It is never nice to wake to the news that someone has taken their own life. Sadly, this is the case with Chris Cornell, SoundGarden frontman this morning.
As the news feeds fill with the brutal truth that this brilliant, talented life ended in a suicide by hanging, the pain of his absence ripples far and wide across the world touching people he had never met and never will.
The initial reaction is one of shock. Nobody saw the signs. He didn’t show any symptoms of depression. Question after question that will now remain unanswered. For the family and friends, it is a life sentence of heartbreak, pain and guilt. The non stop “what ifs” and “whys” that will eat away at any chance they have of finding peace. Years of family occasions and celebrations saddened by the gaping chasm left behind when a loved one is no longer there.
But rarely does anyone take their life out of the blue. As humans, we are hardwired to survive. Suicide doesn’t just happen. The person finds themselves in such a dark place that no matter what way they twist and turn the problem they can’t see a solution. It is the manifestation of the absence of support. It is the result of a toxic social stigma that stops someone from reaching out. It is the fault of this damned society we live in that denies anyone the freedom to admit to having flaws and being less than perfect. It is the heartbreaking build up of pain that got too overwhelming to cope with.
I can only speak from personal experience and I have openly embraced my choice to do this over the last few years. I refuse to conform to the idea that if you suffer from depression that you should feel shame or go to any limit to hide it. I like who I am. I am proud of my strength. I think I’m pretty awesome most of the time but I acknowledge my many flaws. Those around me know that the chances of locking me in a box and hoping I will stay quiet are pretty remote. But choosing this approach is frustratingly problematic at times. I know that some folk have probably already instinctively started to recoil in horror that I could be so open.
You see, explaining the terrifying darkness of depression and suicidal tendencies to someone who has never experienced it, is like explaining childbirth to a bloke or the pain of a swift kick to the gonads to a girl. If you haven’t endured labour or you don’t have a pair of testicles you can never ever know the depths of that pain. And I get that.
I am acutely aware that whenever I mention my bipolar disorder, certain people will distance themselves from me at lightning speed for fear of being infected. Others full on think I’m a freak of nature. A damaged soul. You can see it in their eyes. Older generations struggle to understand the illness because they have been conditioned for the most part to always keep that upper lip stiff. Perfectionists (and we all have a few in our lives) will shudder in disgust at the vulgarity of my weaknesses. Social media “friends” who frequently post videos at boggling speed of cats dancing and voraciously “like” photos of any remotely smiley face and perfect life will quietly turn a blind eye when I try to speak out about the horrors of mental illness. Tumbleweed on my timeline. Little do they realise, that their behaviour is contributing to a complex social attitude towards mental illness that leads frightened children and adults to make the devastating decision to end their life.
But on the other hand, there is an abundance of hope and positivity too. Despite negativity from some, reaching out and being open was the best decision I have ever made. It is intoxicatingly liberating. It is so utterly enjoyably indulgent to just not give a crap. I have received messages from people and achingly beautiful words that are better than any medication. Messages that I’m pretty sure have kept me safe in my darkest times and ensured that my children will have many more years of nagging from their mother. Honest words from kind people who weren’t afraid to let me know that I wasn’t alone. There will never be enough ways to thank those people. I am so proud of your courage and devotion to making a difference.
I didn’t create a bucket list 15 years ago with “Get Bipolar Disorder” as number 5. I didn’t ask for an illness that would at times cripple me and rob me of happiness. But here I am.
Suicide does not discriminate. It destroys young and old, rich and poor, men and women. Chris Cornell was adored and respected but it breaks my heart to imagine his suffering in his final hour. As a society we have to look out for each other. Just because you are not affected by mental illness, that does not exclude you from the social responsibility of helping those who are. Can you really gamble that you or your children will never need help?
Thankfully I don’t really pass much heed to what people think of me. I would much rather be disliked for what I am than liked for pretending to be someone I’m not. I don’t really care if people chose to walk away. I’m far more concerned about paving the way to a safer healthier future for my children and your children. Even the children of those who chose to ignore me or feel uncomfortable with my openness. And if I have to take one for the team in my attempt to open people’s eyes a little and safeguard our children’s futures I will gladly do so head held high.
Speak out. Educate yourself about mental health. Be kind to those who are suffering.