Chester Bennington of Linkin Park passed away roughly two weeks ago and for the first time in awhile, I found myself pretty much speechless.
I always turn to words in times like this, but for a long time, the words refused to come. All trace of wit and eloquence exited my brain and I was forced to confront my feelings on the matter in pained silence and the recesses of my depressed and equally fucked mind.
During this time, I watched as scores of social media posts, thinkpieces, and etc have poured out, detailing how Bennington and Linkin Park empowered them with the tools necessary to battle their demons.
I watched them recall their favorite songs in his discography and recall their favorite albums. I found myself thinking about my own favorites (Hybrid Theory and Meteora, of course) and remembering how the combination of Linkin Park, P!nk, and The All-American Rejects got me through my grungy phase and revisited me in college when my depression and anxiety/PTSD fully-bloomed. I also watched as everyone lamented Bennington’s passing. I watched as familiar questions poured in. How bad was it, really? What more could have been done? How is it that Bennington gifted so much light to others but could not find any light for himself?
These are all fair questions, and they usually get recycled whenever someone we know (be them a close friend or a celebrity) decides that they’ve fought the good fight for long enough. They are questions that have answers. We can only imagine how bad those demons were and since we didn’t know Bennington like that, we will never know if more could have been done specifically.
I am much, much more interested in the former question.
This is a question that never fails to pop up when something like this happens. How can someone so strong/so funny/so loving/so powerful make what appears to be a “rash” decision to end their lives?
Well, there’s an easy answer. Two easy ones, really:
1. Sometimes, this decision is not rash. Sometimes we’ve thought it through.
One of the biggest falsehoods (or half-truths depending on who you ask) surrounding issues of mental illness and suicide is that any attempt or success there of is solely due to temporarily fleeting thought or rash judgment. In my experience, there’s a bit more to it. In that moment, sure, thoughts of darkness, and despair, and morbidity occur. And sure, sometimes they are very sudden.
And sometimes? We’ve thought about it. For a long time.
The most honest conversation I had about this was in college sometime after my attempt. I had a friend kept it real for me and explain her experience with being suicidal. Sometimes, I’ve learned, the feeling can be passive. You wonder what it’d be like to all of the sudden not be around. What it’s like to not deal with the bullshit. Maybe as a joke. Maybe not. Other times, it’s more aggressive. Sometimes it crops up after thoughts of not wanting to exist period or wanting to silence the demons who are rattling in the cage that is your head.
I say this really to de-mystify the idea of suicide and chip away at the idea that suicide or thoughts of suicide are one and done and then that’s it. Nah.
Just like mental illness, it’s mother, suicide (or thoughts thereof) tend to stick around. They tend to linger. Like an unwanted itch or something more. It hangs around as a thought in the back of your head, deciding when it wants to joke with you today or kill you tomorrow.
You’re probably wondering why more people don’t talk openly about this or, in other words, “get help”.
Well, there’s a reason for that:
2. We don’t want to be burdens to those around us.
Now, this is where it gets a bit dicey. Everyone wants to believe that they would be there for their friend/etc in their darkest hour to drag them into the light. Everyone wants to believe that they’d be up for the task or they’d even have the time to do so.
And more importantly, everyone wants to believe that they would do this without condition and that they wouldn’t be resentful afterward.
Ultimately, this is not true. Or even realistic, to be quite honest.
I found this out the hard way in college on my downward spiral toward the incident©. Between an ACL tear and pending academic failure, I was in a shitty place. And I was a hot mess. And during this time, I was transparent with my closest friend at the time so I wouldn’t lose my mind. This ended backfiring on me, because I was eventually told I was leaning on her too much, and that I needed to get myself together and get over whatever was up with me. Now, she had every right to draw boundaries if she felt uncomfortable with listening to my depressive dealings (she wasn’t a professional after all).
The thing that hurt me and caused me to part ways with her was her belief that my situation was temporary or it was something I was willfully not “getting over”. Like it was my fault that depression found me and didn’t want to let me out of its talons.
In other words: She made me feel like a burden. And a vastly unwanted one too.
And that, my dear friends, is the greatest fear of those of us who struggle with mental illness and struggle with thoughts of suicide. We KNOW how bad our demons are. And We KNOW how bad they can get. Which is why we are hesitant to even discuss them (much less seek help for them) to begin with.
So when something like that happens or even if it has never happened to you, you tend to opt out of discussing it entirely because you don’t want to be that burden on people. And you’d rather suffer and agonize in silence than to be diminutively referred to as a burden or a leech.
And this is ultimately why your declarations that “I’m here if you need anything at all” or “I will always be here for you” fall on deaf ears. You can’t guarantee that 24/7 (because depression doesn’t really give you a warning before it flares up or takes you down a spiral). Those words will serve as some temporary solace or a nice gesture or a nice sentiment to the person that you say them too, but if you’re not making the conscious decision to put your words into action, they will ultimately amount to nothing.
Messages and well-wishes need to turn into check-ins. “Are you okays” need to turn into “have you eaten today?” or “how are you sleeping”. Rejected invitations to come out tonight need to be followed up by coming to them.
And, you know, this is not to say or assume that Bennington didn’t have that kind of support, because sometimes? Even that’s not enough.
Mental illness has its name for a reason. It twists our minds. And distorts our realities. So much so that even the most positive affirmations and sincerest of connections will often have no effect because it is just that powerful. Mental illness often takes and takes and takes until it can take no longer. And the only real way to combat it is by speaking your truth about it, refusing its offer to suffer in silence, and dragging it out into the open with you rather than letting it hide away in the darkness.
I wish this for myself and everyone who has to wage this lifelong battle. And in the end, I hope Chester finds the light he was looking for.
Image From: Bleeding Cool, Fact Retriever, The Hollywood Reporter