048. How Suicide Unlocked The Potential in Living with Frank King

Frank King, Suicide Prevention and Postvention Public Speaker and Trainer, was a writer for The Tonight Show for 20 years, is a Corporate Comedian, syndicated humor columnist, and podcast personality, who was featured on CNN’s Business Unusual.

Depression and suicide run his family. He’s thought about killing himself more times than he can count. He’s fought a lifetime battle with depression, and thoughts of ending his life, turning that long dark journey of the soul into a TED Talk, “A Matter of Laugh or Death,” which you can watch at FrankTEDTalk.com, and sharing his lifesaving insights on Mental and Emotional Health Awareness, with corporation, association, youth (middle school and high school), and college audiences.

As an Inspirational and Motivational Public Speaker and Trainer he uses the life lessons from the above, as well as lessons learned as a rather active consumer of healthcare, both mental and physical, to start the conversation giving people who battle Mental and Emotional Illness permission to give voice to their feelings and experiences surrounding depression and suicide, and to create a common pool of knowledge in which those who suffer, and those who care about them, can swim.

And doing it by coming out, as it were, and standing in his truth, and doing it with humor.

He believes that where there is humor there is hope, where there is laughter there is life, nobody dies laughing.

He is currently working on a book on men’s mental fitness, Guts, Grit, and the Grind, with two coauthors.

He lives in Eugene, OR and speaks around the US, and all over the world.

Key Points from the Episode with Frank King:

  • Frank has a backstory of suicide being a very real part of his family. So some may find it odd that he became a comedian, but he sees the two intertwined. As he reminds us, where there’s laughter, there’s life – no one dies laughing.
  • He spent the first part of his adult life as many do – working in a fine job that paid the bills, but didn’t pay his soul. It got to the point where he realized he would kill himself if he stayed there. The alternative, pursuing his dreams in comedy could leave him penniless. That’s when he had a revelation that unlocked potential.
  • We chose the devil we know rather than the devil we don’t. “Normal” people would look at a bad situation with uncertain outcomes in the alternatives, and they stay where they are.
  • For Frank and his diagnosis of Chronic Suicidality, it’s more of looking at a raging brushfire coming for him while he’s standing at the edge of a ravine. While “Normal” people might face the fire despite the certain death, Frank would jump because he sees no risk to it since he’d die either way so he might as well try something else.
  • He shared a simple example that clarifies what this Chronic Suicidality means in his daily life – his car broke down a while ago. “Normal” people would look at it as a binary situation where you either fix it or replace it. For Frank, he had a third option – he could just kill himself. Put another way, he always sees a way out, so he uses that to help him pursue possibilities. The key is to find a way to see that vision of potential without having to turn to suicide.
  • If he stayed in the job, he would kill himself. If he left and failed, he could still just kill himself. That thought removed the cost of taking the leap, so that’s exactly what he did.
  • Frank focused on suicide prevention and support a lot. What he realized is how valuable it is for the person supporting you to really get it, to really understand what you are feeling. Since he has been there, he realized he had to be in that support role.
  • What he found is that people need one of two things, and you need to see which they really want. Do they want someone to help them through it and talk them out of it, or to just listen.
  • Interestingly, Frank is not reckless in his behavior despite the suicide thoughts.
  • He has now been through divorce, bankruptcy and more, and is still standing, which is a testament to the power of support and self-reflection.
  • Frank likened someone committing suicide to how a plane crash works. It’s not usually one single thing, but rather a cascade of events. If you can nudge those events even slightly, you may be able to change the outcome, which is his goal.
  • We talked about his self-care plan, which helps him relate differently to his Chronic Suicidality. He meditates for 30 minutes a day; after 60 years, he decided to look into medication, which he now uses and realized he actually likes his life; and he lives an active, healthy life and eats a healthy diet. He actually ended up competing in a body building contest shortly after we recorded this episode.
  • Speaking out loud about his mental illness is also one of the most beneficial things he’s done. It’s been freeing and empowering in a way he did not expect or understand until he did it.
  • We talked about the power of control a lot, and he shared the story of his mother as she was at the end of her life. There was debate about letting her self-administer pain medication when getting too much would kill her. Frank shared the study results on the subject that showed that, when patients are allowed to push a button to give themselves pain medication, they actually use less than when someone else administers it at regular intervals. The reason is control.
  • As he’s reflected on his struggles with suicide, he sees how inserting situations where he has control has helped. This is part of why he enjoys his exercise regime because there’s control in it. A 20 pound weight always weighs 20 pounds. In his comedy and speaking work, he may have audio issues, the audience may not be engaged, etc. All things he can’t control or have so much variability in them that it can be unsettling.


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