Tonight I’m thinking about Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington. We were all still trying to regain our equilibrium after Cornell’s suicide in May, when last week’s news about Bennington knocked us down again. These artists, whom we so loved and admired, were burdened with an anguish so relentless that they chose the ultimate release. It’s unbearably sad, especially for their families. And because of their celebrity, it puts a pronounced and sobering light on the illness of depression and its devastating impact. Nobody is immune, not even a rock star. But as we grieve these men and ruminate on what these losses means to us, I hope we can also do this much:
Remember the living. Or more specifically, remember the millions of people worldwide who battle this demon every day.
Let me start by saying that I make absolutely no value judgment on suicide or on anyone’s decision to take his or her own life. Depression is a long, hard fight. And some people, for a variety of reasons, can’t hold on. The pain is just too punishing and deep. Suicide is profoundly personal and complex. I’m in no position to judge the choices of people who are suffering. On a side note: Three years ago, I unwittingly witnessed the suicide of a stranger. It broke my heart and shook me to the core. I think about that man every time I go over the 12th Street Bridge.
Depression is a motherfucker. I can say that with authority. I’ve dealt with it for as long as I can remember. I’ve shared about it openly here on the blog. (For the full story, go here.) In a nutshell, I know what it’s like to move through my days in a dreary malaise, seeing the world through a perpetually gray lens. I know what it’s like to tumble into the abyss and climb my way out again. I’ve peered over that dark edge and contemplated my options. However, I’ve also know great happiness. I’m playful by nature, slightly fearless and prone to good cheer bordering on the ridiculous. I know and understand peace.
Depression is not necessarily all-or-nothing.
In my experience, depression never goes away entirely. But like many other illnesses, it can be managed. I find a holistic approach works best for me. This involves a balance of medication, therapy as needed, exercise, clean food and the love and support of family and friends. Living with depression takes intention, focus and a fair amount of grit. But it’s possible.
So while we grieve the tremendous losses of Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington and others, I want us to also remember the courageous spirits who are still here; who are somehow managing another day, taking care and doing whatever they have to do; navigating through the darkness while also dealing with the day-to-day challenges of living. These are neighbors, teachers, bank tellers, bus drivers, line cooks and volunteer baseball coaches. They are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. Ordinary people, some with far fewer resources than others. Many persevering against enormous odds. They need our compassion. They need our support. They need our love.
I want to be perfectly clear– I am in no way shaming or vilifying those who have committed suicide. I’m simply lifting up those who are still here. Depression is a horrible disease, but not everyone dies from it. It is vital that we remember this. For every well-publicized tragedy, there are a million quiet victories.
“Remember the living. Give them love, give them bread.”
– Todd Rundgren
NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE: 800-273-8255