”
- Ask them what they need. DO NOT assume you know what they need. Again, they probably have spent an unbelievable amount of time processing it and trying to find solutions for how to deal with it. For you to jump in with “the perfect solution” — even with the best of intentions — is insulting and belittling, and it won’t help.
- DO NOT make it about you. DO NOT guilt them into thinking about how devastated you would be if they did something to themselves. This moment is about them, not you. Suicide, contrary to popular belief, is not (always) selfish. Not in the eyes of the person committing it. Yes, some people are looking to escape the suffering they are dealing with. But there are also plenty of people who feel that they are causing the people around them to suffer, that they are a burden.
Following through is one of the most important things you can do for someone who is suicidal. It’s almost cliche for people to say “If you ever need anything, I’m always here for you” or “If you feel like you’re going to do something, please call me.”
Those things are great to be told. You feel like “Ok. I’m getting somewhere. Someone cares about me.”
If you are going to make that offer to someone, know that they are taking it very seriously. They may be hesitant to call you or talk to you again in the future, but if they do, you need to be there.
And I get it, people have lives. Sometimes you’re just not by the phone or there’s some reason you can’t pick up. But you need to remind yourself that if you see their name on your phone, that they might really need you. And while that might scare you at times, make you fear that this might be the call, remember that your fear of picking up is nothing compared to the fear they are calling you with.
Additionally, following through involves checking in. No one wants to open up about what they are dealing with, only to have no one check in about it and make them feel like no one actually cares. Calling and checking in helps the person dealing with being suicidal feel more open about their struggle, which helps alleviate the pain of dealing with it on their own.
I’ve dealt with anxiety my entire life. For me, it came with being introverted. I never did anything unless I was sure I could do it right. I’ve always been quiet because of this. I used to, and still do, run entire conversations in my head, thinking about every possible response to each thing I would say so I was fully prepared for a conversation, all before I even said a word.
So it’s always been hard making friends. It’s hard to live in the moment when you’re trying to plan out the next one.
Laughter is always directed at me. If someone laughs, unless I make a joke, I am the cause of laughter. So I reevaluate everything that just happened, try to figure out what I did wrong, and establish a list of things not to let happen again.
Yeah, I know this doesn’t make sense. It’s a frustrating and, quite honestly, exhausting way to live. But that’s how my brain works. It’s how a lot of introverts work.
About 3 and a half years ago, something big happened in my personal life. I’m not going to throw anyone under the bus, because I still care about them very deeply and we’ve reconciled.
But at the time, this happened and I was alone. I didn’t have anyone. I felt like I had pushed my friends away, I was at a college where, even in my junior year, I didn’t know too many people, and I didn’t know where to turn.
I spent a lot of time in my dorm room. No roommate. No friends in my townhouse. Just me. I spent a lot of time thinking about where I was in life and how I got there. The anxiety forced me to think about every single intersection in life and the turns that got me there. So I quickly became depressed. And once I became depressed, with no friends and so desperately wanting human connection, I became suicidal.
I never thought I’d get out of the rut I was in. Yes, I was suffering, but that wasn’t what I was trying to escape. In my mind, I was poison to everyone I ever came in contact with. People left my life because I wasn’t someone worth keeping in theirs. There was no reason for me to keep going if every person that came into my life would come to the same conclusion and leave because I wasn’t good for them.
3 years ago, I told someone that I had only known for a few weeks that I was suicidal. That was the first time I admitted it. The next time was not until a year and a half ago, to my parents.
I’ve told a number of friends and family members since, and the responses have been all over the spectrum. And this is why I know what advice I can offer to people who need to know how to talk about it.
I’ve admitted being suicidal in the heat of an argument, only to have it brushed aside and never acknowledged again.
I’ve admitted it during a deep heart-to-heart on several occasions, only to have those people never talk to me about it again. Never ask me how I’m doing. Never be there when I need them. Nothing.
And I don’t blame them. I can’t. It’s not who I am. I know that they have their own lives, their own problems they are dealing with. I won’t hold it against them, because I don’t want to be a burden. I’m not their responsibility.
If I’m going to be honest, part of it is also me not trusting some people. That’s not to say that they aren’t trustworthy. But when I get to the point where I need to call someone, sometimes I don’t because I’m afraid of what will happen if they don’t pick up.
I’ve had friends I’ve tried to get one-on-one time with so I can open up to them about this, but never get the chance. For months, I’ve so wanted to see certain people in my life to tell them all of this in person, but I haven’t been able to.
I’ve had friends who have been through this that I’ve called when I’ve needed help, but they don’t pick up. Or check in later to see what was up. These are people that used to call me when they were cutting themselves, or drinking with the intent of poisoning themselves. I was there for these people when they needed me, and they always said they wish they could return the favor.
So the anxiety and depression kick into overdrive and make everything worse, because if these people that I spent so much time helping and supporting can’t be there when I need it, am I really that significant in ANYONE’S life?
Words Are Hard, Even For Me
I’ve tried talking about it before. I’ve tried writing about it before. Writing’s easier for an introvert like me. Before I hit “Publish” on this post, I’ve reread it ten times, deleted large chunks, rewritten others, and I still won’t be happy once it’s out there.
But I’ve tried putting these thoughts out there. I was once told that I was completely wrong with how I was thinking about suicide. Imagine that: feeling suicidal and then being told that you don’t know what it’s like being suicidal. If that doesn’t screw with your head, I don’t know what will.
But I want it out there. Being suicidal, suffering from depression and anxiety, they’re all part of me. None of it is going away. They are my cancer. They will always be in me. I just need to learn to deal with them. I need to learn how to cope and not let them control me. But I will own them.
If You Are Suicidal
Please, reach out. Tell the people closest to you. Print out my advice if you think it will help and have them read it before you say a word. It will brace them for the subject and hopefully keep them from making any mistakes.
Talk to a professional. I was totally against it for the longest time, but having that positive consistency in your life is a good thing. Don’t feel obligated to stay with the first one. Keep trying until you find the right one for you. My first one was beyond terrible. But you’ll find one that you connect with and it will be worth the search.
I Want To Help
If you need help, ever; if you need someone to talk to, regardless of what time of day or night, I want to help. If you are a friend, you have my number. If you are a stranger on the internet, message the Facebook page for this blog, and I will do what I can.
No one is alone. No matter how much you think so.
So, the only question left is: what the hell does this have to do with Bo Burnham?
I live my life to be the best person I can be. Plain and simple. Call me jaded if you’d like, I’ll take that as a concession.
I had someone once very close to me say, “You’re so full of yourself. You act so genuine. People like you don’t exist.”
I have my morals and I live my life based on my beliefs. I went vegan because I want the best life for myself, for the world around me and for future generations. Veganism was the way for me to do that. I didn’t do it because I wanted to have something to hold over everyone else. I don’t think I’m better than anyone who isn’t vegan. I don’t put myself up on a pedestal. Being vegan has been an incredible test of self-control and determination. But I wanted to stop causing suffering and destroying my body and the environment. I want to live my life as consistently and contradiction-free as I can.
It’s a shame that person said that, because that person used to inspire me to be genuine. But like being suicidal, I am going to own being genuine.
At the end of Make Happy., Bo talks about how his biggest problem in life is his audience. He says “Part of me loves you. Part of me hates you. Part of me needs you. Part of me fears you.” He wants to please his audience, make them laugh and give them what they came for. But he wants to be true to himself, talk about things that are important to him. And he struggles with finding that balance.
Bo Burnham has resonated with me since I first came across him. He doesn’t shy away from involving serious topics in his shows. Being funny is who he is, but so is caring about people and society. His performances are genuine. They are him. He is living his life as himself.
And that is who I want to be. I want to be someone who lives life as himself. I want to talk about the issues of the world and not care that people will think I’m conceded or self-righteous, because I know that I am being genuine. I want to work towards my dreams of making a difference in the world and people be inspired instead of asking when I’m going to get a job or tell me I’m not aiming realistically.
I know who I am.
I am someone who wants to create art that will inspire the people around me to create further change.
I am someone who does not believe in God, but I believe in people. And as much as I love people for the beauty they create and the passion with which they live life, I hate people for how senseless and selfish they can be when destroying everything around them, especially each other.
I am someone who wants to help every single person that I can, regardless if I’ve known them my entire life or for just a moment.
I am someone who is struggling with the world around him just as much as he is with himself. I am terrified of everyone else and what they are capable of just as much as I am of myself.
But I am also someone who is inspired by the love I have seen people radiate and that I know I have been able to give. I am inspired because I know what it is like to live each day for myself and for someone else, and I want to experience that immeasurable level of joy again.
This has been a long time coming, but I know who I am, and I am alive.