The Life & Death of Brandi Hawbaker: Personal Thoughts

by , Apr 25, 2008 | 12:06 am

I feel a sincere need to speak on this.

For the first time, I listened to the NWP Radio show last night because it was a tribute to Brandi Hawbaker. Her suicide has deeply affected me, and I hoped to hear some interesting perspective on her life and death. Almost two hours into the show, I did hear those things from Brandi’s ex-boyfriend Brandon and friend Jenn, though they were abruptly cut off in the midst of a very interesting discussion at the show’s end.

Dan Druff, who I know didn’t mean his comments in any sort of malicious way, exemplified many of the opinions I’ve heard since the news of Brandi’s suicide became public. People who have no personal, family, or friend history with mental illness have a rather narrow-minded and simplistic view of most types of mental difficulties. Brandon and Jenn did their best to dispel myths and shed some light on the complexities of people inflicted with such a disease, but it seems to be very difficult for outsiders like Druff to comprehend it.

Over the past week, I’ve had numerous conversations with people in the poker community about Brandi’s suicide. Most of their comments are rooted in pure shock at the thought of someone taking her own life. “It’s the most selfish thing someone can do,” someone said. “She must have done it to get back at the people who were mean to her,” another commented. “How does life get so bad that you want to die?”

Let me first say that I only knew Brandi through a handful of encounters. I met her during the 2006 Bellagio Five Diamond series when she tagged along for a meal with Dutch Boyd and me. It was a time that neither of them was in a good place, and it was a disturbing day to say the least. At the 2007 WSOP, I saw Brandi several times, and she made sure to mention to me that I was the only female in poker who was nice to her. While I’m sure that is not true, it made me sad to hear her say it. She also tried to get me to spend a day at the spa with her, but I was too busy with my work schedule at the time. In no way can I say that I knew her or had any personal insight into her thoughts or actions.

I’d like to also mention – in a roundabout way – that I have my own history with someone very close to me who suffered from depression throughout her life. Though I do not have any personal knowledge of personality disorders, such as the kind that Brandi reportedly suffered from, I feel that I know enough about suicide to make a few points.

It was stated on NWP Radio that Brandi’s mental illness was hereditary. She had been through counseling and taken medication, but neither helped enough to save her. Despite being highly intelligent and receiving the only type of help that people knew to give her, and while she hated hurting people and doing things that she couldn’t take back, it was part of the disease.

Again, while I can’t speak to the personality disorder, I can address suicide. And though I have absolutely no idea about what actually went through Brandi’s head prior to the suicide, I know what leads many people to go through with it.

Most people who contemplate suicide do so because they suffer from an incredible amount of pain – mainly a deep depressive psychological pain – that only gets worse over time without the proper treatment. The pain becomes so debilitating that there are few ways to ease it. Brandi was a cutter; she showed me the cuts on her legs. Sometimes, cutters feel that the release of blood will ease the pain. But when it doesn’t work, the cuts can get deeper and the yearning for relief becomes overwhelming. Not every person in this state of mind resorts to cutting, and those who don’t have no other way to stop the internal pain other than to end the life altogether.

Some who commit suicide do so in a lonely state of mind, believing that no one cares. Others have such a distorted view of themselves and those around them that they truly feel that they are a burden on others. By committing suicide, it is a way to end the suffering of those around them, who will no longer have to be hurt, embarrassed, sad, or angry.

Those who are left behind after a suicide of a friend or family member are devastated and riddled with guilt. It is inevitable and will only subside over time. Hopefully, Jenn and Brandon will consider counseling to help them through the rough time, but instructing them not to feel guilty is not the answer. They must go through a process of examining their own actions – not because they did anything wrong or inappropriate, but it is the natural progression of dealing with a tragedy such as this.

I can say with much confidence that most suicide victims do not intend to leave their loved ones with such guilt, but their thoughts are so distorted that it is nearly impossible to think of it as anything but a favor to those people. There is enough self-blame in the picture – on the part of the deceased and those left behind – to go around. But I will speculate just as Jenn and Brandon did tonight that no poker forum, poker player, or incident in the world of poker drove Brandi to end her life. Blame of any kind in this situation is counter-productive and a waste of time. The people involved have their own feelings to sort through, but most know that blame is not the answer.

My reason for posting this is that there are such misconceptions and ignorance about mental illness because it has traditionally been a private, secretive disease. It can be so terrifying that those who have never dealt with it simply cannot fathom the realities of it.

Look around. Chances are you know someone with a mental illness – whether it is being treated or not. Listen to those people – don’t judge or draw conclusions based on generalities. Whether you can help or not may be a moot point, but it is important to try to understand and be aware. More than 32,000 people commit suicide each year.

I hope that Brandi has found the peace she sought for so long.

Jenn and Brandon have created a tribute video to Brandi that can be found at RawVegas.tv.


  • Alicia

    Jen,

    Once again, very well said. It’s obvious that you have an intimate knowledge of how tricky and challenging mental illness generally, and depression more specifically can be. I don’t know what kind of personality disorder Brandi had, but based off your description and the description of some of her actions, it sounds like it might be Borderline Personality Disorder or Histrionic Personality Disorder. Both are very resistant to medication and can be especially difficult to “right” so to speak after one has gone past a certain point especially in a depression. Bipolar looks like a cake walk compared to these.

    I’d like to address the comments that say it is “selfish”. I at one time said those same things when a close friend committed suicide leaving us behind to help his wife and children pick up the pieces. That WAS my opinion, until i began my own battle with severe depression. When I was at my lowest point and had made an unsuccessful attempt to end my life, a friend of mine told me how selfish it was. My response, from what I remember, was something like this, “Do you not understand how much pain I am in every day? The thought of living in this pain for the next 50+ years is unbearable. I don’t know how to get out of the pain any other way. You and all those that want me to live are the selfish ones for wanting me to live with this pain and for what? so that i can tell you jokes or loan you money or pick you up at the airport? you’ll find someone else to do those things. Just let me go.”

    The reason I’m writing about such personal things is to try to put a living face of the battle with depression. I’m not sure that I’ll “convert” anyone to our way of thinking, Jen. But I figured it might help to have a first hand account as opposed to explaining what the person ‘might’ have been feeling. So those that want to debate this… bring it on.

  • http://pokerati.com/?author=117 California Jen

    Alicia, thanks so much for your honesty and openness. I applaud you for working through your depression and being able to convey your feelings so well. I’m sure I’m only one of many, many people who are glad your suicide attempt was unsuccessful. People can certainly learn a lot from those who have survived the struggle and are willing to talk about it.

  • http://pokerati.com/about-us/#danm DanM

    I dunno, I still think the comics are funny … Oh, wait, wrong post, sorry.

    So on a serious side, girls, I am curious, when in a pre-suicidal state, what impact would a friend joking about how you should off yourself have on your psyche and related plans?

  • Robin J

    Thank you for writing this.

  • http://pokerati.com/?author=117 California Jen

    Dan, I feel that joking about how to commit suicide is never funny in any context to anyone. And if you know that someone is in a pre-suicidal state – or in any sort of depressed state – I’d avoid that type of joke. I don’t think it would put someone over the edge, but do you really want to take that chance?

  • http://pokerati.com/about-us/#danm DanM

    I used to do it with Sang all the time [save that] … but fortunately knew he wouldn’t get around to fixing his gun for a long while. Not referring to just jokes … As you know, Jen, I never got my post up making fun of all the Sklansky/Hawbaker drama at the depths of her downward spiral because I was a little funked out dealing with a friend of my own who euthanized herself around that time … anyhow, point being that … well, maybe I don’t have a point.

    But some suicides come as total shockers, and others hardly as a surprise. When I think about Brandi’s situation, I can’t help but think about different things that might have prodded her off the plank … and yet those seem counterbalanced by things she did — decisions she made — that put her in the difficult spots that brought her seemingly inescapable pain.

    Sorry, not trying to dismiss the mental illness aspect at all, but am wondering what responsibility someone with said conditions has in avoiding dangerous life tilt. Because if it’s a biological/physiological/neurological matter that is completely beyond the control of the afflicted, then suicide would be an unstoppable inevitability for Brandi and anyone like her, no?

  • Banasko

    Dan your last post is a bit disturbing. It smacks of an ignorantly simplistic view of life and an arrogance to suggest you have any idea of how mental illness effects people.

    “Some suicides come as total shockers, and others hardly as a surprise”? How ridiculous is this statement?

    “Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

    Life is a set of paths and her views of those paths were distorted simple as that. Unfortunately she took the one path that ended her life because of it. It does not follow that all distorted views ultimately will come out with the same results. Each path is different and each view of each path is different.

    Maybe you might understand it with this line, “God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in her shoes ‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to have to choose.”

  • Jason B

    I’m sympathethic towards the subject, but the opinions addressed towards the issue are naive at best. Because a person chooses to overdose on medication, illegal drugs or other methods isn’t news worthy material. Anyone who has a obessive or addictive personality can be determined to have a “mental illness”. Its no more shocking than a person who binges drinks on a regular basis and is killed in a car wreck. The thoughts that suicide is a “selfish act” is disgraceful on to the person making the comment. If they were a friend or family member, you can ask the question who was being selfish. The person commiting the act, or the person ignoring the signs. As far as the humor goes, there is a natural morbid curiousity to people on a “downward spiral” otherwise nobody would care of the what nots of the Brittany Spears of this world!

  • http://pokerati.com/about-us/#danm DanM

    ***It smacks of an ignorantly simplistic view of life ***

    Dude, how can you say that when I used so many big words?!?

    ***“Some suicides come as total shockers, and others hardly as a surprise”? How ridiculous is this statement?***

    I dunno, you tell me. I’ve known two people who have committed suicide in the past few months. One of them came as a total shocker (the person whom I personally knew better) and the other was hardly a surprise to anyone who had limited interaction with her/2+2.

  • http://hungerfan.blogspot.com Ed

    “Some suicides come as total shockers, and others hardly as a surprise”? How ridiculous is this statement?

    Makes sense to me. With some people you see it coming a mile down the road. She was one of those people that just from reading about her “exploits” and drama she was living it was just a matter of time. Oh and reading some of her posts she made kind of helped in making that decision. For me at least. And it does not have to be self inflicted gunshots or razors in a warm bath either. When you read/watch about some of the celebs that are having “issues” you expect to read about them in the near future having ODed on some drug. Chris Farley comes to mind.

    “God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in her shoes ‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to have to choose.”

    The good thing about this statement is that I will NEVER get myself into the types of situations she got herself into. Prob helps that I am not a hot young woman and will never be going through the drama she did with the pros she hooked up with early in her poker career.

    In my opinion, everyone has two paths they can take when things get rough. Life or death. Guessing it was pretty bad since she chose death.

    I just can’t feel sorry for someone who wants to take the easy way out.

  • http://pokerati.com/about-us/#danm DanM

    ***easy way out.***

    Ed, I thought you were putting up your most intelligent comment ever until this last phrase. I’m pretty sure pulling the plug is definitely not EASY. it’s much easier to self-obsessively sulk to your so-called friends.

  • http://pokerati.com/?author=117 California Jen

    “Because if it’s a biological/physiological/neurological matter that is completely beyond the control of the afflicted, then suicide would be an unstoppable inevitability for Brandi and anyone like her, no?”

    Dan, I don’t believe it’s unstoppable because mental health professionals can sometimes prescribe the correct medication and therapy to combat the problem. The problem is that not everyone has access to those professionals, whether it be because of location, access to health insurance, or merely the knowledge that help is available.

  • http://pokerati.com/?author=117 California Jen

    “Because a person chooses to overdose on medication, illegal drugs or other methods isn’t news worthy material.”

    Jason, this is not a news article, thus the title that indicated “personal thoughts.” I chose this forum to express those thoughts because many in the poker community are simply stunned by the news of Brandi’s death and don’t understand it. I only hoped to shed some light. Brandi made “news” in the poker world for quite some time, and her death is noteworthy, to say the least.

  • http://pokerati.com/?author=117 California Jen

    “I just can’t feel sorry for someone who wants to take the easy way out.”

    Ed, if you think that suicide is the easy way out, you’ve missed the entire point. Suicide is never an easy choice; sometimes, it merely seems like the only viable one.

    I never meant for this post to instigate a heated argument. I actually didn’t expect any comments at all… Only hoped to explain a little for those who have no knowledge of mental illnesses and disorders.

  • http://hungerfan.blogspot.com Ed

    "Ed, if you think that suicide is the easy way out, you’ve missed the entire point. Suicide is never an easy choice; sometimes, it merely seems like the only viable one."

    I guess if that is how they think then there is not much we can do to help them. Drugs? How is being drugged all the time to keep them from choosing suicide considered living? If death is the only way someone in that state of mind thinks things can get better then how is any drug suppose to help them? How am I suppose to keep them from choosing suicide if just being there for them as a friend/loved one is not enough? I guess I could have them locked up in a padded room. It all sounds like a lost cause if they already feel death is the only way out.

  • Alicia

    Sorry guys… I’ve been at work all day! Let me catch up…

    “what impact would a friend joking about how you should off yourself have on your psyche and related plans?”

    Dan, you know I’m a sick puppy in many ways… I would have thought this was funny. Although I still would have opted for the pills.

    “am wondering what responsibility someone with said conditions has in avoiding dangerous life tilt. Because if it’s a biological/physiological/neurological matter that is completely beyond the control of the afflicted, then suicide would be an unstoppable inevitability for Brandi and anyone like her, no?”

    As I said earlier, it sounds to me like Brandi has Borderline Personality Disorder and one of the challenging things is that the person afflicted with it thinks that their actions are perfectly normal. They will do just about anything for attention in fact usually attempting suicide over and over… partly for attention and partly b/c they really want to die. Suicide is often the outcome for people with this disorder b/c it’s very difficult to treat with meds. These people’s coping mechanisms are all wrong, they are very volatile and many times only have their lives validated by how other people treat them. Generally, it does take an active ‘intervention’ of sorts with hospitalization and extended therapy to relearn coping skills and interpersonal interaction.

    “Some suicides come as total shockers, and others hardly as a surprise”

    I agree… this one could be seen coming down Main St… unfortunately no one close to her either identified that she was in need of serious help or that they weren’t able to convince her to get the help she needed.

    And Ed… dear sweet Ed… all I have to say about your comments is that I envy you. You’ve obviously not had an up close and personal experience with severe mental illness so you are able to have a very uninformed view of the whole thing. I wish we all could be that naive.

    Go Stars!

  • http://www.JohnnyHughes.com Johnny Hughes

    Brandi wrote me a couple of long private messages back in January. I suggested a lawyer. She said she had one.

    This remains very sad for me. I don’t know why Brandi took her life.

    Johnny Hughes

  • Artoo

    She was a prostitute and a swindler. I’m not saying she deserved to die but clearly she brought it upon herself.

  • BrandiRosesMom

    Whether or not the Poker World wants to accept this fact or not, but YES the online harassment that my daughter was receiving was IN FACT A BIG FACTOR IN HER TAKING HER LIFE. Yes she made some mistakes. Most young adults do. Did she make some poor choices? Yes. Did she trust the wrong people. Definitely! Was she taken advantaged of, lied to, lied about, and used? Definitely! My prayer is that God shows the same degree of Mercy, measure by measure, and to the tenth fold degree, to those individuals who trashed her on the internet, and to those who drove her to her death.

  • BrandiRosesMom

    See the following link:

    http://www.parentalalienationsupport.com
    See Heading “Public Distortion”
    See Article titled “Parental Alienation & A Feminist Perspective: Denial, Distortion, and Diversion” Dated 10/6/2010
    See Comments #9 and #10