Depression Has Many Moods and Faces
Every morning I wake up and check the multiple social media platforms on my phone. Like, I actually set my alarm for about an hour earlier than I need to wake up to make time for a little morning scrolling to catch up on everything from The Skimm, memes, politics and those 30 second Tasty videos (I know you're all guilty of reading up on recipes you'll probably never end up preparing IRL).
This morning, I came across an incredibly moving video. One that just seemed all too familiar and hit a very deep rooted chord of my heart. The video was posted on Twitter by Chester Bennington's (the brilliant singer/songwriter/frontman of Linkin Park) wife, Talinda Bennington. Chester was laughing and joking with his family - trying out those disgusting jelly beans inspired by Harry Potter - just hours before he passed away tragically.
Chester Bennington took his own life at 41 years old in July of 2017. The video today, the news of his passing...they just really weigh heavily on my heart. Suicide happens all of the time, but that doesn't mean the news should ever feel any lighter. It just moves me in a different way now since losing a friend in 2016 to a lifelong battle with depression. I'd be lying if I told you that it doesn't send me down a spiral of thoughts, steps retraced and questioning so many things about the human heart, mind and why we do the things we do.
While fans and many of his friends were incredibly shocked by the news, Chester's lifelong struggle with depression wasn't kept a secret. Bennington was pretty open through the years about the trauma suffered during his childhood. His parents divorced when he was 11 and he was sent to live with his father, a police detective who specialized in child sex abuse cases. It wasn’t until years later that Bennington revealed that he was a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of an older male friend beginning at just 7 years old.
“It escalated from a touchy, curious, ‘what does this thing do’ into full-on, crazy violations,” Bennington told Kerrang! in 2008. “I was getting beaten up and being forced to do things I didn’t want to do. It destroyed my self-confidence. Like most people, I was too afraid to say anything. I didn’t want people to think I was gay or that I was lying. It was a horrible experience. The sexual assaults continued until I was 13.” Chester eventually told his father about the abuse, but chose to not press charges against his abuser after finding out he too was a victim of past sexual abuse. “I didn’t need revenge,” he told the Guardian later.
As a teen, Bennington began using cocaine, opium, LSA, and meth. “I was on 11 hits of acid a day,” Chester told Metal Manner magazine. “I dropped so much acid I’m surprised I can still speak! I’d smoke a bunch of crack, do a bit of meth and just sit there and freak out. Then I’d smoke opium to come down.” He shared that he was bullied throughout high school, “I was knocked around like a rag doll at school, for being skinny and looking different,” he later shared.
He overcame many of his struggles and built a very noteworthy career, created strong friendships, two marriages and five children. Bennington was incredibly transparent about his trips to rehab, long stints of sobriety, skeletons from the past that would come back and haunt him from time to time.
Even with the awareness he'd bring to not only his personal lifelong struggle with mental health, but also as an advocate to promote understanding around the stigmas of depression - friends and family were still very much in shock when he took his own life. But, see, that's the thing about suicide...you never really expect it to happen.
Cameron Strang, the head of Linkin Park’s label Warner Bros Records, said in a statement after Bennington's death, “Chester Bennington was an artist of extraordinary talent and charisma, and a human being with a huge heart and a caring soul. Our thoughts and prayers are with his beautiful family, his bandmates and his many friends. All of us at WBR join with millions of grieving fans around the world in saying: we love you Chester and you will be forever missed.” Chester was loved and adored by many - family, friends, strangers - but that didn't make his struggle with mental health magically disappear.
The reason why I even felt compelled to write about such a heavy topic is because I couldn't relate more with the video that Chester's wife posted. Depression has many faces and moods. It never looks the same. It's also not always obvious. I think it's easy for many to look at a situation from the outside and think it had to have been obvious to those who would interact with him on a daily basis. My stomach turned when I saw comments on the video saying things like, "His laughter is so over the top. It's so obvious to be he was trying too hard to fake happiness. Why didn't his family notice he was depressed?!" It's one of those things that is just so much easier to assume or say when you're looking from the outside in.
When one of my best friends passed away in 2016, I was one of the three who grew worried about her whereabouts and ended up discovering our worst nightmare first. I later found out I was the last person she communicated with. Even writing that out now still stings. Our sweet, thoughtful, vivacious, passionate, fiery, loyal, hilarious, spunky, sensitive friend (who had the best/loudest laugh you've ever heard btw) was no longer with us. Within less than five minutes of finding out this news, I was given power of attorney to help make decisions I would never wish upon anyone. To say my life changed completely that day (and the weeks to follow), feels like a total understatement. Dealing with my shock, delivering the news to her father and her closest friends firsthand, helping plan her funeral, etc, etc. In ways it helped me stay busy during such a difficult time, but sometimes I wonder if it just delayed my grief. Who knows. Regardless, I continue to process the loss on a daily basis whether it's through a smile at the best of memories, misty eyes or that gut wrenching feeling when I want to text her a screenshot of a meme only she would laugh at and remember she's not going to respond with a text back. Missing someone you love never really gets easier.
I believe that you never get "over" losing a loved one, but you learn to cope and heal over time. The wound will scab, but you'll always have the scar. Scars are a sign of experience and strength...and maybe that's what healing looks like after losing someone you love. Showing off your scars to help others know they're not alone and that they will indeed survive their pain, if they ever experience something similar.
Believe it or not, one of the first and most frequently asked questions my best friend (The three of us had been roommates for years and kept in constant contact even after moving just a few minutes away from each other. We're talking an average of at least 50 texts a day and regular weekly hangouts.) and I received from those who heard the news was "How did you guys not know? Were you expecting this? Are you surprised?". The questions were so hard to swallow when it first happened, but it is still just as tough when I'm asked today or think about how I felt each time we were questioned. While I'm sure many were coming from a place of innocent curiosity and concern, the guilt we felt was already so incredibly heavy.
Many actually voiced that they thought my friend was the happiest she'd been in years...or maybe even ever. I thought that too. A week before she passed away she told me she'd just had the best birthday week she'd ever had and had never felt more loved or supported in her whole life. She also posted a photo a few months ago with myself and our other friend, captioned "BEST WEEKEND EVER." In the years I had known her, she truly never seemed happier. Some people wonder if that's an exaggeration, but it isn't. Others who knew told me they had no idea she had ever struggled with depression and were incredibly shocked to hear she'd ever struggled. Again, depression doesn't always look the same...it has many, many moods. Sometimes it's very visible and many times it goes unnoticed.
When a loved one is struggling openly with depression, they don't want to be reminded of their sadness when they're experiencing pure happiness and joy. As someone who loves them deeply, all you want to do is savor those happy moments and make them last long enough for them to know they can experience that joy more often. You're always fighting for them to turn the corner and they're actually fighting so much harder than anyone else to find joy in the everyday.
Those who turn to suicide often don't get enough credit for how long and how hard they fought the hopeless thoughts that frequently raced through their minds. Some may feel differently about that last sentence. Some may say it's controversial or that it doesn't align with their beliefs. I'm okay with that. I'm okay with that because I believe we don't talk about this enough. We don't take the time to talk about anxiety and depression - whether it's short-term, long-term, lifelong or circumstantial. We need to stop being afraid of being more vocal about this. I truly believe the more it's talked about, the more people struggling will come forward and feel comfortable being vulnerable. Many who take their own lives deal with feelings of extreme loneliness and are convinced their loved ones will be happier when they no longer have to deal with their ups, downs, extreme behavior, closed doors...the list goes on. Talking about anxiety, depression and suicide will alleviate that feeling of being misunderstood in solitude. I'm not saying it will solve it, but I am saying it will make a difference and with an issue like this, any step forward is a big win.
Depression and anxiety do indeed have many faces and moods. The video Taila Bennington posted reminds us of the tragic and unfortunate death of her husband, but it also reminds me of the overwhelming grief and guilt loved ones experience after they lose a loved one.
I really questioned whether I should share about such a raw topic. Wondering if it would make others uncomfortable, if it's too heavy, if it seems insensitive or gratuitous to post this. But in the end, I know my sweet friend (who is actually my inspiration for creating this site and continues to inspire me on a daily basis) would want nothing else but to bring awareness around this important and very real issue. If there's the slightest possibility that reading my thoughts help even one person who is struggling with depression, trying to pick up their broken heart after losing a loved one or just overall awareness...then it's the right move.
A therapist I sought out after losing my friend pointed me to a post on Lifehacker. While it's incredibly simple, it helped me breakdown my thoughts and answer questions that had been swirling around in my head. Often, I pull it back up and revisit the content. It's never an easy thing to lose a loved one and I hope this helps you or someone you know like it did me.
Clearing Up Some Myths About Suicide
Suicide is very commonly misunderstood. As a result, it has a large stigma that not only hinders the grieving process, but can keep people from seeking the help they need in the first place. Here are some facts you may or may not have known about suicide:
- Mental illness can (but doesn't always) increase suicide risk: Often times, we try to interpret suicide as a symptom of depression. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention explains that this is sometimes the case. However, it is equally true that intense stress, traumatic events, substance abuse, or serious and chronic pain can lead someone to take their own life.
- Anyone can be a victim of suicide: While the AFSP says that white males in particular are at a higher risk of suicide statistically, there 40,600 lives lost to suicide in 2012, which included men and women of all ethnicities and age ranges. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
- Suicide doesn't peak during the holidays. Contrary to popular belief, the holiday season is not an outstanding cause of suicide, which may be a bit of a comfort as the holidays approach. According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is actually at its lowest rate in December. Suicide rates actually tend to spike during the Spring and Fall.
Suicide Loss Differs From Other Types of Death
It's important to know that the grieving process for a loved one who takes their own life can be dramatically different from most other types of death. While we understand how heart disease, old age, or car accidents work, the path to suicide happens largely internally. In fact, suicide can often occur without any warning signs at all. This isn't always the case, but it can happen.
Naturally, coping with the loss of someone close to you in this way can be hard in its own special way. Keep in mind as you process these feelings:
- It's okay to wonder why: Many suicide victims do not leave a note. Even if they do, you can still struggle with what drove them to the point that they felt this was necessary. Unfortunately, you can't always get answers, but it's alright to ask.
- It's alright to be angry: When a drunk driver causes an accident that takes a loved one's life, you know who to be angry at. When someone commits suicide, though, the person who did it and the victim are the same. Thoughts like "How could he do that to us?" or "Didn't she care about us?" are extremely common and also perfectly natural.
- Blaming yourself is natural (but it's not your fault): When something tragic happens, we want to believe we could've prevented it. This instinct doesn't pair well with the first bullet on this list. It's easy to imagine a "what if" scenarios. The problem is that this often only makes us feel worse. While feelings of guilt are totally normal, be aware that ultimately, the choice was theirs and try not to be so hard on yourself.
All of these reactions are perfectly normal and expected. It's important to keep in mind that you may experience any or all of these emotions while coping with the grief. While it won't make the feelings go away, knowing they're natural can help ease the transition.
Help Yourself Grieve with These Coping Strategies
Unfortunately, there's no one method for overcoming grief. We all have our own ways of dealing with loss and the case of suicide is no different. However, there is no shortage of strategies or suggestions you can try to help get past through the process. Here are some actions you should consider.
Stay in Contact with Friends and Family
It can be tempting to isolate yourself during the grieving process—and it's okay to take time for yourself! However, as the Mayo Clinic suggests, try to maintain regular contact with at least some friends or members of your family. Isolation and negative emotions can be catalysts for depression, which can make it very difficult to escape the cycle. Additionally, your other loved ones may be just as affected by the loss as you are. Holding each other up can be considerably more therapeutic than running from the feelings.
Make a Time and Space for Yourself
Our society doesn't allow a ton of time or space for grieving. While some jobs or schools may give you a grace period of a few days (whereas grieving can take months or even years), being out of commission for too long can lead to tangible consequences. To compensate for this, the ASFP's Resource and Healing Guide suggests that you dedicate time to yourself.
If you have paid time off with your job, consider setting aside a portion of it for a "grief vacation." If you can't take time off, schedule some time either after work or on the weekends to simply be on your own. You can play games, write in a journal, go driving, or whatever it is that helps you relax and process. Just be sure you set it aside. Being constantly busy with others' expectations can cause you to avoid the grieving process altogether.
Avoid Major Decisions (or Seek Outside Input)
When we can't change something that hurts us, we often try to change things we can control to compensate. Quitting your job, beginning or ending a relationship, or moving to a new place are all big decisions. You may be tempted to leave a home that reminds you of your loved one, or to quit a job to remove stress. However, you should avoid making any major decisions while you grieve. Accept that your judgment may not be at 100% and try to hold off for a while.
If you absolutely have to make a major decision (you can't help when your lease is up, after all), consult with trusted friends before you make a commitment. Ideally, speak to someone who is not similarly affected connected to the tragedy if possible. A friend from a different social circle or even a coworker can help shed some light on the situation.
Consider Professional Help if Necessary
There's no shame in seeking help if you have to. Professional therapy has begun to shed its stigma over the years, but many people still feel as though seeing a therapist can mean there's "something wrong with me." And, in a sense, there is. In the same way that being exposed to germs or bacteria can make your body sick, being exposed to tragedy can make your mind ill. You're not broken, though. Everyone needs support sometimes, and seeking help from an experienced professional is a perfectly natural step that we take in every other area of life.
If you're not familiar with how to find a mental health professional, we've discussed the issue here. We've also discussed how to find help if you can't afford traditional therapy. In both cases, it can help to find a therapist that you can relate to on a personal level. Just because the first person you talk to didn't help, that doesn't mean no one can. It's important that you find a therapist that works for you, so don't be afraid to ask to talk to someone else if you're uncomfortable.
If you've read this far...thank you. I know this was long and I know it was heavy. Finally, and definitely most importantly, if you're considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255 in the US) or speak to someone you know. There's always an alternative and, despite how hopeless you may feel right now, the help you need is there when you need it. Make the intentional decision to look for it. Make the choice to ask for help. You're worth it. You're not alone. Even the darkest of moments do not have to be the end. After all, the darkest nights produce the brightest of stars. Please reach out.
Find More Help with These Resources
Dealing with the loss when a loved one commits suicide isn't a process that's done in a day. In fact, it can go on for a long, long time. If you need more guidance or just an ear to listen to, here are some resources you can check out for more help:
- The Mayo Clinic offers several articles guides with additional suggestions on how to cope here. Topics go beyond just the scope of suicide, but many resources relating to grief are applicable as well.
- The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers guidance on understanding suicide, how to cope, and where you can find support groups in your area or online. You can also read stories from others who have suffered similar losses.
- If you're an educator or professional who is looking to help those in your organization learn about and deal with suicide loss, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center has a variety of kits and resources to help you support those under your care.