Three years ago American actor and writer, Josh Rivedal, was considering taking his own life. He survived and now feels passionately about the importance of sharing his story and not staying silent. He has written a book about his life, The Gospel According To Josh – A 28 Year Old Gentile Bar Mitzvah, and is now travelling the world as an advocate for suicide prevention. Here’s his story…
Captain’s log, Stardate January 2011. Where many men (4000+ in the UK, 28000+ in the US) have gone before. I’m twenty-six years old and thinking about dying… actually I’m not being entirely truthful. I’m dangling halfway out the fourth floor window of my bedroom in New York City.
I don’t really want to die. I just want the emotional pain to stop… and I don’t know how to do that. Hell, two guys in my life—my father and grandfather—each didn’t know how to make their own terrible personal pain stop and now both were, well, dead.
My grandfather, Haakon—a Norwegian guy who served in the Royal Air Force (35th Squadron as a tail gunner) in World War II—killed himself in 1966 because of the overwhelming post traumatic stress he suffered because of the war.
My father, Douglas—an American guy who was chronically unhappy and an abusive man—killed himself in 2009, the catalyst being a divorce with my mother along with some long-term depression and other mental health issues.
How did I get to such a dismal place in my life so quickly, just a month shy of my twenty-seventh birthday? Coming out of secondary school and high on optimism, I thought by the time I reached my mid-twenties I would have it all together. After a couple of years singing on Broadway, I would have scored a few bit parts on Law & Order, and transitioned seamlessly from having my own television show, A-Team 2.0 as Mr. T’s long lost son, to being cast with Will Smith in the summer’s biggest blockbuster. After which, my getaway home in the South of France would be featured in Homes & Gardens, andmy face would grace the cover of Daily Star as Bigfoot’s not-so-secret lover. Not to mention, I’d have my perfect wife and perfect family by my side to share in my success.
But instead, I somehow only managed to perform in an assortment of small professional theatre gigs and on one embarrassing reality television show; and over the course of the previous eighteen months my father killed himself, my mother betrayed me and sued me for my father’s inheritance, and my girlfriend of six years broke up with me.
This perfectly imperfect storm of calamity and crisis had ravaged my life… and I wasn’t talking about it to anyone. My silence led to crisis and poor decisions—to the extent that I was hanging out of a fourth story window.
Those guys who came before me, Haakon and Douglas; each of them suffered their pain in silence too, most likely because of the stigma surrounding talking about mental illness and getting help. I too felt that same stigma—like I’d be seen as “crazy” or “less of a man” if I talked about what I was going through. But I didn’t want to die and so I had to take a chance.
I started talking. I pulled myself back inside and first called my mom. She helped me through that initial crisis and we became friends again. She never called me “crazy.” I then started reaching out to the positive people I had in my life whose friendship I had neglected. They hugged me and helped me with open arms. They never told me I was “less than a man.” Soon I got more help by seeing a professional counsellor, and by writing down what I was going through in a journal.
But this idea of keeping silent continued to bother me. I did some research while in my recovery and found out that each year, suicide kills over one million people worldwide… and that many of those one million never speak up about their emotional pain because of stigma.
Damn. I had to figure out a way to reach people like that. So, like any other actor, writer, or comedian living in New York City whose life dealt them a crappy hand, I created a one-man show… and it toured theatres, high schools, and universities in the United States and Canada—and people were getting help.
But I had to keep talking because this isn’t just a Rivedal problem or United States problem… it’s a world problem.
And since I can’t be in more than two places at once with that one-man show (still working on that teleportation thing), in September 2013, I had my memoir The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah published, and we’re having a re-release in the UK on November 19, 2014 in a partnership with Conscious Ageing Trust and Men Beyond 50.
This book doesn’t just cover my struggles but also recovery. Generally all we’re presented with is someone who is struggling but not someone who is in recovery. And we rarely ever see these stories presented with humor, which is totally a normal human reaction to some forms of tragedy. With this book I want to tell every guy out there who is struggling—it’s cool, it’s okay to be struggling, it’s okay to need help; people have your back… there’s hope.
It’s been three years since my crisis and life is definitely looking up. The acting and writing thing is going well, I have an awesome new girlfriend (with a high maintenance cat…oy!)—but most important I’m able to give and receive help and love, and with hard work I’m able to stay mentally well.
With the re-release of The Gospel According to Josh… with Men Beyond 50, and along with CALM we want to get people talking about their issues, to provide them with resources that my dad and granddad didn’t know to look for, and to find their inner-CALM, even if for short bursts of time.