Although Facebook asked that I keep our conversation off-record, the representative I spoke to explained that the reason the video stayed up was because Nikki did not kill herself on camera — she goes off camera for this. An important distinction in the Facebook algorithm, apparently. But then the rep told me what I wanted to hear: The video had been removed.
People react to loss and tragedy in different ways. After Nikki’s death, I searched her timeline for clues that might shed light on her actions. One thing
stood out. It was a quote from the author Jeff Brown. The first sentence read:
“So many break down because they cannot carry the weight of falsity any longer.”
I’m glad Facebook took down the video, but when I think about how long it remained on Nikki’s timeline, autoplaying any time you visited her feed, it strikes me how this platform can be so vigilant about things like a nipple slip in a photo, or putting you in purgatory for posting a politically incorrect meme, yet this tragic recording played on a loop for six months.
With some time to gain perspective, I suppose the reason I got so focused on the matter has do with an experience that’s probably close to universal when a friend or family member dies in circumstances as dire as Nikki’s.
There’s a feeling of guilt and a feeling of powerlessness. You wish you could have done something. You wish you could have reached out to the person at the right time. That didn’t happen here, and I think my emotions pushed me to focus on something connected to Nikki where I could get some action: the video.
A social media platform like Facebook can keep people connected across time and geography, and that’s often a good thing; it can also be a place to express grief and remember someone. Nikki’s mom posted loving thoughts about her daughter, and shared how Nikki had struggled with mental illness for a long time, and how it was so difficult for her to see, as a mother. But as experts have been telling us for a while, social media platforms have also created new stressors in people’s lives, and can deepen, not lessen, that “sense of falsity.” Social media invites people to perform a kind of existential Photoshopping on their days and nights, packaging life for likes.
That’s not an avenue to authenticity.
Like most people, I’ve had periods where it’s hard to find the light, and it feels like the darkness is winning. Feeling inauthentic can be part of that depressive state. You smile, but feel nothing inside. You laugh, but it’s a well-rehearsed chuckle. You’re tempted to react to the void with impulse buys, or alcohol, or drugs. It’s a scary place to be in.
When it comes to mental-health treatments and our understanding of mental illness, we’ve come a long way. The range of effective medicines, the sophistication of talk-therapy approaches, the number of treatment facilities — it’s a different landscape these days.
Progress has also arrived in terms of destigmatization, and the prevalence and prominence of conversations about depression. In recent years, top sports figures, ranging from NBA center Kevin Love to boxer Oscar de la Hoya to Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, have been upfront about their struggles.
And yet suicide numbers remain high, and it doesn’t matter how successful you are, how much money you have, or how much adoration comes your way.
Think of recent high-profile suicides. Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell. Beloved chef and Parts Unknown host Anthony Bourdain. Handbag designer Kate Spade. The list goes on.
The great writer David Foster Wallace, author of Infinite Jest, took his own life 12 years ago. He had a loving marriage, a stellar career, and a beautiful home in Claremont, California. It didn’t matter. His wife, artist Karen Green, found his body hanging on the patio of their house.
There’s more to do. There’s more progress to be made.
As Daytona Beach police chief Craig Capri said after Nikki’s body was discovered, “In the years to come, it’s only going to get worse unless we come up with a program to get their needs taken care of. That’s my biggest fear.”
But with luck, over time, this kind of speaking out by people in positions like Capri’s will help bring about more positive change.