I’ve spent the last week mulling over the death by suicide of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington. was one of those 90s kids who picked up their first album, Hybrid Theory, and I really loved their first few albums, though I started to drift away as time went on. There was something about the music, the lyrics, the power behind what was being sung that really spoke to me – probably because, whether I knew it or not, that was a relatively dark period in my life. For my last two years of high school – 1996-98 – I was dealing with the fallout of having a thyroid condition that was mostly unmedicated, and a lot of the symptoms mimicked depression pretty well. This continued into college, where I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder when I was 20. I was not in a good place mentally, so many of the songs of Linkin Park spoke to me – Numb, Crawling, In The End, Somewhere I Belong… I didn’t know much about Chester Bennington or his background, then, but the things he was singing about really felt close to my heart.
Hearing about his suicide was kind of a blow because of that impact his music had on me. I’ve learned more about who he was and what he had dealt with in his own life over the last week, and I can see now why his songs touched me – because it seems like he had many of the same kinds of feelings I did. And I’ve attempted suicide myself, as well as lost a close friend to it, so I know what it can feel like to be on both sides of that divide. I even managed to have an acquaintance-ending argument with someone on social media because of the way they reacted to Mr. Bennington’s death; they asserted that his choice was weak, selfish, and a ticket straight to hell, and I strenuously disagreed.
I can’t speak to what Mr. Bennington felt; I never met him, and I only really know him through his music. But the idea that suicide is somehow weak or selfish is one that just burns me up. For me, and for some other people who have contemplated (or attempted) suicide that I have spoken with, suicide is a solution of last resort, when the pain – usually emotional and mental – just becomes too hard to deal with. It’s not a spur-of-the-moment decision, but usually comes with prolonged suffering. Only it is suffering that others can’t see, and it is suffering that often those who suffer can’t (or don’t feel they are able to) show, because of how that suffering is perceived. There’s a sort of societal assumption that ‘real’ suffering has to have a visible component; a broken limb, a huge gash, even a tumor. If it can’t be seen, then, some assume, it must not be real, it’s just imaginary.
While yes, it is all in the heads of those who are suffering, that doesn’t make it any less real. Being in one’s head does not somehow make suffering imaginary. But when people feel like their pain won’t be taken seriously, they keep it inside, and that just lets it grow and fester, like an infected wound – only there is no iodine or antibiotic for emotional trauma. People living with that pain fight a daily battle just to be even marginally functional, and when you’re fighting a part of your own brain, there’s really only so long you can keep fighting without help. For some that means medication, others therapy, still others can find some activity to help, and a combination works for many. But it’s not weakness to give in after fighting a losing battle – if that were true, we’d view the Spartans as weak for losing at Thermopylae.
As for selfishness, that’s trickier. Suicide can appear selfish to someone who has never thought of it, and again, I can only go on my own experience and what has been told to me by others. But depression can get your mind so twisted up that you feel like a burden to others – your family, friends, the people you work with, even casual acquaintances. It feels like every time mention is made of how terrible one feels, that it is somehow a burden to those around us. So we pull back, and stop sharing, because we don’t want to be a burden. but that puts more metaphorical weight on us, and we pull back more, until we become certain that removing ourselves from the lives of those we care for will be the best thing we can do for them. I know in my darkest times, I believed that my friends and family were so burdened by my presence and by the things in my head that my loss would actually be a comfort to them, that it would be a relief to not have to deal with my issues anymore. It seems nonsensical – how could someone we love and care for be such a burden that their death would be good for us? – but that’s the insidious nature of depression. It twists our thoughts around to such a degree that up seems like down, black seems like white.
Don’t even bring up suicide being a trip straight to hell with me. I am a Christian, and I know that one can read one of the commandments – ‘thous shalt not kill’ – to be a condemnation of not just murder, but suicide as well. I’m familiar with the medieval treatment of suicide, seeing it as a crime against God and man alike, so much so that suicides were buried, not in graveyards, but at crossroads (discussed here). My response to any of that is this – that God, who is infinitely loving and compassionate, must see the pain that someone who died from suicide was in, and that they may not have been thinking clearly. Such a loving and compassionate deity would see that soul’s pain and, instead of banishing them to hell, accept them into heaven, because surely they had already suffered enough. And a God who would condemn someone who died from suicide to an eternity in hell because they finally gave in to the pain they were suffering from is not a God I would feel is worthy of worship. There may be a theological argument for hell being self-imposed, that perhaps a person who died from suicide felt themselves unworthy of God’s love and intentionally separate themselves from their deity, but I would think that in such a case, the door would still be left open to them. If you really want to have this argument with me – and I don’t suggest it – it will start off hostile, and will probably involve a whole host of profanity. So let’s move on, shall we?
I’m going into social work, as anyone who has read many of my previous entries will know, so therapy is what I want to be able to do. This is because I want to be able to reach out to people before they reach the point of no return; I’ve been there, and I know how hard it can be to reach out, but having someone to talk to, who isn’t going to judge you, make fun of you, or try to second-guess you, can be a godsend. I don’t know how Mr. Bennington handled his feelings, and I wish he hadn’t died the way he did, but I know the demons that can be crawling in our skin. I know there are wounds that won’t heal, that can’t be seen. I know what it can be like to feel so numb that pain is the only thing that makes an impact, and death seems like the only answer. These are real things, even if they aren’t visible, and there are millions of people in this country alone dealing with them every day.
I welcome discussion here. If you have questions about my own experiences, please ask them. If you want to talk to me about anything, feel free to message me, and I’ll answer. I know that here, I’m just an anonymous voice on the internet, but I know that talking to someone else can help, even if only a little. I’m not as eloquent in my handling of this topic as a former colleague of mine, one of the most intelligent and well-read people I have ever had the pleasure of learning alongside, who covered this in his own way with The Grendel Crawling In Our Skin: In Memory of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington. And I know that for people who are suffering from thoughts like this, it can often be nigh-impossible to reach out, even to someone who may have an idea what they are going through. I’m sorry; I wish the internet allowed me to just step through it and sit with you through your pain, and do what I can to help. But right her, right now, this is what I can do.
Goodbye, Mr. Bennington. Your music helped me through some very difficult periods in my life, and I know it helped many others. Your music helped inspire the work of another of my favorite artists, Icon for Hire (whose singer did her own cover of Numb several years ago); many of their songs are about dealing with emotional issues and mental well-being. It may not have helped you, but it did reach many who might otherwise have felt alone in their suffering. Wherever you are, I hope you have found some measure of peace.