I was totally devastated this week. Chester Bennington, singer for Linkin Park, ended his life. He was my age. His Arizona home is a few miles from mine. His son attends my daughter’s high school. In fact, our next concert was next month, Linkin Park. Tickets purchased months ago. Before the news broke, we were talking about how excited we were that the concert was just a mere month away. He, like me, and so many other people, struggled with depression and addiction. Before Chester, Chris Cornell. Are their lives more valuable than any of ours? Of course not. But the tragic loss of their lives brings back to the forefront the often silent and ignored battle many of us fight alone. Chester’s lyrics always reflected what he was going through, which made him such a relatable figure. I have read so many tributes. “A part of me dies with him.” “I feel like I just lost my childhood.” “You always spoke to me.” “Please come back.” And then, then inevitable, “Only a coward commits suicide”, which truly, maybe shut up if you are saying that. Just don’t. Same goes for the “Suicide is the most selfish thing you can do” people. Stop talking.
We don’t shame people for having cancer, or heart disease. We do like to judge people who are in depression, or have a form of mental illness. I distinctly remember being a young mother, sitting at a table at work, when a man who was in his forties came and sat at the table with me. He started talking badly about a more difficult customer, calling them ‘bi-polar’ as an insult. I pulled out my courage and said to him, “I’m bi-poplar, but you are still talking to me, so he must not be that bad then I guess.” The simple truth is this. If you have not experienced the sucking black hole of depression, or a depressive disorder, perhaps you should sit down and stop talking. I’m not meaning to come across as harsh here. Or maybe I am.
A few years back, I sat in a meeting with the owner of the company I work at. It seemed obvious that something rather earth shattering had happened to either him, or someone close to him. He started to talk to us about signs. We all wear signs. Most of our signs are invisible. The person who smiles at you in the hall everyday may have a sign that says, “My son is being bullied and I don’t know how to make it stop.” The person you work next to you may have a sign that says, “I don’t fit in here or anywhere. Please help me.” But because our signs are invisible, we can’t know what anyone else is feeling or going through unless they tell us. He asked us to please remember that every one of us has something, and kindness is always warranted.
I remember the first time I felt depressed. I was 10 years old. I went into my bedroom, shut the door, sat in the dark and cried. My sister came into my room and asked why I was crying. I told her I didn’t know. I just can’t not cry. She sat with me and hugged me, and then left. As much as I wanted her embrace to make me feel better, it didn’t. I just felt dark. Like all of the light in the room and in my body was being sucked away from me, like a black hole swallows everything around it with no remorse. It is not sadness. It is empty. It is feeling that no one cares, and you are a burden. You want people to stay, but you want them to leave you alone. It’s confusing. You can’t articulate what you want or what you need. Others may marginalized your feelings.. Everythign cuts. Everything hurts.
In my early twenties, I was diagnosed as a rapid cycling manic depressive. What the heck is that, right? Basically, I can go from the depths of depression, to an all out mania, back down to depression several times a day. For someone who craves stability, you can only imagine how frustrating and exhausting this can be. The mania helped to get me into steep credit card debt, but also helped me to have a very clean house and organized files. I remember being up at 2am on a week night feeling like I needed to reorganize and purge all of my files. To the point where I felt jolted out of bed because the need was overwhelming. I know now that my drinking was self-medicating to just make it stop. If I got drunk enough, I wouldn’t wake up. There were times that I hoped that I would just go to sleep and never wake up again. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
There was one point in my life that I was on 4 or 5 different medications, drinking heavily, and taking sleeping pills. How did I live through this? Friends, this is why I forever admire the resilience of the human body. It seems impossible that I didn’t accidentally die from overdose. To this day, I can’t bring myself to even take Advil unless there is just no other way. I maybe take 10 a year, if that. I don’t impose this strict regimen on anyone else. I know, for me, I am lucky to be alive. I need to respect my liver and kidneys and give them every opportunity to recover and heal from the years of abuse.
There is help available. It is hard as hell to ask for help. And you need to use the help in a way that if helpful to you. That sounds dumb, let me explain what I mean. I took every pill the doctor gave me. I told him that they don’t work, give me more and more and more. I didn’t tell him I was drinking at a very dangerous level. If my older self could kick my younger self’s ass, you bet I would! Medications help to stop the cycle. They can help you put on the brakes so you have an opportunity to work on yourself. For me, I have found what helps is for me to have an honest dialogue constantly with myself. I have to recognize negative self talk when it creeps in, and I have to vigilantly keep it from taking hold. I have to deal with every painful thing that comes into my life immediately, and I have to let shit go. What I did with medication was not what it was intended to be used for. I used it as a crutch instead of a tool. Talking helps. I talked, but I was never honest. To be able to keep my mental health in check, I have to be 100% honest with myself, and with everyone around me. Now, there is a difference between honesty and over-sharing. It’s important to be appropriate, and not over share with people who don’t need to know EVERYTHING about you. Still…talk to people.. There are times that I feel depression creeping back. I talk about it. I call out the boogeyman. I will not suffer silently anymore. I will not let the emotional pain become so debilitating that I wish for the end.
As we have seen from these very high profile suicides lately, this disease doesn’t discriminate. I encourage you to take courage. Take people to task who believe that calling someone ‘mental’ or ‘crazy’ or ‘bipolar’ is acceptable. Let’s stand up and stop stigmatizing mental illness. I am no longer hiding in the shadows. I have problems. People who know me now have no idea what I used to be. “No way are you bipolar! Impossible! You’re such a positive person!” I think that maybe we should recognize those invisible signs. Maybe compassion, empathy, and understanding don’t have to be lost on us anymore. Maybe just listening for once, instead of just making our own points, is more important. Maybe that person next to you needs to hear that you are glad to see them today. Maybe a passing smile and nod is all the person on the street needs today. Today, I pledge to you that I will smile more, I will acknowledge strangers, I will speak up and say, “I hope you have a good day today.” We can change the world. Kindness is all it takes. I challenge you to join me. Let’s help carry the load of others.
I am sitting and watching a July 2017 Linkin Park concert, and I am fighting back tears. To be surrounded by thousands of people who love and admire you, and still feel empty. Please, don’t choose a permanent solution to temporary problems. The world can’t stand to lose any more of us to this affliction. Keep fighting. You are not alone.
…and you are probably not crazy either!