Died From Mental Illness (CW: Suicide)
A Bipolar, A Schizophrenic, and a Podcast
“It’s called suicide, but it should be called death from mental illness. We don’t die from “cancer-cide”, as an example.”
Last summer, Michelle Hammer’s friend died by suicide. In this heartfelt and vulnerable episode, Michelle discusses her emotions about her friend, including her anger and confusion. Both hosts discuss why it would be better if people saw suicide for what it really is — death from mental illness.
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Nick Lopez and His Photography
Hosts of A Bipolar, A Schizophrenic, and a Podcast
Gabe Howard is a professional speaker, writer, and activist living with bipolar and anxiety disorders. Diagnosed in 2003, he has made it his mission to put a human face on mental illness.
He’s the author of Mental Illness is an Asshole and Other Observations and a popular podcast host. Learn more at gabehoward.com.
Michelle Hammer is a Schizophrenia Activist and spends her time passionately fighting stigma. She is an NYC native featured in the WebMD documentary Voices, which was nominated for a Tribeca X Award at the Tribeca Film Festival 2018.
Founded and run by Michelle, Schizophrenic.NYC is a clothing brand with the mission of reducing stigma by starting conversations about mental health.
Please Note: This transcript was computer generated. Please be mindful of errors. Thank you.
Announcer: So, what did the bipolar say to the schizophrenic? You’re in the right place to find out. . .
Gabe Howard: Welcome everyone, my name is Gabe Howard, and I live with bipolar disorder.
Michelle Hammer: I’m Michelle, and I’m schizophrenic. We want to shout out our sponsor, BetterHelp. Get 10% off your first month by going to BetterHelp.com/BSP22.
Gabe Howard: Michelle, I’m scared to be here with you today because we’re covering a pretty serious topic. We like to start these things out with a joke, but try as we might in our planning sessions, we just, we just didn’t really think it would be appropriate. Over the summer, Michelle lost someone to suicide, and Michelle wants to cover it. She wants to talk about it not only for her own sake and her own emotions, but to prevent this from happening to other people. I guess I want to disclaimer this that we’re just not super sure how to cover this, except in true A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast fashion, which is to wing it.
Michelle Hammer: Yeah, it really is to wing it, I never thought that I’d be talking about a friend of mine who died by suicide. I have friends that are mentally ill, but we’re all taking our meds. We all hang out together, we’re all working through life together. And I never thought my friend Nick, I never thought that this is how he would just leave the Earth. I never thought that he would do this. Nick, he was dramatic. He would block me on Facebook. He would block me on Instagram. But then a week later, he’d unblock me. We’d be friends. But this to me, it’s like the ultimate block that he did to me. Like, he just blocked me forever now, and that just annoys me so much. I understand, yeah, he died by suicide. That was his choice. That’s what he wanted to do, I suppose. And that’s how he wanted to end his life. And I shouldn’t be selfish saying, Oh, he blocked me, but that’s what I feel like, and I know there’s different stages of grief. Sadness, acceptance, and I’m just in that frustration, anger stage. I’m still so mad at him for doing this, because why would he not call me for some kind of help? That’s what’s so frustrating about this whole thing, and it just makes me so upset to even talk about because I’m just so mad at him about this.
Gabe Howard: It’s interesting that you’ve internalized it so much. Like, as you’re explaining it, you’re saying, why did he do this to me? Why didn’t he call me? I could have helped. You’re really approaching this from your perspective, and there’s no judgment in that. It’s impacted you. It’s impacted you. But do you see where it involves so many other people, including, of course, your friend?
Michelle Hammer: Yeah, I understand that. The last time I saw him was on a Sunday, it was July 11th and I was going home. I went to the train and the M train just shows up. The doors open and there he is on the train and I go on the train, I see him. I’m like, What’s going on? I put on my TikTok and we start watching all of those pimple popping bursting videos and he’s like, Oh, what are you watching? What are you watching? And I’m like, Oh, Nick. Watch this, Watch this. And he’s like, Oh, turn it off, turn it off. And then we’re on the train. You know, people are usually quiet on the train. But for one of them, we both go, Oh God, and everyone on the train looked at us and he’s like, We’re at your stop. Get off the train, get off the train. And I’m like, All right, bye, Nick, bye. And that’s the last time I saw him. A week later, I found out he was dead.
Gabe Howard: And how did you come to know this; how did you find out?
Michelle Hammer: Well, he went missing and I got an email from his mother through my website because I guess he speaks to his mom about me saying, like, Do you know where Nick is? He’s been missing. I talked to his ex-boyfriend. They haven’t seen him since. Do you know where he is? So I went all this whole like, you know, social media kind of thing like, has anyone seen Nick Lopez? Here’s a picture of him. Me and his best friend, Tony went to his building. We called the cops. They gave us the runaround. Oh, we can’t check the tapes. We don’t want to go up to his room. And then eventually, like they go upstairs, they see like, Oh, he did leave his medicine at home. And they’re like, he has not a lot of clothes in his closet. Maybe he’s at a friend’s. Like, No, he doesn’t have a lot of clothes in his closet because he gained a lot of weight and he doesn’t like to buy big clothes. He keeps thinking he’s always going to lose weight. They just kept giving us the runaround. Oh, he could just be at a friend’s place, you know, you don’t know where he is. And then we found out a week later we found out he was dead because his ex-boyfriend was going through the city morgue of John Doe’s and recognized him, then called his mother and his mother called me and said, You don’t have to make any more fliers for him. We found out that he’s dead. And it was like, what?
Gabe Howard: What did you do?
Michelle Hammer: When I found that he was dead? I burst into tears.
Gabe Howard: It’s interesting because you tried to move past that, even as you’re telling the story, you’re just like, Oh, well, then I took down the but you burst into tears. Why did you want to leave that part of the story out?
Michelle Hammer: That I burst into tears?
Gabe Howard: Yes.
Michelle Hammer: Because there is nothing I can do. He was already gone. There’s nothing I can do. And what we found out is that people on Governors Island saw a body floating in the river. That’s what happened. And then I know for a fact he definitely did get on that Astoria ferry and jump off the ferry, and I’m not sure if he was actually trying to die or if he was pulling a stunt. He might have been trying to swim to Governors Island, but you jump off that ferry, that water, that East River is pretty rough water and it’s really cold. So if he wasn’t trying to die, he just did not survive that swim.
Gabe Howard: Does that matter? Does it matter if he wasn’t trying? Is this a relevant point for you?
Michelle Hammer: I don’t know. I just don’t know why he would. Why is he doing that? And I found out that that day from my friend Zach. Nick texted him that day around five o’clock, but Zach is a hairdresser and doesn’t have his phone on him, so he didn’t see the text until 11 o’clock at night. And when I found out he texted Zach, I was so offended. Why would he not text me? Why is he texting Zach? He’s knew Zach for like three months, but he knew me for years. Why didn’t he text me? I would have been the one to immediately come over. I was always the one to immediately come over. I was the one always there. But he texts Zach and not me? That makes me so angry.
Gabe Howard: What about that makes you angry?
Michelle Hammer: Because I’m a better friend to him than Zach. I’m more available than Zach. Why would he choose Zach? And it’s not fair that he would take Zach and not me. I would have gotten that text at five o’clock, and maybe I could have done something. Maybe it could have ended differently, but that’s not what happened. He jumps off a ferry. He could have said, Will you ride the ferry with me? But he didn’t. It’s not fair.
Gabe Howard: I think we can all agree that death is just not fair. Talking about this is really difficult because all I really want to do is like hug Michelle and agree with her. I just I don’t think it would be much of a podcast with Gabe and Michelle crying and holding each other. So it’s a very difficult episode. And I commend you, Michelle, for wanting to talk about it at all because I’m a, I’m a very internal person and I would have just sat in the corner and cried so.
Michelle Hammer: Yeah, I just I just feel like he just blocked me forever now he just one of his things like I’m having trouble processing because sometimes I feel like, Oh, he’s just blocked me and he’ll unblock me soon. It’s hard for me to comprehend that he’s really not coming back. And he was always that kind of guy. He always, like, built himself up. Like, you’d be like, Oh, I work at a really fancy law firm. It’s really nice. He’s really fancy, Oh, what do you do there? Hand out the mail, you know? Ok, Nico? Sure. Fine, fine, fine. Fine. Oh, I also called him Nico sometimes, but he was becoming a photographer. He was going to school for photography. He loved what he was doing. He was taking amazing pictures. He took lots of pictures of me and I used them a lot for my promotion. And when I look at them, I’m like, I love these photos. Oh, I want to do another photoshoot. Oh, wait, I can’t do another photoshoot. I still have to like, remind myself, you know, Nick’s gone, he’s gone. But sometimes I can’t remember that he actually is gone because he doesn’t feel gone. It’s just so hard for me to process sometimes.
Gabe Howard: It seems to me that the way that you’re processing it for the moment is anger, and like you said, the stages of grief, anger is a is a stop off. Is there anything that anybody can do for you, Michelle, to help you get to the other levels of grief? Or do you just feel like time? You just need more time? Because it’s certainly OK to be angry. During the planning for this and all of our meetings and everything you just kept saying over and over again, how am I supposed to feel? How am I supposed to feel? Like you were asking, like you really legitimately wanted somebody to tell you how to feel because you’re just so uncomfortable being angry. I think it’s probably OK to be angry.
Michelle Hammer: When you hear about a suicide, when you watch it on TV, people are so sad about it, but I don’t feel sadness. I feel frustration. I feel anger. It’s less sad. It’s why did you do this? Why did you do this? I have a lot of self-reflection. You know, I tried to die by suicide so many times, and now this happens and I’m like, was I going to put people through what I’m going through?
Gabe Howard: Yes,
Michelle Hammer: And it kind of like,
Gabe Howard: Yes.
Michelle Hammer: It’s like opening my eyes completely.
Gabe Howard: You and I almost did this to the people around us.
Michelle Hammer: And now I see, I see it from the completely opposite perspective, and I’m like, this is terrible, like his mother was texting me is, his best friend, Tony, was texting me. Tony is still having a really, really bad time. There was no real closure. Nobody had any closure. There was no memorial. His body got shipped to New Mexico. We never had a funeral. We never did anything like that. It was just like, he’s gone and he’s gone. That’s what happened. Nothing else happened. Just gone.
Gabe Howard: Why was there no memorial service?
Michelle Hammer: It was during COVID and his mom just wanted him and all of his stuff shipped to New Mexico, and right after he was found dead, she didn’t want to text any of us anymore.
Gabe Howard: Michelle, if there was a memorial service and you were tasked to give the eulogy, what would you say?
Michelle Hammer: I would say Nick was a good friend. He was there when you needed him, he was there when you were trying to have fun. He liked being around people. He loved photography. It was his passion. It made him happy. It made other people happy. He always brought joy. He was always looking out for everyone. And he was there for you when you needed him. I don’t know if that’s a good eulogy. I don’t know what I would say, honestly.
Gabe Howard: I think it’s a beautiful eulogy. It’s everything that you loved about your friend. And you would probably end, I know you, Michelle, you would end with how much you miss him.
Michelle Hammer: Yes, yes, like he was studying photography, and he would always send me the photos and stuff, and I would like show him some tricks in like editing and color and things like that, and he like, loved it. And I would show him video stuff. He made a video and I was one of the actors in the video, and he loved that video so much. He would play it all the time and he’d be like, I’m going to be a director, I’m going to make you a star. And I was like, All right, sure. Sure. Yeah, let’s do that right?
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back discussing suicidality. You and I were somewhat similar, in that whenever we’re really, really sad, it manifests itself as anger. You and I got angry at each other because we were sad at how things were going. We felt disrespected, we felt annoyed. We felt like our friendship was on the line. And rather than just be honest with those emotions, we just started screaming at each other. Longtime listeners of the show, they know this. They heard it on the show. Do you think that’s what’s going on here? You keep saying that you’re angry, angry, angry, angry, angry. But are you really sad?
Michelle Hammer: Yeah, I don’t think that I show sadness in the right way. I think when I’m sad, it comes out as anger and it comes out as frustration. I don’t think I show sadness in actual crying all the time. That’s how I really kind of express myself. And in this situation, just the fact, like I said before they called the ex-boyfriend, why didn’t you call me? You text Zach, why don’t you text me? These little things are just so frustrating. And even when we went there with the cops and they’re giving us the runaround that he’s probably at a friend’s house, he was already dead. He was already dead at that point, and they’re trying to give us the runaround that he’s fine. When he was already dead and the last thing I did with him was watch pimple busting videos on TikTok, on the subway, which was, I think, is a pretty good last thing to do together, having fun on the subway.
Gabe Howard: I completely agree. I was getting ready to jump in and say, no, the last thing you did was laugh with your friend. That’s your memory that you both had fun together. Suicide is just one of those things that’s just it’s marred in problems. First off, it’s called suicide, right? And it’s actually death by mental illness. We don’t have cancer-cide, for example. You know, if my grandfather dies of cancer, he just died fighting an illness that he succumbed to, and we even say things like fight cancer. It sounds like your friend struggled a lot with mental illness and ultimately, he succumbed to his illness. And that has a very different vibe than he committed suicide. He left me. Why didn’t he call? And I, I understand why you’re framing it that way. But if you scooch over to the left and you say he fought his mental illness and ultimately, he succumbed to it, that has a very, very different vibe. And I know you talk about why didn’t he call? Why didn’t he do this? But I’m reminded Michelle of 8,000 lacrosse stories that I had to sit through from you.
Gabe Howard: I know nothing about lacrosse, but one of the things that you always said that pissed you off is that you would do something and then somebody would watch game tape. Somebody would discuss it. Somebody who had had 18 different angles. Watch it in slow motion. Look at the drone cam and they’re like, Whoa, Michelle, you know, if you would have cocked your head to the left and moved your stick at a 30 degree angle and pivoted your right foot, you would have caught it. And you’re like, Look, it took you 15 minutes to figure that out with 35 different camera angles. I had to make a decision in a split second. It’s a woulda, shoulda, coulda. You don’t know what would have happened, and you don’t know what choices he was up against.
Michelle Hammer: I don’t think I’m looking at it from a different perspective. I’m just looking at it as why did he think this was a good idea? What was going on in his mind to think this is the best idea? What was his real intention? Like, was he trying to die or was he trying to swim to Governors Island? Was he trying to pull a stunt because he didn’t leave a note?
Gabe Howard: Notes are not as common as people think they are, and also suicidality has a very in the moment feeling.
Michelle Hammer: That’s true.
Gabe Howard: And as somebody who lives with bipolar disorder and as both of us have experienced psychosis, sometimes our brains don’t work the way they want them to. For example, let’s say that he was trying to pull a stunt. That’s definitely a symptom of mental illness, right? Thinking that you can do something so difficult and so improbable. I still think that’s death by mental illness because you’d have to be severely compromised to think that something like that would be a good idea. And you’ve described his impulsivity before. I still think it’s part and parcel of the same thing.
Michelle Hammer: Yes.
Gabe Howard: I think that unfortunately, severe and persistent mental illness, psychosis, depression, mania, it wrecks our ability to make good decisions.
Michelle Hammer: Yes, he was. He was severely bipolar and he was always trying new medications. Oh, I’m on this now, oh, I’m on this now. I’m on this now. Ok, well, now I want to go off of this and off of this and off of this and just be on this. Every time I saw him, it was either a new medication he’s on or he’s going off another medication. He was always switching medications. Who knows really what was going on, what he was taking at that certain time? It changed all the time.
Gabe Howard: Michelle, we get criticism you and I for talking about suicide. We get criticism for joking about suicide. We get criticism for discussing it. We have people telling us that we’re triggering people that were hurting people. And that open discussion is somehow bad, which is odd because every meme on Facebook is like, you need to discuss mental health openly and unabashedly and be brave and aww. And then the minute we do it, people tell us we’re doing it wrong.
Michelle Hammer: I mean, I’m wearing a shirt right now that says I’m mentally ill and I don’t kill. Can I possibly be talking about mental health more?
Gabe Howard: I don’t know that you can talk about mental health more, but even people criticize that shirt. Why does she got to be negative? Why you got to go in that direction? Why do you have to associate violence with mental illness? And, and it’s.
Michelle Hammer: It’s because that’s what the media does. You always hear in the media, this person with a mental illness shot up a whole bunch of people or ran around with an ax or naked running. Who knows? Who knows? You always hear that in the media. You never hear about that person with schizophrenia, woke up in the morning, had some coffee, went to work, met up with friends, came home, had some dinner, watched TV, went to bed. That doesn’t make the news.
Gabe Howard: We’ve gone over this before, Michelle. It’s because crisis in mental illness is public, and wellness is super super private. Listen, talking about suicide prevents it. Hard stop, hard stop. It does not cause it, it prevents it. If you suspect somebody is suicidal, talk to them about it. Don’t ask them if they’re OK. Just say, Are you going to kill yourself? And if they say yes, call 9-1-1, get them help immediately. Take them to the hospital. Don’t leave their side until you get them help. But listen, hoping that it all works out? It doesn’t. More often than not, the person already believes that nobody cares about them, and the fact that nobody is addressing the thing that is eating them up inside. I mean, suicide. It just consumes you. And nobody around you notices it. That’s how I felt. I had this thing that was consuming me inside and nobody around me noticed.
Gabe Howard: It was literally eating me from the inside. Michelle, I don’t know about you, and I don’t want to put words in, into your mouth. But when I was suicidal, it was all consuming, it was all I could think about. And nobody around me noticed. They didn’t care. They didn’t. That’s how it seemed to me. After I was committed to the psychiatric hospital and after I got out, people were just, just in droves, like, Oh, we thought something was wrong, but we didn’t want to give you the idea. We didn’t want to make it worse. We didn’t want to hurt you any further. Are you kidding? The only message that your silence conveyed to me is that you didn’t give a shit. It made it worse. Sincerely. If you think somebody is in trouble, please, please talk to them, please. And if you are in trouble, please reach out. Call 9-1-1. Call the suicide hotline. Text the crisis text line. We’ll give you all those numbers at the end. Just please. You are so important. You’ve heard Michelle. You hear how it has impacted her and listen, Michelle is one of the toughest people I know.
Michelle Hammer: I am, I am a tough person, but I do get upset and I was suicidal for many, many years and I used to get suicidal thoughts, but I always had in my head as long as I don’t think they’re a good idea, I’m OK. Which I realize now was just how I dealt with it, but still wasn’t the greatest thing. But that’s how I dealt. As long as I don’t think suicide is a good idea, it’s OK. But yet I was suicidal. Every single day. I thought about killing myself every single day. I did have great friends. I made sure that I surrounded myself with my support team. But I know that the thoughts in my head just seemed like a bad idea. And having someone in my life that I was even close to actually hurt themselves, kill themselves, die by suicide is just something I thought I’d never really experience. And it almost kind of came like full circle with me, like actually experiencing a suicide makes me completely not suicidal anymore. And I kind of just saw that going like, Whoa.
Gabe Howard: We absolutely must have hope. If you are feeling suicidal, please talk to someone, ask for help. Call the hotlines. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. The crisis text line just text HOME to 741741. Do something. If the first person you talk to isn’t helpful, talk to somebody else. Don’t be afraid to call 9-1-1. Don’t be afraid to talk to a teacher, a friend, a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a buddy, a coworker. Hell, grab a stranger on the street. More and more people know what to do for mental health crises and will be willing to help. But please keep these numbers in mind. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 And the crisis text line just text HOME 741741.
Michelle Hammer: Just don’t do anything today that will make you not be here tomorrow.
Gabe Howard: You’ve been listening to A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please subscribe or follow. Look, it’s free, it’s free. Do us a favor and tell someone about the show. Word of mouth, social media, text messages. Just please recommend the show to a friend. It really, really helps. If you are interested in my book, “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” just go to gabehoward.com and you can get a signed copy with free show swag.
Michelle Hammer: If you’re interested in the first clothing line started by a schizophrenic chick, go to my online store at Schizophrenic.NYC.
Gabe Howard: Michelle and I both travel nationally as speakers, find out more information on our respective websites. And you want to support the show and save 10% on your first month of online therapy? Check out BetterHelp by going to BetterHelp.com/BSP22. They sponsor the show, they are the reason we are here. We will see everyone next week.
Michelle Hammer: You are important!
Announcer: You’ve been listening to A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast, Season 2. Previous episodes can be found on your favorite podcast player or by visiting ThisEmotionalLife.org/BSP. Have comments or show ideas? Hit up the show at BSP@ThisEmotionalLife.org. Gabe and Michelle are not medical professionals. This podcast is not a substitute for medical advice and is for entertainment purposes only. If you need help, please call your doctor, emergency services, the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741. Thank you for listening.