Remembering Chester Bennington, Who Helped Me Time and Time Again
Chester Bennington died by suicide last month. He was the lead singer of Linkin Park, and I know for a fact that he helped millions of people. He helped me. He helped me many times, over and over — each time I listened to one of his band’s songs. And, I listened to them most of the time when I was sad. I listened to them when I was bottom-out sad, no hole in the floor sad, no light to be seen sad, and those songs always gave me some strange sort of hope that someone else somewhere knew exactly the pain I was feeling, and that I wasn’t as alone as I thought I was.
He was gifted. He was a hero.
I did not know him. Nor do I know what he dealt with that caused him to take his life. I am not here to speculate. He touched my life, regardless of these facts, and I am at a loss for words.
Depression is, like many chronic conditions, an invisible illness. So is bipolar disorder. schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. That means we don’t often see what is happening until it is too late.
My mother attempted suicide, something that thankfully happened a long time ago now. I don’t think I’ll ever know why she did it. I don’t think I’ll ever know the real story. I have heard different stories about that night and what happened to her, and they conflict. I have come to understand it is not my place to know, and that if she wants, she’ll tell me someday.
The story that haunts me, is that she was found by the police, wandering. She did not know her own name. She was taken to the hospital. After that, she received inpatient treatment for depression. Whether this is true is not the point. It is that she did it. For a long time, I thought she was incredibly selfish for wanting to leave us. I hated her and couldn’t understand how she could do such a thing. I oscillated between my hatred and a total fear for her safety. Whenever she got upset I wondered what would happen. Still to this day, I get that fear, even though she is very much fine now.
She did not talk about her wishes to harm herself or how she felt beforehand.
I studied psychology in University, and worked at nonprofit mental health organizations thereafter. All of this book learning, this tactile knowledge I had gained, and years later I still could not make sense of what happened to my mom. Suicide. Reading the word, and I am frozen.
I have contemplated suicide before. I have been depressed. I have also been manic. But knowing what it feels like to have someone you know attempt or die by suicide changed how I felt about it. It didn’t seem as easy a way out anymore, because I knew that it affected people. It was suddenly much more complex. Instead of viewing suicide as a way to end my pain, I saw it as a way to cut short and silence all the talent, and kindness, and all the other things that I love about my mom. It was robbery, in my eyes, of all the things I see in her. It was letting the bad win. And when you are down, depressed and bottomed out, the bad is already winning. It may seem redundant, because if you feel that way, you want it to end, so sure, why not let it win right? At least then the pain will stop, the reasoning may hold. But, no, it just isn’t the answer.
I do not fault my mother for what she did. I understand the pain that brings someone to feel they want to die. And this brings me back to Chester.
I have been awake all night tonight, thinking about Chester.
Because his pain created some of the most beautiful and healing music I’ve ever heard. I know many, many Linkin Park fans would say the same — that his music and lyrics healed them. It provided them with hope, and sanity, and was the one thing there when nobody or nothing else was. Beyond that, he accomplished that empathy with his writing, simply because he knew what that all felt like himself. That pain allowed him to be so successful at reaching his fans and other people. And while many people will fault him or examine his suicide and go over his mental health career with a fine tooth comb, just like they did Kurt Cobain and Robin Williams and the many other prolific “celebrities” who have tragically died that way — I think what they should be doing is celebrating his experience and how he so uniquely shared it with the world, because it was that pain that made him a gifted songwriter and celebrity, and what I feel is most tragic is it was what I can only presume that same pain that led to his death. He was a tragic hero, and his struggles should be celebrated as part of his gift not nit picked, like so many other tragic deaths are.
I took a course on Death when I was doing my psych degree. We studied the Elizabeth Kubler Ross Model stages theory of grief, among many others, and many models that attempted to explain suicide as well.
The model that has stayed with me which seeks to describe how people are able to commit suicide argues that in order to do something so prolific as to take your own life— whereby you are overcoming the basic human instinct to survive—you must be predisposed, in a sense, to harm yourself, via an experience which has caused you such pain that to harm yourself again in that manner would not be seen as a threat to your survival, or, in other words, it would in comparison to the original event seem easy.
When I think of those I know who have attempted suicide, I think of this explanation. It makes all the blame and anger and misunderstanding about suicide disappear.
There must be something that has happened to them that is so painful to them that in comparison, suicide now seems “easy.” Not as in, an easy way out, or as in, measuring feelings or any of that. Simply as in, the thought of killing oneself does not seem hard anymore. The scare factor is gone. No matter how painful the means, it does not matter, because they have already been there — either in a physical or emotional sense. This may sound simple and straightforward, but to many people it is not. Suicide, and death, are not simple, straightforward things. And they need to be talked about. In detail, like this. People need to have an understanding of how such tragedy can occur — of the processes that lead to someone taking their own life, so that it happens less. There needs to be a discussion around suicide not being “bad” or “weak” but instead a response to pain that is too great.
When I watch TV, it is always the “loonie” character who dies by suicide. They are locked up for 48 or 24 hours thereafter in the psych ward (for their own safety), usually with stitches on their wrists. This tells people who don’t have experience with suicide or mental health issues that — A) suicide looks like cuts on the wrists B) if you feel that way, you are going to get locked up, so better not tell anyone. There are also the cases that people describe or minimize as “cries for help” when the suicide is non-fatal. When these cases are publicized, it may give people the incorrect understanding that if they have suicidal feelings but aren’t sure how they feel or what to do with them they shouldn’t talk about it for fear of being interpreted as a cry for help. Lastly, celebrity suicides can also skew perceptions of suicide because media in some cases glamorizes the death’s and lifestyle associated with the tortured artist and their dramatic ending. I know growing up I had a year or so when I wanted to be just like Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain, and in my teen depression I certainly thought about suicide all the time. Kurt Cobain seemed glamorous to me. It wasn’t until I learned that shooting yourself in the head was actually much more challenging than it (again, seems on TV) that I really stopped thinking about suicide. What happened to my mom and reading facts about suicide were the two most helpful things in regards to my own suicidal ideation..
I digress. Back to Chester.
I set out to write this in hopes of giving some direction to the discussion that happens around this. I am not an expert, nor am I pretending to be one. In closing, I have a great deal of respect for Chester Bennington. I think people who take to the internet to discuss his memory should not focus on what could have been wrong with him or be the cause for what happened but rather celebrate that his experiences were the catalyst for such widespread contributions and helped so many people. He died, because of whatever it was that he struggled with and that he fought those things and shared that experience so successfully with so many people—and helped them should not be forgotten. It would be a stain to his memory to glamorize his death in any way, and it is the same for any other artist who dies by their own hand. Death and suicide is not something to romanticize. It is a robbery of that person’s talents and everyone around them who loves them.
I know I am not the only person who felt suicidal, and then listened to Linkin Park, and was then able to pull themselves out of it. Chester Bennington helped me, enormously, time and time again. That his experience provided so much strength to so many people makes me numb with feeling, and dare I say he gave his life saving others with his talent. Thank you Chester, for everything you so daringly lived and shared with us. It will not be forgotten.
RIP Chester Bennington.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
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Lead photo via Chester Bennington’s Facebook page