Brock Wilburis a suicide attempt survivor.
"I Survived a Suicide Attempt."
When I was 21, entering my last weeks of college, my marriage fell apart. I was set to get married to my high school sweetheart. We’d been together for four-plus years.
One night she came to me, about four weeks before the wedding date, and said, “Just want to let you know, I know we’ve never discussed it, but every night when you go to sleep, I battle vampires and demons on an ethereal plane.”
I said, “Oh, no,” and then called off the wedding because she was clearly crazy and had kept it from me for a very long time and I thought that was interesting.
I was in the film production group as my major and, as I was working on stuff, I threw myself into the work to ignore everything else that was happening. I wound up working in a sound editing booth for about two weeks without sleeping which, at the time, I thought was a great idea. Until I came home one night and there was an angel in my apartment. You know it’s an angel because it’s an angel. You just know when you see.
My best friend was on a flight back from France, and the angel told me that if I did not kill myself, my friend’s plane would crash. I wasn’t particularly sad but, in retrospect, I wish I’d left a note or something. The idea that I would’ve died there and then been found—the ex-girlfriend would’ve gotten all the credit for it, and it really had nothing to do with her.
I slit both of my wrists and I took about a hundred painkillers and various pills around the apartment and washed them down with a bottle of wine. When morning rolled around, I was still alive. Because I’m a 6’7″ Viking who can’t be killed.
I drove myself to the hospital and they were like, “We don’t understand why you’re alive.”
I was like, “I know, right?”
Got things patched up and stuff and my friend got back to town. He actually came and saw me. I told him the story and he had a weird kind of breakdown.
I was like, “What’s that about?”
He was like, “My flight took off and we were in the air and, for about thirty minutes to an hour, it just seemed like we were going to fall out of the sky. We just had terrible turbulence all the way.”
About the same time that I slit my wrists back in the US, his plane suddenly hit smooth sailing and they had that for the rest of the flight. He thought they were going to crash and it just suddenly stopped. There was a weird kind of, “Oh, maybe, there’s something to that,” thing for a while, which was perhaps the worst part of the entire experience—to be kind of agnostic about things and then feel like maybe you did see an angel, or that God knows who you are and wants you dead. That’s a complicated relationship to enter your twenties and religion with.
Des: Okay. What do I do with that? What do I do with angels?
Brock: I have no idea. That’s an excellent question. “What do I do with angels?” You be really weird at Christmases from now on when you see the top of the tree.
Des: When you went to the hospital, what happened? How did that work?
Brock: They weren’t big fans of the story. They didn’t like what they heard. They kept asking if I was on any sort of medication that I was forgetting to tell them about and that wasn’t the case. A nurse just kept coming in and berating me because I’d tried to kill myself and clearly that was a stupid thing to do.
I was like, “No, I know! I’m not sad. I didn’t really want to do this. It just kind of happened. I don’t know. I was just being a good pal. I know you don’t see it that way.”
Des: That sounds like psychosis of some sort. They didn’t do anything about that?
Brock: I haven’t had any other problems with it. I’d never had any other issues like that before. I’m not on any medication.
Des: Lack of sleep can induce [psychosis].
Brock: Sure, yeah. I think that’s what it came down to being, very clearly. Like, “Oh, you didn’t sleep and this happened. There’s your answer right there.”
I was like, “So, naps? Prescribe me some naps. We can do that.”
Des: You’ve never felt any suicidal feelings aside from that?
Brock: I was really depressed in high school and, actually, I thought about trying to kill myself a lot in grade school. But by the time I got off to college and sort of made my way out into the world and stuff, there was so much to do and so much to be excited about that I think I kind of grew out of that, and I certainly haven’t been that sad about anything since.
Des: Why did you decide to tell you story?
Brock: …I think suicide is the kind of thing that more people should talk about. It’s one of those things that doesn’t deserve to be ignored, but it is. I think, from that, from being open about my experience with it, I have a lot of friends now that, when they come to a place where they’re considering suicide, they come to me—which is a weird place to be sometimes.
I had a friend who, a few weeks ago, announced on Twitter that she was going to kill herself at midnight and asked me to come find the body. Publicly.
I was in a show at the time and all of a sudden I started getting a bunch of text message and phone calls and I was like, “What’s going on?”
They’re like, “You’ve got to go stop that.”
I wrote to her and I was like, “Hey, before you go, do you want to get one last drink?”
She was like, “Sure, let’s meet at the bar at nine, and then I’ll kill myself.”
Then she told Twitter that we were doing that, which was a strange amount of pressure to have on you—everyone that knows this girl knows that her surviving depends on how fun your drinking buddy conversation will be that night.
I was like, “Boy, there was no episode of Cheers about this!”
I asked her later why she wanted to get a drink with me and why she wanted me to come over, and she was like, “Well, I know you, and I know you would tell me the truth about whether or not it’s okay if I kill myself…”
We talked about things that night and I was like, “You know, you’ve got x, y, and z, that have gone very badly and are not getting any better, and I understand where the thing comes from, but at the same time, it would be a shame to lose you.” It was interesting to have a very honest conversation in that moment, to be like, “Well, let’s make that pros and cons list about what’s going to happen here. I know it’s not going to change your mind either way.”
It was an interesting way to leave the night because I didn’t know if she was going to kill herself or not. We just sort of shook hands at the bar and I was like, “Well, this might be the end of a friendship and thank you for it, and I hope you don’t, and have a fun night if not!”
So, it worked out better than it could have, I suppose.
Des: I thought this wasn’t going to be funny.
Brock: Is it being funny?
Des: It is kind of being funny.
Brock: Oh no!
Des: Your story is interesting, because you said you didn’t want to die.
Des: And that’s different from… all the stories I hear.
Brock: I feel like there were so many years of my life that I wanted to die that I have both parts of the experience (ed. note: wanting to die and attempting to die), but they just didn’t happen to connect with [each other]. I think there were times when I was very sad about things, but there was never a time that I thought, “Damn the consequences and anything that happens to anyone.” And then there was a situation that I thought I was in where I was saving my friend’s life, and then that became a very easy choice for me—so easy that I didn’t stop to ask myself or anyone else, “Can you also see the angel that is… Umm?” There’s five minutes of step-back that could have prevented that from happening, but I… Yeah.
Des: The angel.
Des: Tell me about why comedy is so lonely.
Brock: Comedy on the road is a tricky thing, because you’re essentially doing thirty minutes to an hour of work each day. You’re in a new city and you may be staying in a hotel room that’s just a hotel room that they set aside for comedians. It’s never like fun, big cities. It’s always Marshalltown, Iowa, or somewhere that’s got a big truck stop or something like that, and then you just have a whole day with nothing to do and so you drink. You drink in the day, you drink at the show, you drink after the show when you’re meeting people. Then you drive somewhere else the next day and that’s rough.
When you’re in a city doing comedy full-time, like how people do in LA, it’s a lot of going to open mics and things where you’ll sit and wait for three hours to do three minutes of material. In that time, you don’t have anything else to do but drink and look at your notebook and hope your three minutes are really good. Then you go up and the audience is made up of all comedians who are there to work on their own stuff and aren’t giving you any sort of feedback as to what’s happening, so it’s roughly the same experience as performing the material into a mirror at home, except everyone in the mirror is ignoring you, too. It’s a very solitary kind of thing, and I think a lot of people who are solitary in nature are drawn to comedy in a strange way that a lot of other performance arts don’t have. You can be the kind of person who doesn’t want to speak in front of people and doesn’t want to be out there, but there’s still some part of you that wants to have some sort of recognition of your ideas or your thoughts, so there’s a way you can go out each night and, for three minutes, everyone in the room has to listen to you. There are some people who really need that in their lives, and what they get from it is a much longer solitary experience leading up to it or, again, it’s just a really great excuse to be drunk a lot.
Des: Do you think there is a way to help comedians, specifically, in terms of mental health?
Brock: The Portland comedy scene had a couple of suicides in a row last year and, in response to that, they formed an impromptu support network. When another friend of ours up there went through a break up and got kicked out of his apartment and was clearly spiraling to a thing, they all took shifts to watch him for about a week. That was something that was really inspiring to see.
It’s like, “Oh, just need someone there to remind him that life’s okay and he’s going to be okay and that these are very specific problems with a very limited time frame and he’ll get through them.”
That was kind of cool to watch because there wasn’t like a central ring leader or somebody that set that up. They just all sort of knew what they needed to do because they had seen what happened when they didn’t pay attention to something. That’s probably the closest, in terms of fixing comedians… I have no idea.
Des: They don’t need to be fixed, just helped. The gaming community has something like that [support network].
Brock: Gaming community has a very rough time. That’s even more solitary. That is something you literally have to do alone and away from the world. Yeah, the person I mentioned before who announced her suicide via Twitter was a person from the gaming community, and it was difficult for anyone else to be there for her in that time because I think I’m the only person who knew where she lived. Because she just doesn’t go out for any reason.
Des: What do you think about someone announcing their suicide on Twitter?
Brock: There’s been a lot of that lately.
There’s a guy who’s a musician here in LA who wrote to the head of a record label on Facebook and said, “I’m killing myself tonight. Would you get this band on your label to come play at my funeral?”
The guy on the label didn’t know this kid at all, but he went to Twitter and Facebook and was like, “I don’t know this guy, but he says he’s killing himself. Can somebody who is friends with him help out?” He’s a guy in an LA band and I got in touch with a friend of mine who had been the photographer for that band, and they called the police.
She called his band mates and they’re like, “Oh, he’s just sitting here on the couch with us. We’re just watching TV and drinking. He said what? [Hey!] You dick, what did you do?”
That was an interesting one, and that was something that I tried to make any trace of go away very quickly, because the last thing I wanted was for anyone to get mad at him when they found out he wasn’t suicidal. That’s a weird thing to shame somebody for and, clearly, if he’s the kind of person who would say something like that in a public way, he must be going through some much more difficult stuff.
Des: What does a suicidal person look like?
Brock: Everybody else.
Des: What would you want to say directly to someone reading your story?
Brock: Naps, naps, naps, naps, naps. I think my story is worth telling because sometimes life tricks you. Sometimes a group of things will just happen that you can’t see coming and you can’t defend against, and something bad happens. I don’t think that suicide is always the answer, but I do think that sometimes it’s a pretty okay answer to some problems. I think that the thing from my story is that sometimes you can wind up being somebody who has attempted suicide even when you weren’t sad about anything, and that’s just going to be something that you have [to live with] for the rest of your life, and it’s not that bad. I don’t think that you have to live with any sort of stigma over you.
I think that it’s kind of a life experience that, if it happens, it happens, and there’s no reason to let it prevent you from doing anything else or pursuing your dreams or finding any sort of happiness. I’m incredibly happy in my life now. I was incredibly happy in my life basically from two weeks after the event onward. There’s still rough times and there’s still always going to be nightmare bullshit, but if you’ve hit that point, it’s not it’s own form of an end. It’s just a thing that’s happened to you.
I like having it in my life. I like knowing what that experience was like, and I like knowing that it’s something that you can move past. You don’t have to pretend it away and it can always be a part of you. I think that, in many ways, it helps me be who I am and to do what I do. I mean, performing stand-up in front of a really hostile crowd will never be as scary as slitting your wrists because an angel told you your friend was going to die. You know? It’s something you come back from.
Des: What did your family do after your attempt?
Brock: They drove to Chicago immediately despite my best efforts to get them not to. My mom, my sister, and my dad came, and they wouldn’t leave for about a week. [We had to] rebuild some trust there. They all felt really betrayed by the experience, and my family will still call and get worried because they don’t know how much sleeping I’m getting.
I’m like, “It’s fine! It’s not going to be two weeks without sleep again anytime soon.”
They were really understanding. They had actually become concerned when I called the wedding off because they thought I was going to be really sad about that, and I think they had prepared themselves for something bad to happen, and it was just a different way of it happening. We’re all good!
Des: Talk more about how they felt betrayed.
Brock: I think my family has always had a very open policy about it, if there’s any policy: you need to talk to us about it before it gets out of hand, no matter what it is. Our family has always done very well with that, and I think there was a part of them that was very let down that, whatever was happening in my life, I didn’t come talk to them about it and try and figure it out first. It’s difficult to work through the idea that, while something broke, there wasn’t something I could call [them] and talk to [them] about in that moment. The reality of the situation that I was in was such that these things didn’t matter and I didn’t have time to think about it.
Des: Is suicide still an option for you?
Brock: Yes. I think about it a lot as an option for things. It’s not a thing I’m looking at every day, but I think about at what points in life… I do spend a lot of time thinking about when it’s a good choice for where people are, if only because I have so many friends who have to ask me if killing themselves is okay, which is strange—a strange friend-type to be. There’s the Party Animal and then there’s The Guy Who You Ask if Killing Yourself is Okay. And then there’s Good Time Girl.
I think about what it is and what it would mean and when it would play into my life. I found out this week that my dad has cancer. He had cancer once before and fought through it, and it was not a very pleasant experience. I’d kind of had a conversation with him at one point about at what point he would consider looking at that kind of way out.
When that came up this week I was like, “Boy, after the road he was on last time? You know, I would understand.”
Des: But can you really consider it suicide if it’s an end-of-life of chronic illness?
Brock: I mean so many of those things are things that, I mean like he’s had cancer before and he’s obviously gotten through it but it wasn’t an end-of-life thing but it was an unpleasant life thing and it was a really hard road and when it comes down to it, I’m not sure what he experienced in the last two years. Whether or not [it] was worth the effort he put into fighting through it the last time…
Des: What did your dad say when you had this conversation with him?
Brock: Well, I think that he’s been… from the experience with having to go through my thing, I didn’t have to watch my family, at the time, go through their reactions. He had to watch my mother and sister kind of break down over what had happened, and not understand why I would do such a thing. So, I don’t think he’d ever opt for it, based on how he’s talked about that, because he’s watched the firsthand reactions of everybody hearing the news about me and so on and so forth. I don’t think he would want to do that to anybody. I get that.
Des: How did your friends respond to it?
Brock: Friend responses were all pretty understanding. I think most of my good friends had watched me go through the two weeks with some concern over when was I sleeping and what was going on with me.
So, when it happened, it was sort of like, “Oh. We should have maybe stopped him from doing what he was doing at some point.”
When I was okay and back in the swing of things, it just didn’t seem like that big of a deal.
Des: I’m interested in this idea of your friends asking you if it’s okay, rather than asking you for help.
Brock: I think that’s an okay place to be, to be like, “Well, I know he’ll give it to me straight.”
Whenever I’ve had somebody who’s been at that point and people are like, “Oh my God, what can I do? I’ll do anything. What do you need from me?” Usually, what they’re offering isn’t a [solution] to what the person actually needs…
It’s usually not like, “Oh, I don’t have enough good friends,” or something like that. It’s usually something much bigger. So, at that point, I don’t try to be that person anymore.
Instead to I try to be like, “Well, what’s the issue, and can we do anything about it? Or can’t we? If we can’t, then how does that make you feel?”
I think that’s a more honest way than the idea of being like, “I’ll be there for you! Forever! We’ll do whatever you need,” because everyone knows that doesn’t do anything and it’s not what anybody wants.
Des: Do you say it beforehand or do you wait until they approach you?
Brock: I would never… I never bring up the idea.
Like, “So, suicide. Have you heard of it? Because I hear what you’re saying, and I’ve got this solution. Let me float it.”
No. Usually it’s a friend saying either that they’ve been really considering it, or they’re at the point where they’ve made plans to do it and are trying to decide.
That’s usually the point [where I say], “Well, I’m not going to beg you to not do the thing, and I’d certainly miss you, but I understand that people have their own choices to make. Can we talk first, just to make sure I understand and you understand, and so on and so forth?”
I’ve had friends before who have still said that they were going to do it and they were like, “I’m just glad that you and I had this talk so you can explain it to other people later.”
I was like, “I’m not sure if I’m going to able to do that. I mean, I can try!” But that would be… I can’t explain to your parents that we made a pros and cons list together, because then they’ll be mad at me.
It’s a kind of conversation that you usually have with very, very smart people, because very, very smart people are the kind who sit down and do this kind of thing. Of all my friends who have been in this place, so few are in immediate emotional knee-jerk reaction to something. It’s usually something that has been very thought out, and they’ve really balanced the ideas and know why they want to do it and they have ideas about it.
Des: Does it fuck you up when you have to keep doing that?
Brock: No, because I’m rockin’ pretty good odds! No, it doesn’t.
I think it would fuck me up more if my philosophy was like, “Oh my god, everyone has to live, no matter the cost!”
I think it’s much easier when, in a lot of these situations, I’ve been able to get a beer and say goodnight and be like, “You know, that might be the last time I see them and that’ll be kind of a bummer, but things are rough and I get it.”
For the number of people that have been in my life who have made attempts or have reached that point, I don’t think there’s any of them where it would have destroyed me to see them go, because at least I would understand. Usually that’s, I think, a part of what I get back from being a part of that conversation. If somebody does kill themself, it’s not this otherworldly surprise where you don’t understand why and you have to sit and figure it out.
[Instead, it’s] like, “Oh, I get it. We’ve talked through it and I understand why you want to do it, and if you do, it then I get it.”
I think that’s why conversation about suicide is important. Being on the blind side of it, like what happened to my family, is something that can hurt people for a long time. But to have an understanding of why somebody would want to do that kind of thing, I think that takes a lot of the pain out of it—at least the shock and the surprise.
No, it doesn’t fuck with me.
Thanks to Whitney Rakich for providing the transcription of Brock’s interview.