It was the best of times, but, the worst of times too. It was 2004, and Ned Vizzini, at the age of 23, had just published his first novel, Be More Chill, to rave reviews. He had success and a signed two-book contract with his publisher—and he felt absolutely terrible.
He called the Suicide Hotline—and got put through to an overflow line because the number was busy. “They told me that what I was going through was a medical emergency and that I needed to go to a hospital. They offered to send an ambulance, but I didn’t want the ambulance waking up my mom. I lived a few blocks from New York Methodist Hospital.” Following the Hotline’s instructions, he left his house and walked directly to the Hospital’s Emergency Department.
“I was trying to write the second book in the contract,” Mr. Vizzini remembers, “and it was like a bad haircut. It started out full of promise but soon turned to dreck. I kept going forward with it, hoping that some grand design would reveal itself, the way you sit quietly in the barber’s chair waiting for the bad haircut to turn good, but it wasn’t happening.”
The stress started to impact him physically—he lost his appetite, so much so that even when he could eat, it would come right back up. He was losing weight and barely slept anymore, with his mind relentlessly spinning about his writing. Not only was his book not coming together, but he was falling apart.
“I knew I needed help. I reached out to a psychopharmacologist. He diagnosed me with unipolar depression and started me on medication, which really helped. In fact, it helped so much I decided that I didn’t need it anymore; I felt fine!” Mr. Vizzini laughs as he remembers. Without the medication, it didn’t take long for his upward trajectory to reverse course. He recalls the night he hit his lowest point. “I thought I had finally figured out how to fix my book—it was in the wrong tense! If I changed it from past tense to present tense, everything would fall into place. But there’s no ‘Find/Replace’ for tense in Microsoft Word. So I sat at the computer deleting and rewriting every verb. After five hours, I sat back and realized I was really crazy. I wasn’t in control of myself and I wanted to die. I didn’t know what to do.”
“As I sat in the waiting area, I really didn’t feel like I should be there. Around me were people bleeding, suffering, and then there was me. I felt like a failure, that my only problem was that I was weak and couldn’t get my act together. Before I knew it, I was assessed and placed in NYM’s inpatient adult psychiatric unit.
“I had no phone and no email. For the first time in years, I didn’t have any obligations. My psychiatrist, Nasser Sedaghatpour, M.D., said I was there to establish a baseline; that our work was to get me to a functional place. There was a very structured regimen on the floor, and in that structure I felt happier than I had in a long time. I was expected to take an active part in my recovery, and I showed up for it everyday. With my life stripped of everything but the absolute essentials I got my appetite back, and through individual and group counseling, medication management, therapeutic activities on the unit, sincere care from the people who worked there, and some very eye-opening conversations with my fellow patients, I made it.”
After five days on the unit, it was determined that Mr. Vizzini had reached a baseline. He was discharged back into the life he had left less than a week earlier, but this time, he was prepared with a new perspective and set of tools to work with. And he hasn’t looked back. Just days after his discharge, he began a new novel based on his experience at the Hospital and the months leading up to it. “This time, the book just flowed out of me. It was like the best possible haircut,” he laughs. He finished the book, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, a few months later and it was published the following year, in 2006, again to rave reviews. It’s Kind of a Funny Story was made into a movie starring Zach Galifianakis and Emma Roberts in 2010.
“Although it was a relatively short stay, my experience at NYM’s adult psychiatric unit had a profound effect on me. It sounds strange to say, and I am proud of myself for going there, but also proud of myself for not going back. My work with the doctors and staff, as well as the other patients on the unit, changed the direction of my life. Today, along with my writing career, I speak at schools about depression and stress management, and I tell my story to let kids know that they are not alone and that there are answers out there. New York Methodist Hospital was there for me during a very bleak moment in my life, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t walked through those doors that night.
Read more real life patient stories in the 2011 NYM Annual Report.