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Clay Russell breaks the taboo, talks about his suicide attempt

Off-Ramp commentator Clay Russell

John Rabe

Clay Russell, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's body man, who has written candidly and openly about his October 2012 suicide attempt on mariashriver.com.

On Nov. 19, Clay Russell wrote on mariashriver.com:

“Do you want to be here?”
“Here, the hospital, or here, Planet Earth?”
“Here, the hospital.”
“No, but I don’t think I’m in any condition to drive home right now.”

That’s an exchange I had recently with an Emergency Room physician. I don’t remember the conversation because I was pretty much unconscious when it occurred and I only heard about it later.

I was unconscious because I had swallowed 50 Ambien tablets and 10 Vicodin, all washed down with a bottle of very good 2004 Meursault. There’s a lot about that evening I don’t remember but I do remember being glad when I finally woke up the next morning. Some people might not have been so glad.

Much later, after attending a cocktail party, he got word that, since he was looking for work, he shouldn't be talking his suicide in public. That struck him as dumb. As he told me, "It would be perfectly normal dinner party conversation to talk about your colonoscopy, but you talk about mental illness and people get freaked out." Not talking about it, the stigma of suicide continues.

In our long interview for Off-Ramp, the 51-year old talked about his diagnosis (bipolar 2), the day he attempted suicide, his treatment strategy, and what it's OK to ask him about at a cocktail party (pretty much everything). In the last six months, Russell says he's learned a lot.

I’ve learned about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255) – where the people who answer the phone just want to help folks get past moments of hopelessness. I called them today and had a chat. They’re a great resource. They save lives. I don’t have all the answers, but I have begun to learn about myself and frame my problem. It’s a start.

Clay Russell, by the way, was not only Maria Shriver's personal assistant, but also Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's body man for many years. "I think Maria got me in the divorce," he jokes.


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