Gini Dietrich

A Gigantic Hole In the Online World

By: Gini Dietrich | September 5, 2011 | 
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I didn’t know Trey Pennington, like many of you knew him. Sure, I knew him online and we chatted on Twitter. I also ran into him a couple of times on the speaking circuit.

But I didn’t have the same experiences like Mark Schaefer and Olivier Blanchard. I can’t even say I’ve dealt with depression like Geoff Livingston and Bridget Pilloud.

But I watched Trey, from afar, as he suffered from an incredibly painful separation, severe burns from an accident his daughter had, an attempted suicide earlier this year, and his lashing out online, in (what we now know) a desperate cry for help.

It’s been said he couldn’t understand why he was so popular online, but his wife didn’t love him like we loved him. It’s an unfair comparison. We got 140 character bites of him or an hour while he spoke or we read his blog. We knew the Trey he wanted us to know.

And yesterday morning, he went to church and he stood outside with a gun in his hand. He argued with police, who insisted he put it down, until he pointed it at himself and took his own life with a single shot.

To say the online world is devastated is putting it mildly. I don’t know what to say to make it better.

All I know is that I wish I’d been able to recognize his lashing out, and then euphoria, as a cry for help. He’d post photos of himself in benign places. He was losing a lot of weight. He was commenting on people’s Facebook walls, asking if their kids knew how much they loved them. He was asking for help and we didn’t recognize it.

We think a man who is popular online and off, owns a business, is on the speaking circuit, and has six children and two grandchildren will figure it out; he’ll make his way through his pain and suffering.

Hindsight is 20/20.

To recognize a depression that severe likely has to come from personal or professional experience. And for someone to ask for help is akin to admitting they have a disease that is taboo in our society. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know you should hug your friends and family even closer. Tell the people you love how much you love them. And be incredibly selfless when watching for signs of depression…you may save someone’s life.

You’ll be missed, Trey. You left a gigantic hole in the online world.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

  • geoffliving

    It’s a terrible story, and I agree with your assessment. No one really knows what happened at home, but we will all be worse for this. So sad.

  • Tragic story indeed. My brother-in-law suffered from depression and took his life as well. In hindsight, you see all the signs but other than being there, what can you really do?

    Yes, life is precious and take the time to tell the people who matter that you care and you do know they are there.

    I just know, never be afraid to lend a helping hand; you never know what kind of impact it will have.

  • ginidietrich

    @geoffliving It’s really awful. I thought your tribute to him was fantastic…and I learned a couple of things about you I didn’t already know.

  • ginidietrich

    @bdorman264 I don’t know that there is much you can do, other than being there. Mark talks about, in his blog post, how he kept reaching out to let him know he was there. But it wasn’t enough.

  • I cried reading this Gini. I suffer from anxiety, which is of course, depression’s brother. I tried to commit suicide when I was 12 and went on to become a raging alcoholic for years. I finally kicked the bottle and drugs 14 years ago this week.

    My brother has two daughters. His younger daughter tried to commit suicide a few years ago. I told my brother she was on the wrong path. I did not realize how right I was. I thought she was getting high. That came a bit later.

    The sings are there.Sometimes you need to just talk to people and they will tell you everything. Some people never feel heard and that is the big problem.

  • ginidietrich

    @NancyD68 The signs are there, but sometimes we’re too wrapped up in ourselves to say anything…or we don’t want our family mad at us for bringing it up. Good for you for telling your brother your niece was on the wrong path! It’s times like this we learn a little bit more about one another and I’m grateful for you.

  • ginidietrich

    @NancyD68 The signs are there, but sometimes we’re too wrapped up in ourselves to say anything…or we don’t want our family mad at us for bringing it up. Good for you for telling your brother your niece was on the wrong path! It’s times like this we learn a little bit more about one another and I’m grateful for you.

  • Beautifully written from the heart as always! I have a nephew going through this right now. Many attempts have been made and he has received a lot of professional help, but it is a constant struggle for him. Depression is a deep hole to climb out of and hopefully this tragedy will open some eyes to the importance of the cause!

  • That’s very sad Gini! The ones left behind by a suicide victim usually feel they could have done more and beat themselves up about it. It’s very sad.

    Lori

  • That’s very sad Gini! The ones left behind by a suicide victim usually feel they could have done more and beat themselves up about it. It’s very sad.

    Lori

  • ladylaff

    This is SO sad and I thank you for writing about it in your usual generous spirit. I would like to know if anyone has any advice for what to do someone makes a cry for help online. Someone in my LinkedIn network made a cry for help once and I asked the Samaritans for advice by e-mail and I got a very strange reply as if (a) it came from an automated service and (b) didn’t believe that the advice was for a third party. I tried to help him but I didn’t know the person well, felt totally out of my depth and was not sure if I was doing the right things. Would be interesting to have a professional counselor’s viewpoint on this.

  • jennwhinnem

    I didn’t know about any of this. Thank you for telling the story Gini. Saw him at #soslam, was struck by how kind he was, did not know about the rest of this. I feel like I just got punched in the chest.

  • There are two sides to this story. Some people aren’t wired up quite like everyone else and need a bit more support to be who they are. The other side is a fast-paced world of self-promotion and “success” that is supposed to define how everyone fits in. It’s very easy to describe “Depression” as a medical condition, a disease of the brain that requires treatment to make a person more “normal”, but that is always the easy way out. Acceptance of those who see things differently for their talents and a strong sense of community that supports them is good for everyone – not just those who aren’t “normal” or who are having a joyless patch in their lives. I have no idea who Trey was because I’m not a member of this particular class but it sounds to me as though he was always struggling for the support he needed. There are millions of people like that, some of whom are forced to accept the go-go world and plug ahead to do their best no matter what. His story should give everyone pause to think about the connections of our lives and the limitations of millions of shallow bonds that are supposed to stand in for genuine community, love, and acceptance of people for the talents that they have.

  • lauraclick

    I just happened to jump on Facebook last night before going to bed and learned of the news from your FB post, Gini. I was shocked. I had no idea what was going on in Trey’s life.

    I had the pleasure of meeting him and hearing him speak at #solam and found him to be warm, genuine and incredibly kind. Even though we didn’t know each other, he made me feel as if we’d been friends for a long time.

    You’re right – there is truly a gaping hole in the social media community. And, it just goes to show that we don’t know what’s going on behind the 140 characters we see online. My heart is breaking for his family and the community he loved so much. I hope he knew how much he was loved also.

  • M_Koehler

    I’m really sorry to hear about this. Take Gini’s advise: love your friends and family, always and like there is no tomorrow.

  • swbuehler

    My own thoughts: http://bit.ly/o0NmaU

  • swbuehler

    My own thoughts: http://bit.ly/o0NmaU

  • I’m very sad about this and taking your advice to heart: hugging the ones I love tighter today and letting my friends and family know how much I love them. You’re in that group, Gini! You’re one special lady who touches so many on a daily basis without even knowing the true depth of your impact. Thank you for that. I hope to one day meet you in person; I know we’d be fast friends! Virtual hug to you, my friend. xoxo

    I did meet Trey, like @lauraclick , at Social Slam and was struck immediately by his kindness and ability to make you feel like he really was listening to you, no matter that you were the 100th or 1st person to come across his path that day. He will indeed be missed.

  • HowieSPM

    Pretty sad the first time I hear of Trey is for his Eulogy. Really nice and meaningful post here with all sorts of lessons. My condolences to everyone who knew Trey.

  • ginidietrich

    @AngelaDaffron I really hope your nephew is getting the very best help.

  • ginidietrich

    @Lori I feel just awful for his family. I know they’ll forever wonder what they can have done differently.

  • ginidietrich

    @ladylaff I don’t know the answer to this. If it were me, I would have done the same thing as you, I think. When people reach out to us, the best we can do is be there, listen, and call a professional if we think the person might take their own life.

  • ginidietrich

    @ladylaff I don’t know the answer to this. If it were me, I would have done the same thing as you, I think. When people reach out to us, the best we can do is be there, listen, and call a professional if we think the person might take their own life.

  • ginidietrich

    @jennwhinnem It’s completely devastating, Jenn. I mean, he was just talking about how excited he was to be going to the U.K. this week. Just awful.

  • @ginidietrich Thanks! He is, but it is still a struggle for him daily.

  • ginidietrich

    @wabbitoid I think this is the biggest lesson of all, Erik. He was surrounded by shallow bonds. Hundreds of thousands of them. And no one could help him.

  • ginidietrich

    @wabbitoid I think this is the biggest lesson of all, Erik. He was surrounded by shallow bonds. Hundreds of thousands of them. And no one could help him.

  • ginidietrich

    @lauraclick I didn’t know what to say to you on FB about this, but saw your comment. It’s completely devastating.

  • ginidietrich

    @lauraclick I didn’t know what to say to you on FB about this, but saw your comment. It’s completely devastating.

  • ginidietrich

    @M_Koehler And have Skype wine dates.

  • ginidietrich

    @M_Koehler And have Skype wine dates.

  • ginidietrich

    @swbuehler Thanks for sharing.

  • ginidietrich

    @swbuehler Thanks for sharing.

  • ginidietrich

    @EricaAllison How is it we’ve never met in person?? I, too, feel like we’re close friends and love you tons!

  • ginidietrich

    @EricaAllison How is it we’ve never met in person?? I, too, feel like we’re close friends and love you tons!

  • ginidietrich

    @HowieSPM There are all sorts of lessons. Maybe when things aren’t so raw, we can talk about them.

  • @NancyD68 So proud of you, Nancy. 14 years is awesome. I have a similar history.

    So glad you talked to your brother about his daughter. Sometimes it helps. Other times, it doesn’t matter who says what. I have no experience with depression myself, but have known a few people who took their life, because of it. Sad, so very sad. Thanks Gini for writing this.

  • FrankDickinson

    Depression is an insidious sonofabitch.

    Very raw.

    Go to the angels Trey.

  • karlsprague

    Gini, I’ve been reading SpinSucks because of your humor and incredible insights into social media and all things PR. I can now add to the list your ability to help us interpret life…and death. The human brain has an amazing capacity to depress, paralyze and rob our faculties and it is impossible for others, standing at a distance, to understand. I admire your desire / need to comment on Trey Pennington’s death – right down to your admission that “I don’t know what to say to make it better.” Keeping it real is what we expect from you. You’re the best. Thanks.

  • JoyFull_deb

    @FrankDickinson Amen, Frank. Depression is a bitch. I’ve been there…in that deep, dark hole. I’ve fought it off & on , for the last 30+ years..and oh yes, debilitating anxiety, enough so, that I don’t want to go anywhere. It takes a lot to ask for help…it takes courage. It also takes courage to kill yourself. I know because I’ve been working (volunteer) for 15+ years in suicide prevention & intervention field and for the last 4 years w/ loved ones left behind to grieve after suicide (post=vention). I could go on about this for hours, but won’t.

    Thanks, @ginidietrich for writing from your heart. People generally have no idea what to say in times like this. Shock, guilt, anger…..yep, hindsight…looking back why didn’t I see this?! We are busy living life….our minds aren’t scanning blogs or tweets or conversations for signs of suicide & depression. It’s just the truth.

    From what I understand, Trey was getting help, lots of it. I’m certain this counselors are asking themselves today, “what more could I have done?”

    My prayers are with his children, and his family, as they will have a long and difficult grief journey. Suicide grief is very complicated. Stigmas abound!! I hope folks stick around long enough to help his family walk that path.

    I feel certain that Trey is with our heavenly Father….with the angels, Frank.

    God Bless all who knew him on a much deeper level, IRL. I only knew him from his ‘tweets’…

    Hugging the ones I love today & everyday….as you know, @ginidietrich , I lost my youngest sister to suicide on 12/2/07…she was 54 years young.

    I love you, Gini. ((((HUGS)))) from afar.

  • M_Koehler

    @ginidietrich Exactly. Family and friends are the 2 most valuable things you can have in your life and you can never have enough.

  • PJProductivity

    Unfortunately, I’m not sure this is accurate in Trey’s case (though it certainly is for many others). He was VERY active in his city’s community life. The bonds surrounding him weren’t all shallow, not a bit — there are many who knew him truly, and well, and while they may not be as shocked as the rest of us, they *were* surprised and grief-stricken. The thing is, depression IS an insidious disease, and it won’t LET sufferers reach out quite often. It’s on loved ones to ask, to keep asking, and how can we when we don’t even *see* it? And quite often the depressed/suicidal person simply doesn’t show any outward signs – and quite often, they do but we don’t recognize them for what they are.

    Like the author of this amazing post, I simply don’t know what to say that will change anything or make it better. But at least we’re talking about it. I do know that’s a start.

  • JoyFull_deb

    @PJProductivity Exactly !! Talking about it, is a start. We need to have conversations around depression & suicide. btw, this is National Suicide Prevention Awareness week.

  • ryancox

    I didn’t know Trey like many others did, even virtually, but the story is incredibly sad. What’s worse is that we all probably have some version of the same story with someone we are a lot closer to. I guess my point is that reality is a bitch that I wish would stop rearing her ugly face. I’ll remember Trey for the small things I personally had experience with, and all of the wonderful things others have shared.

  • ginidietrich

    @JoyFull_deb @FrankDickinson thanks to both of you. It is very raw and it’s hard to know what to say. Deb, I do know this hits very close to home for you. I can only hope this kind tragedy brings us closer to understanding depression.

  • ginidietrich

    @ryancox The one thing he would have told you is to hug those nephews of yours close and to tell them how much you love them.

  • ginidietrich

    @karlsprague Thank you. We all manage tragedy differently. Mine is to write. Your comment made my day.

  • FrankDickinson

    @ginidietrich@JoyFull_deb That’s the thing with depression Gini – at times, it is so unknowable – it hides itself, disguises itself as something else and then rears it’s ugly ass head.

    I, by no means am I saying that it is uncontrollable. Like so many others, I have experienced it (I no longer say “suffered with it” because, for me, it gives it strength that I refuse to allow), for 30+ years. In most folks it can be controlled.

    Naming it has helped for me.

    I miss Trey already – and I HATE depression for it.

  • PJProductivity

    @JoyFull_deb That’s irony I could have done well without. Hopefully, it will encourage further conversation.

  • TMNinja

    Sad news, indeed.

    I did not know Trey well, but met him earlier this year when we were both speakers at the same conference. He seemed a true and genuine individual.

    It is ironic that from the outside we often think everything is fine, when individuals are really looking for help.

    My thoughts go out to his friends and family.

  • ginidietrich

    @TMNinja I feel really awful for his kids. They’ll always wonder what they did wrong. So sad.

  • ginidietrich

    @TMNinja I feel really awful for his kids. They’ll always wonder what they did wrong. So sad.

  • John_Trader1

    It’s not often that a Spin Sucks post makes me feel the way I do right now, but I recently helped nurse my younger sister back to health after she attempted to end her own life in July while she as visiting me from out of town and I can only say that I am tremendously saddened by this story, trembling in fact. It isn’t often that we run across things in life that we can’t fully understand because we don’t have the ability to look at them through the lens of our own lives. I am here to tell you that often the most devastating part of this illness is not only the loss of a irreplaceable life, but the hopelessness we feel inside that we couldn’t stop it or recognize symptoms that caused it. Perhaps it isn’t easy for all of us to realize this but in some small way Trey is at peace now.

  • I suppose that all we can do is hug those we love and care for and remind them that we are always here to listen/talk and or help them however we can.

  • FrankDickinson

    @TheJackB yes.

  • John_Trader1

    @TheJackB It seems like so little, such a fleeting thing but it means the world to those who need it the most.

  • John_Trader1

    @TheJackB It seems like so little, such a fleeting thing but it means the world to those who need it the most.

  • @EricaAllison I’ve been virtually hugging my besties for two days now…. Great advice, as always Erica.

  • @jennwhinnem Exactly how I felt all afternoon yesterday Jenn. Very sad day.

  • OnlineBusinesVA

    This is going to be a huge loss for sure to the online world as well as in person.

  • ginidietrich

    @TheJackB That’s EXACTLY what we can do.

  • ginidietrich

    @John_Trader1 Oh John. I have goosebumps. I am so happy to read your sister was not successful, but what a terrifying experience for you. Thank you for sharing it.

  • ginidietrich

    @OnlineBusinesVA It’s really, really sad.

  • I’m devastated, Gini. I met Trey at #soslam Social Slam in April; in fact, we sat on the dais together presenting on social media. He was the consummate storyteller, spent money to give everyone who attended a colorful bandana, and his kids rocked his world. Apparently, the love wasn’t strong enough to keep him with us.

    There is so much wrong in today’s world; do we adopt responsibility to save someone or do we turn the other cheek. What’s horrifying is that Trey only touched us sporadically (many of us), yet we regarded him as a leader, mentor, and powerful influencer on the sphere.

    Again, I’m devastated.

  • Pingback: RIP Trey Pennington | Soulati - 'TUDE!()

  • hessiejones

    This is such a shock and so sad! I’ve followed Trey Pennington for the last 5 years. I never knew that such a strong, passionate individual was suffering. Rest in Peace Trey Pennington

  • This is so very sad. I didn’t know Trey and never really interacting with him, online; but based on what I’ve been reading, he was a great man. My heart aches for his wife, kids, grandkids, and everyone else hurting. I’m praying for all of you…

  • This is so very sad. I didn’t know Trey and never really interacting with him, online; but based on what I’ve been reading, he was a great man. My heart aches for his wife, kids, grandkids, and everyone else hurting. I’m praying for all of you…

  • rustyspeidel

    That’s about as well said as it can possibly be.

  • rustyspeidel

    @ginidietrich@M_Koehler what?? i’m in!

  • Flyingpiggyl

    Sad news. People are living in online world celebrating themselves. They write down their own feelings, own life, read and enjoy what they feel has something to do with them. Food in online word fee people what they want, the danger is people may ignore other tunes, miss a great book, forget a hug or love words…No matter how social media has made the world a global village, it is not as real and valuable as your families and friendship.

  • M_Koehler

    @rustyspeidel@ginidietrich

    Lil G and I need to work out the details of this.

  • TammyKFennell

    Probably the best commentary on this sad situation I’ve seen. You have a gift with words, Gini. I only spoke to Trey twice, most recently in June when I interviewed him for my blog. I spoke with him for about 10 minutes and he seemed so happy, so positive. But as you said, he showed the online world only what he wanted them to see. It’s shocking, it’s sad, and my thoughts go out to his kids.

  • ginidietrich

    @Soulati | PR I loved your blog post about it. It’s the only thing we can do; mourn together and hope we do something when we see the signs next time.

  • ginidietrich

    @Flyingpiggyl Exactly what you said. NOTHING replaces the real relationships with your family and friends.

  • ginidietrich

    @Katie Gutwein It’s completely devastating. I read a note from his cousin yesterday, where she described the last text message he sent her. It’s haunting and sad.

  • ginidietrich

    @rustyspeidel Thanks Rusty.

  • ginidietrich

    @hessiejones It’s so hard; this online world. I know I can be completely grouchy, but you’d never know it by my tweets or Facebook status or any other online interaction. It’s easy to fake it in 140 character bites.

  • ginidietrich

    @TammyKFennell I think the hardest part for those closest to him is exactly what you said: He seemed so happy and positive. It’s completely devastating.

  • ginidietrich

    @TammyKFennell I think the hardest part for those closest to him is exactly what you said: He seemed so happy and positive. It’s completely devastating.

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