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.


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