Like a whole bunch of people in the Chicago area in late July of 2017, when Mike Malinowski completed suicide, I was crushed.
On the outside, if his social media activity was our only peek inside his life, the guy looked like he was living the dream: expensive cocktails and smiling ladies and fun looking vacations and hip hop shows and live music and a stable full of friends.
However it looked on the inside, I don’t and won’t know, but it was obviously a shitshow that none of us were invited in to witness.
I was 37 at the time of Mike’s death by suicide, and what’s weird about the whole thing, is that it’s almost like I don’t remember who I was before he died.
That morning, I remember, was eerily gorgeous. It was a Saturday or a Sunday, I had nowhere to be, but I woke up early anyway. It must have been close to 5am, which sucks because I NEVER get to sleep in and here I was waking up when I didn’t have to. I did what most people do, I grabbed my phone and headed to the bathroom to start my morning.
Within the first five seconds of opening social media while on the toilet I knew something was off. I had like four facebook messages, and no one ever wants to wake up to that shit in the first place, but these were from people I hadn’t talked to in a decade or more. Like everyone else would, I ignored the fb messenger notifications and started scrolling.
There it was. Mike’s final post. He had typed, just a half hour earlier, maybe 40 miles from the toilet I now sat upon, that he wasn’t a pussy and that he couldn’t take it anymore and that he loved his friends. But he was out.
That was it.
Of course at this time of the morning there were only maybe a dozen reactions, and I did what I bet everyone else did, I went into fb messenger and typed out “what did you do?” and sent it to him.
No response. Ever. Still.
I checked those messages I had tried to ignore. Every single fucking one said “what just happened?” or “is this fucking real?”.
My friend, hell one of my favorite pint sized musicians, had completed suicide and left his note as a post that I would morbidly stalk every few months just to remind myself that it actually happened.
Mike’s fucking gone, he peace’d out just after he said goodbye to everyone, on FACEBOOK no less, and here I was thinking I needed to be more like Mike, more in tune with what’s right in my life, more aware of how awesome the shit and the people around me are.
At 37, with the most beautiful woman in the world as my wife, and with three incredible, healthy, energetic children all still asleep in my house, I was fucking devastated.
Like, punched in the stomach, dragged through the streets, every ounce of everything inside of me depleted, just, devastated.
I remember returning to bed and sort of sniffling a bit and my wife turns to me and says “what’s going on?” as she’s still half asleep.
“Remember Mic One?” I say through ragged breaths.
“The littlest rapper?” she jokes, because it’s true. We fucked with Mike so hard, everyone did, because we loved the hell out of him.
My wife knew Mike, the rapper, because he was the sole reason why we postponed our first wedding anniversary trip waaaaaay back in 2005, all because he offered my band The Cankles an opening slot at one of his shows. His shows were epic sold out parties, every time, and his support to any artist on the come up in Chicago was huge, if even only on the inside. Mic One shows were where any musician in the indie hip hop scene wanted to be. My wife knew Mike as the guy who said shit no one else would even dream of saying on the social medias, he was the guy your wife rolled her eyes at. Always.
“Yea.” I responded. “He’s dead. Suicide. He posted about it on facebook about a half hour ago.”
Julie went up on one elbow, seeing my face as it dove for her chest, she didn’t say anything.
I spent the better part of a half hour just sobbing. Not just because he was gone, but because I felt like his taking his own life was sort of a kick to my own stability. If Mike couldn’t handle this shitstorm, how the fuck was I going to?
The rest of that day and the week to follow all went by in a sort of blur. I was communicating with friends I hadn’t seen or spoken to outside of social media in over a decade. Everyone was fucking hurting.
How did we not see this?
Why didn’t someone say something?
Why didn’t he ask for help?
I was a pile of absolute shit.
I should tell you, because it matters in this here story, that I’m an “elected official”, an alderman, in a small city in the Chicago suburbs called Yorkville. There’s 19,000 people, it’s rural-ish, but with way more suburban folk who wanted less people and bigger yards, it has all the comforts of a larger suburb closer to the city, without a lot of the noise.
Anyhow, my mayor at the time, Gary Golinski, got word of what had happened and, because he’s fucking awesome, he called me to check on me. I told him I was a pile of shit and I didn’t know how I was going to bounce back from this sort of blow. He listened to every mumbled word I said one night and asked me, “Well, what are you going to do about it?” to which I responded, “I don’t think there’s much I can do, he’s dead.”.
And then he said something I’ll never forget. “Well, you gotta do something. I’ll wait.” and then there he sat, on the other end of the line, just sitting patiently. He wasn’t offering me much, but he was present.
Over the next half hour, as I sort of talked to myself with Mayor Golinski listening, I sort of went over my options.
I could do nothing, which is what I had been doing for the last week, basically ignoring everything in my life.
I could say something at a meeting some day soon, but those are just words. I needed something a bit more public and uncomfortable.
Together we decided that I needed to make this a turning point in my life, and make a public and official testament that suicide is an issue, that there are resources available to those who need help, and that just saying hi or simply being present for someone can help turn their day around. Oddly enough, that last part was a direct result of Mayor Golinski just being there on the phone with me as I worked through my shit.
That night I drafted what would become the National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month Proclamation. And with the direct support of my city, the United City of Yorkville, we were going to proclaim, with Mayor Golinski as my bullhorn, since I still couldn’t talk without crying, that September was Suicide Prevention Month, that suicide was an issue, that mental health resources were available, and that a little slice of humanity can go a long way when someone is having a tough time.
We adopted that proclamation in late August 2017. The night of that meeting I went home and emailed every elected official I knew and asked them to do the same. I was hurting, but I was fucking fired up. I’m sick of people not knowing they matter, sure, but I’m also sick of that fact that whenever I say the word “suicide” people look at me like I just screamed the word “MASTURBATION” in a catholic school.
Denial about a subject doesn’t make the subject any less real, talking about it seems like the best way to make something taboo less terrifying.
Sure, I was terrified of having to talk about suicide, but I knew that if I didn’t, someone else I love might consider it their only option and then actually follow through and I’d lose someone else.
I was fucking done sitting still.
I haven’t sat still since.
In 2018, I got permission to conduct official outreach on behalf of the United City of Yorkville a bit earlier, and I ended up sending out about 3,000 emails on my own and got 234 cities, and 20 counties, in 40 different states to official talk about suicide by adopting the NSPAMP.
That same year, I reached out to a group in Chicago called Hope For the Day, a proactive mental health and suicide prevention non-profit, and immediately fell into step with their approach and knew I had found a home for the fire lit under my ass.
While working parallel in my own little suburban bubble, HFTD saw something in my communication style, and rather than them just high fiving me for continuing to talk about suicide from my position as an alderman and a dad, they nudged me to consider being more physically involved in the proclamation project than just a guy sending emails.
In 2019, along with Hope For the Day, I’ve still sent out 1,000 or so emails, but my numbers are only in the 70s as of this writing, but I don’t care, because we’ve already visited and presented in front of a handful of city councils in the state of Illinois. We’ve directly interacted with those impacted by suicide, and we’ve demonstrated to those who have NOT been impacted by suicide, how devastating the loss of one human from suicide can be.
In 2017 and 2018, I was still unable to attend many of the readings and adoptions of the proclamation, because it was still hard to talk about.
In 2019, it’s not any easier to talk about, but fuck everything else, I’m not done trying to make sure that Mike Malinowski didn’t die in vain and that I can’t do what I can do impress upon humanity how important we all are.
We’re in this shit together whether we like it or not, so I’ll be around if you wanna fucking talk about some shit. I also like tacos.
Oh, and I just got hired by Hope For the Day on August 15th, 2019, as their new Public Policy Director to directly communicate with people on all sides of government, to not only ensure the money we spend as a country on mental health and suicide prevention is well spent, but to make sure we all realize it’s human to hurt and our job is to talk about what sucks so that it doesn’t end up hurting someone or losing one more person to suicide.
So, yea, I cuss when I talk about pain and suicide and hurting and shit, but it’s ok not to be ok, and I’ll grow up someday (I’M LYING).
TALK ABOUT SUICIDE.
BUT TALK ABOUT THE SHIT THAT SUCKS.
Thank you for the work you are doing to bring awareness to this issue. You know what sucks worse than talking about suicide? Loosing someone to suicide & having no one to talk with. I also love tacos and am down to talk about suicide. I
am sorry for your loss.
This is a fucking awesome story.
I remember the punched in the gut reaction when my friend Amy Kaltenbach died by suicide in 1996. I was 16 nd had just come home from taking my SATs. She was 14 and had hung herself in her family’s garage. I scrawled Why Her and Not Me in my journal that day. Over and over again. But a decade later when I was in the emergency room for my own suicidality, I told the social worker about attending Amy’s memorial and the lives she had touched. How I could never inflict that pain on my parents or worse my daughter. I still think about dying sometimes on bad days. But thanks to therapists who wouldn’t give up on me, substance abuse treatment counselors who gave a shit about me and many many crisis teams and interventions, those days are fewer and farther between now. Thank you for your work destigmatizing suicide discussion and for sharing this.