If it happens, you won’t see it coming. Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington had their demons, but they’d sold millions and were buoyed up by the love their families and thousands of fans who turned up to see them on tour. Both dead, both suicides. Why? Their family and friends will be reaching for answers, beating themselves for not recognising the signs. ‘He was fine when I last spoke to him, looking forward to the next gig. What happened? What did I miss? How could I have saved him?’
Recognising that you have a problem is a big deal. It took me until my mid 40s and a nervous breakdown to realise that I’d spent most of my life not being quite right. The panic attacks and fits of depression that kept me in hiding or under a dark cloud, Churchill’s black dog, weren’t just a passing thing. They were an integral part of me and they’d been messing me up in all kinds of ways since forever. Thanks to a fantastic NHS doctor I realised that I’d actually been ill, to varying degrees, for most of my life. Not in a hugely debilitating way, plenty of people have a worse time of it than me, but still, life has often felt like an uphill struggle. Medication helps enormously but I can still tell when I’m on a downward spiral. There have been times when jumping off the merry go round has seemed an appealing option but I can ride it out, because I know what’s going on and I know what to do.
There are still moments when it feels like a trapdoor has opened up under my feet. I’m very lucky. My friends and family are fantastic and I have a wonderful and understanding wife, who is the love of my life. She understands, down to the bone, how this feels. She supports me in a million different ways and I couldn’t do anything to hurt her. And yet the darkness still lurks. Nothing she or anyone else can do will make it go away. This is where I come back to Chester and Chris. Recently people, including Chester’s widow, have been sharing photos of their loved ones all happy and smiling, just days before killing themselves. Those smiles are real but even if things are going well, hey, millions of records, adoring fans, the trapdoor can open up at any moment. When it does and the void is beckoning and whispering ‘what’s the fucking point?’ logic and reason can go out of the window.
Don’t panic btw, I’m not going anywhere. I want to see what happens next in this life, not the next one.
So, if you have a loved one who struggles with their mental state, please, please don’t beat yourself up if the worst happens. Be there for them when things get dark, keep in touch, look out for the signs and yeah, do what you can. But if that trapdoor opens and you’re not there, right at that very moment, it’s not your fault.
If you struggle with depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, for god’s sake go and see a doctor. Oh and don’t worry about taking meds. You’d take aspirin for a headache, antibiotics for an infection and insulin for diabetes and this is no different. It’s just brain chemicals innit. Get help and look after yourself, ok?