Last Thursday, Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington was found dead in his home in California. Last Thursday would also have been the 53rd birthday of Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell, who died in May. Last Friday would have been Robin Williams birthday, had he not passed away nearly three years ago.
All three of them committed suicide.
Mental illness is fatal if it’s left to fester. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. Men ages 40-44 have the highest rate of suicide in the UK. Rates of suicide in women are the highest they’ve ever been on record.
But we only ever talk about it when somebody unites us in empathy, and it forces us to hold a mirror up to our own lives. The aftermath of Robin Williams’ death saw people all over my Facebook wall suddenly opening up in shared grief and a sort of mental health comradeship, and I remember feeling quite touched that the response to his death was so many people opening themselves up to say “I feel it too”, and offers to be there as we all reached out to grab hold of each other. Reaching out is easier to say than to do. I know this.
I was bullied so badly in high school that I used to hope – with a calmness that frightens me – looking back – that I’d die in my sleep and wake up as somebody normal.
I had a nervous breakdown when I was fourteen years old.
I spent all of my time at my second school failing to recover, and essentially lost four of the most important years of my life.
I destroyed all my friendships – and they were good friendships, and I have so many regrets – by the time I was in my early twenties, because I was paranoid and miserable and constantly anxious and it turned me into a horrible stranger.
I nearly failed my degree on multiple occasions and had to resit all of my second year exams and one of my modules because my brain was wracked with self-loathing and paranoia and have you ever tried writing essays on Shakespeare like that? It doesn’t work.
Had I not made the long, difficult walk to my GP when I was nineteen – a walk that I turned round on three times and nearly missed my appointment – I would have failed my undergrad degree, never sat my Masters. I wouldn’t have a job. I wouldn’t be engaged. I’m not sure I’d be a functioning human being. I’m not sure I’d be here
I stopped myself five or six times writing this and considered making it a bit more palatable, because I thought ooh…that’s a bit uncomfortable to throw out into the internet.
And it IS uncomfortable. I don’t particularly want to tell my family that I hated myself so much as a very young teenager that wanted to cease existing.
I don’t want to tell the people who probably thought I was a bit of a loser or a weirdo or whatever during high school that I was failing to recover from a breakdown that wouldn’t heal until I was in my 20s.
I don’t want to tell my friends how hard it is to interact with them sometimes because even the slightest feeling that I’m “too much” sends me back into a hole I have to work really hard to get out of, even the slightest thing makes me stressed and my default reaction to stress is either to lose my temper or to burst into tears, neither of which are particularly appealing attributes to have in a friend.
It’s not nice. It makes me uncomfortable, especially as some of these are things I haven’t told anyone for a long time, if at all. But that’s the point, isn’t it? We only ever talk about these things when someone else’s experience triggers it. It’s not something you drop on a Tuesday afternoon out of nowhere. Maybe you don’t do what I’m doing and tell everyone you know, but maybe you tell someone.
I know it’s easy for me to sit here with 20/20 hindsight and tell everyone to talk to each other. When you’re in a bad place, the worst of the worst, it’s a black hole you can’t easily crawl out of. There’s an unwillingness to burden someone else, the creeping paranoia that nobody REALLY cares, despite posts and pleas and helpline numbers. Sometimes we might have told people, in passing maybe, and been shut down. It’s a big step, but believe me, when you take the next big step, and the next one, and the next one, having someone hold your hand as you crawl back into the sun makes a big difference.
I’m mostly OK now. I don’t remember how I got out. Pouring my soul into things as a distraction, a combination of therapy and medication probably helped, and spending quite a lot of evenings in the basement of a comic book store gave me back the years I lost to my own head. It wasn’t easy, and I didn’t come out of it unscathed, but I came out of it.
Reaching out when you’re in that pit is the hardest thing you can possibly do, but I promise it’s worth it. Find something to get you through the day, and the next, and the next. If it’s 3am and you’re sitting in the dark wondering how on earth you’re going to keep going, call a friend. Call your parents. Call Samaritans. Call me. Call someone.