What I Was Reminded of After Chester Bennington’s Suicide
A few months ago I was at my youth group, the last session we had with this group in question. At some point one of the young girls noticed my upper arm. She asked, “Why do you have those scars on your arm?” Before I could respond she remarked, “You self-harm, don’t you?”
My knee jerk response was to lie and so I responded by saying I was a clumsy person. She did not believe me and again said bluntly, “No, you self-harm.”
I felt a chill at this moment. She was a bright young girl, so why did I not respect her enough to be honest? On the other hand, it has always been something personal to me. The only reason I could wear short sleeves after all these years was because I had gotten a tattoo on my lower arm which had disguised what I believed to be the most obvious signs of my self-harming past. My upper arm to me had faded and I felt sure they weren’t noticeable, so I was taken aback to say the least.
Even now as a mental health advocate and youth worker, self-harm is still a sore topic for me. It is something I have struggled to talk about publicly for as long as it has been an issue in my life. I started at 14 years old and wasn’t able to successfully stop until I was 21 years old. When I first started, I had no desire to show my body as it repulsed me, so it just became an added excuse to wear coats and hoodies all the time. I was no different to the stereotypical image of a “roadman,” insistent that they aren’t hot in sweltering heat with tons of layers on.
I always had some envy, but mostly disdain for people who could display their scarred arms. I held the stigma that most did at the time, which is that it was an attention-seeking behavior. By keeping it to myself, it made me certain I wasn’t like those who did it for that reason, but rather because inflicting pain on myself was better than all the pain I felt that was out of my control. It was a cathartic experience I used to let go of some of the hurt I was feeling that I did not always understand.
Recently, I have been battling with cognitive dissonance regarding my role as a Step-Up Champion, who advocates for reducing mental health stigma on the one hand and on the other still holds their own shame about their mental health issues. With this in mind, I plucked up the courage to do what I had never been able to do before. That is, to admit I had lied and that I had self-harm scars. Do not get me wrong, it is not the first time I have admitted having a history of self-harm. It is just that I I’ve always struggled to tell people who I felt would hold it against me.
When I opened up about this subject, I received a great sense of maturity from this group of 11-year-old children, which I had not anticipated. I was able to openly talk about my depression and self-harm, hopefully leading in turn to the reduction of their own stigma.
After the session, I felt like a weight had been lifted. I was able to do something that scared me and it didn’t have disastrous consequences. Then I opened my news feed.
The first post I saw was about Chester Bennington’s passing. The title grabbed me not only because of who he was, but his age. “What could cause a 41-year-old to pass?” I thought. The cause of death took me back even more; suicide. For the first time, a celebrity death had grasped more than my sympathy.
When I was 14 years old, I got sucked into the world of rock and metal music, through the gateway of indie. In this world, I found bands like Linkin Park, a band who I was familiar with before as a pre-teen obsessed with Avril Lavigne. Rock was deemed too scary for my God-fearing mom and so I steered away. The second time around, however, she couldn’t defend the pull that this music would have on me. Especially at a time when I could hear songs which identified feelings I felt no one else could understand.
At 14, mental illness wasn’t something I knew anything about and it wasn’t talked about openly. The feelings of paranoia, anxiety, low mood and loneliness I felt caused distress, anger and confusion. Music was my only solace at the time. Hearing lyrics that identified what I felt and assured me that I wasn’t alone may be part of the reason I am still here today.
Linkin Park re-emerged in my life and though they were not a major band for me, the few songs which captivated me, like “From the Inside” and “Crawling,” encapsulated what it meant to be me; a wounded teenager who was lonely and self-hating. To quote “The Verve,” they were “sounds that recognized the pain in me.”
This thought burdened me as I thought about musicians like Chester, who share their pain for the world, with no solace for themselves. It also shined a light into my past battles with mental illness and forced me to reflect on my experiences with it to date.
Chester has openly spoken about his battles with drugs, alcohol and suicidal thoughts. As someone in recovery from depression and anxiety, I know all too well that life with mental illness can feel like a lifelong war, with many battles and white flags in between. His death is a painful reminder of this fact. It is a reminder that it is not just enough for me to be vocal about my struggle, but I must consistently fight, even when I am fed up. It is a reminder that at 41 years old, I could be fighting the same demon that first knocked my door at 14 years old.
It is important for me to know I can relapse again if I fail to heed these reminders. As someone who aspires to help others struggling with their own mental battles, it is important for me to remember to be gentle and kind to myself also.
Whether you are a musician who gives hope to those who may feel misunderstood, an advocate who challenges yourself to reduce stigma or just someone who knows what it’s like to imagine you’d be better off dead, I hope you can keep fighting for yourself and find solace in being alive.
I want to end with lyrics I have found comfort in:
When your day is long
And the night, the night is yours alone
When you’re re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life, well hang on
Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes
So, hold on
— “Everybody Hurts” by REM
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 Linkin Park’s Facebook page