The morning after the news broke of the world’s tragic loss of brilliant, yet long-suffering, Chester Bennington, social media accounts were flooded with messages of sorrow, sympathy, prayers, and love for him and his family.
There were many beautiful sentiments and feelings that none of us can properly describe, but the attempts were heartfelt—and, for a few days, we (as a community) mourn him together.
We find some comfort in our shared grief—some solace in the tears we shed collectively.
But, for every 10 loving comments posted, there is also a hateful one. And, I can’t comprehend how—in a moment of such deep heartbreak—anyone can have anything negative to say. But…they can—and they do.
People call his act of suicide one of selfishness.
They label him a coward. They ask, “What kind of father would just leave his children behind?” They claim killing yourself is the easy way out.
They say he had everything in the world, so why would he do this?
People had the same response recently, following the death of Bennington’s close friend, Chris Cornell. The masses take to their online soapboxes and preach the same misguided arguments every time anyone, especially a celebrity, commits or attempts suicide.
As someone who has suffered from and battled depression, I want to help others understand it better.
Depression is not “sadness.” It isn’t just feeling low, and it isn’t something that the perfect family, or money, or success can protect or save us from.
Depression, to the point of being suicidal, is a detached numbness that seeps into your pores and into every cell—and, for a time, becomes you. It paralyzes you with its weight and the pain that takes up residence in your very bones and organs, and it metastasizes
It leaves you a vacant shell of your previous self that is only filled with a despair that oozes thickly through your veins, replacing the blood that once sustained you.
When I was deep in depression for a time—lying in my bed, wishing the ground would open and swallow me—did I think of the people I would leave behind if I were never to wake up? Of course, I did. But, in my deadened and emotionless state, I couldn’t access my usual, “normal” feelings, nor those of my family.
I couldn’t imagine that my kids or husband would miss me. I couldn’t imagine that anyone would even notice. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, it was that I couldn’t care. That is what depression does to you. Normal emotions, including the capacity to feel the potential emotions of others, can’t be accessed.
In the past few years, we’ve brought awareness to so many causes and illnesses, and we’ve done so much good by doing so. Cancer awareness. Autism awareness. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) awareness.
Robin Williams committed suicide following his battle with depression caused by Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Dementia. And now, we understand that a little bit better. But every time someone is criticized for committing suicide, we go a few steps backward in our quest for awareness.
Can you imagine if we supported cancer victims through their fight, but then got angry and blamed them if the cancer took their life? This is the same thing. We simply can’t support and have empathy for people with depression, but then withdraw that support if they contemplate taking their life.
Cancer kills—and so does depression. And both of those groups need our understanding.
We, humankind, have got to stop the shame of mental illness.
Its victims deserve the same respect and support that we give anyone with a life-threatening disease. Because, like cancer, depression can be life-threatening—and just like cancer, it’s nobody’s fault. Every time we criticize someone who chooses to end their own suffering—calling them selfish, instead of giving them our empathy and compassion—we keep this cycle going.
We keep the stigma alive.
So, I ask each and every one of you to take a moment to stop and understand that you have no earthly idea what that last level of hopelessness feels like (unless you’ve been there), and to remember that you cannot judge until you have walked in another’s shoes.
I don’t know what it’s like to face addiction on a daily, hourly, minute-to-minute basis as Bennington did. I don’t know what it’s like to have been molested repeatedly as a child, as Bennington openly discussed.
I don’t know what it’s like to have fame and celebrity and not to have one single solitary moment of privacy or peace from it. Not to be able to walk freely through the streets without people staring at me. Not to be able to go to dinner or to rehab or to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting without my suffering making the news. To publicly go through the motions of living with a smile plastered on my face.
There is so much trauma and tragedy in the lives of others that we can’t begin to imagine. And maybe you have gone through addiction, or abuse, or depression, or something similar—but none of us have experienced it in the same way that Chester Bennington did.
And, since we can never truly know what he felt, we need to acknowledge that there are states of consciousness that we can’t possibly grasp.
From that compassionate and humble place, maybe we can begin to be part of the solution.
To the Bennington family and those affected by his death: May you, with time, find the peace in life that Chester never did.
I pray he has found peace now.
Author: Amy Bradley
Image: Flickr/Chris Parker
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Callie Rushton