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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, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

64 comments
TammyKFennell
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.

Flyingpiggyl
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.

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel

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

Katie Gutwein
Katie Gutwein

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...

hessiejones
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

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

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.

OnlineBusinesVA
OnlineBusinesVA

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

TheJackB
TheJackB

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.

John_Trader1
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.

TMNinja
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.

ryancox
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.

karlsprague
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.

FrankDickinson
FrankDickinson

Depression is an insidious sonofabitch.

Very raw.

Go to the angels Trey.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

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.

EricaAllison
EricaAllison

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.

M_Koehler
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.

lauraclick
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.

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

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.

jennwhinnem
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.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@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
ginidietrich moderator

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

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@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
ginidietrich moderator

@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.

John_Trader1
John_Trader1

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

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@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
ginidietrich moderator

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

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@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
ginidietrich moderator

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

JoyFull_deb
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.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

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

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

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

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

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

PJProductivity
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.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@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
ginidietrich moderator

@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
ginidietrich moderator

@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.

M_Koehler
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.

JoyFull_deb
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.

FrankDickinson
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
PJProductivity

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

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