Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Chester Bennington, Depression, and You

Like so many people in their youth, my brother didn't always have the best taste in music. But every once in awhile, he pulled something great out of his hat, and sometime late in 2000, he showed up with a copy of Hybrid Theory, Linkin Park's debut album.

I know that nΓΌ-metal is a controversial genre among music lovers, and I understand why. For my part, I was never a huge fan of any one band from that world, and even Linkin Park wasn't part of my pantheon beyond Hybrid Theory. But that one album is one to which I can still return, 17 years later, and enjoy, and part of that has to do with Chester Bennington's lyrics and vocals.

At the time, I was 14 years old and a freshman in high school. My peers and I were at that awkward stage where we were growing up but not grown up, and that was even more obvious for us underclassmen, not the least because some of us were shedding our middle-school identities and trying to form new--or at least cooler--personas. This was a time when I was getting into rock music rather than the prevailing pop of that era. It was also a time when I'd already had my first run-in with psychology, though many years before I received the diagnoses I have now. 

Something about the way Bennington delivered his words got to me. He could move from angry to vulnerable to sad to enraged in seconds, which spoke to every outcast kid in the country. No song embodied this better than Linkin Park's monster hit "In the End."

Although it's been memed and the chorus provides a nice bit of dry humor when you've messed up some task or other (example: you tried so hard to run a mile and got so far, but in the end, it didn't even matter because it was high school phys ed), "In the End" is quite powerful. It's an anthem about failed friendships and intimate relationships, about letting out your emotions when you want to quit trying, and it's comforting to know that someone else really, truly understands your pain.

What many people didn't know, but surely could have inferred from most of the songs on Hybrid Theory, was that Chester Bennington had walked a difficult road up to that point in his life. Even though he spoke about his challenges and his depression on many occasions afterward, this was the beginning of his career, and he was a newly-minted rock star, which made him cooler than cool.

Now that he's passed away, everyone knows that Bennington had depression. A vocal minority of people out there have been saying the same things they've said about countless celebrities before: how can you be depressed when you have it all? They fail to understand that it's a real illness; you can't wish it away or ignore it into nonexistence, and you can throw all the money you like at it, but it won't bow to capitalism. 

Even if you do all the right things--go to the appointments, take the meds, read the books, do the cognitive behavioral therapy--you might still not feel better. And it's an exhausting experience, both physically and emotionally: depression literally makes you tired, and discussing your inner thoughts can be difficult, especially when you already feel inadequate and stressed. For those diagnosed with chronic depression, this turns into a lifelong battle. You never know when your medication might start to fail you, or when something may happen to send you into a spiral. 

When you're living in such a black hole, it is sometimes difficult to see a way back to the light, let alone drag yourself onto that path. No matter how many people you love or how much money you have, if depression is that pervasive, it can drive you to extremes. So no, I'm not surprised that Bennington chose to end his own life. And I'm not disappointed in him, either. Rather, I feel for him and his family, for his fans, for his friends. They've lost someone dear to them, and he lost his battle.

But I don't condone what he's done. Having been touched by suicide multiple times in my life--sometimes directly, sometimes peripherally--I can tell you that it's a horrible experience for everyone. Because I've been depressed, I completely understand where people are coming from when they consider suicide, and I'll never judge anyone who feels that way. However, know this: the world will not, cannot be the same without you.

And so, as always, I encourage anyone who's feeling suicidal to reach out and speak with someone. There are numerous hotlines and websites with good resources, and if those fail, you can always e-mail me: Please stick around. We want you here with us.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Writing the Stress Away

For the past month and a half, I've felt more depressed than normal, with many of the symptoms you'd expect: lack of motivation, fatigue, tearfulness, et cetera. Functioning well is a challenge. One day, my crying was so hysterical that even my dog thought I was being too extra, so she left me in favor of a quieter spot elsewhere in the house.

One night, I was faring particularly badly, even though I'd watched a fun movie and taken special care to shower well, have a marginally proper meal, and clean my room a little. Uncertain of what I should do next, I finally decided to sit down and write a blog post about something I'd thought of earlier in the day.

And I felt so much better when I was writing.

This isn't always the case. But on that occasion, it worked. I'm not surprised; after all, writing has long been recognized for its therapeutic value, along with art (at this point, I must pause to give my alma mater, Lesley University, a shout-out for their excellent expressive therapies program). In fact, I seriously considered studying writing therapy myself, before other interests eclipsed that one--and after I decided I didn't want to take a statistics class, obviously.

My academic history aside, writing can prove to be a useful outlet for all sorts of people. In my case, it's not something I've ever pursued for that purpose; rather, it's an imperative, something I have to do. But I encourage anyone who might be looking for a way to blow off some steam to pick up a pen and see what happens. It might just be the prescription for which you've searched.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

MaWhitDonManNa, or Getting Your American On

Let's talk about Madonna and Walt Whitman for a minute.

Maybe it's an unorthodox pairing. But frankly, these two work well together: each taking in as much as they can, whipping it around in their personal brain-blenders, and then spitting something out and sharing it with the masses. Plus they're both uniquely American, albeit in different ways: Madonna the gregarious, outspoken, spotlight-seeking variety in the vein of Benjamin Franklin (don't fight me on this), Whitman the contemplative, wordsmithing, diplomatic type along the lines of Thomas Jefferson (I'm telling you: it's true).

The thing that really unites them, though, is their proclivity for tinkering. Madonna has been on 10 tours--9 of them worldwide--and many of her songs have been rejiggered along the way. "La Isla Bonita" seems to be one of her favorite tunes to reinvent, as she's introduced new versions of it on 5 separate tours, in addition to the album and radio cuts.

Does this sound like anyone we know? Perhaps--could it be--Uncle Walt? He of the multiple revised/expanded printings of his landmark work, Leaves of Grass? Why, yes it is.

And this is also a mark of their American nature: the constant need for improvement. Ours is not a nation that feels comfortable letting something stand if it needs to be fixed. We're at our best when we take what has been good about our past and bring it into the present. That way, we honor both history and progress; that's why the Constitution has had amendments added to it throughout the years.

So maybe let's look to the examples of Madonna and Whitman and try to forge ahead, better than we were yesterday.


Images via here and here.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Best Part of Being a Writer

As you may know, I'm an official Goodreads author, and one of the coolest functions of an author's profile, as far as I'm concerned, is the part where we get to answer questions. Recently, Goodreads sent a question to me that piqued my interest in such a way that I wanted to take an entire post--rather than a short paragraph--to discuss it: what is the best thing about being a writer?

This question is so wide open as to lend itself to debate, and indeed, I can think of several options that may be worth exploring. But for me, the best part is having the opportunity to move people.

For many years, I resisted poetry because I was taught by teachers who espoused some variation on that old saw: "This is the only valid way to interpret this poem." I wasn't about that life, and it put me off the idea of verse. When I was in college, however, new ways of approaching all types of literature, and especially poetry, were available to me. It was then that I decided something important about my own work: as long as the reader gets SOMETHING out of it, I have done my job as a writer.

This doesn't mean that I don't have my own ideas about what an individual poem or story says. Obviously, I know what I was trying to convey. What it DOES mean, however, is that I want to hear what others have to say about my work, and my biggest wish is that they will be able to make some meaningful connection with any given piece. 

Because if I'm putting my writing out into the world, there is no point whatsoever in producing it only for my own sake. There is (I assume/hope) a reader on the other end who may have an unexpected reaction to my words, and that's okay, and I want to hear about it, too! If you're having a bad day and feel relieved because one of my poems let you know that someone else was experiencing the same thing, great! If you're in love and one of my stories speaks to those feelings inside you, fantastic! Even if you're reviled by something I've written, I have still elicited a reaction, and I want to know about your disgust. 

Basically, I most enjoy having the chance to interface with others. As an introvert, it can be incredibly difficult for me to make new friends or even acquaintances, and readers help me as much as I aim to help them. Other writers may say they most love creating their own worlds, or the thrill of seeing their name on the cover of a book, and nothing is wrong with either of those motivations. I'm simply approaching it from a more humanistic perspective.

Read on, y'all. And tell me what you think about my words!