Suicide and Cowardice

I’ve never listened to Linkin Park, or Korn for that matter, and long and varied as I hope my life’ll be I hold out zero desire to experience either band in the course of it. So when I touch on Chester Bennington’s suicide and the reaction to it here I’m not coming to it from any particular fan-ish or grieving angle, more a personal one given my own experiences with the suicidal and the depressed.

Chester’s death didn’t really come on to my radar to be honest. Someone I’d never heard of killed himself, sad but no more interesting or relevant to me than the deaths of anyone else whose time comes before it perhaps should. What has popped up on social media within my usual blank faced staring at the screen though is the angry reaction from Korn’s Brian Welch.

Honestly, Chester’s an old friend who we’ve hung with many times, and I have friends who are extremely close to him, but this is truly pissing me off! How can these guys send this message to their kids and fans?! I’m sick of this suicide shit! I’ve battled depression/mental illness, and I’m trying to be sempethetic, but it’s hard when you’re pissed! Enough is enough! Giving up on your kids, fans, and life is the cowardly way out!!! [sic]

There’s been a strong response to the above, even though he’s now apparently deleted it from Facebook and while many others have already touched on the feelings I share towards it I figure it does no harm to put it all in my own words. Some lazy, cheap headlines reported the statement as an outright attack on the man rather than one couched in a more personal disappointment from someone whose own experiences, apparently, have some comparison to Bennington’s. Some of the initial outrage was mediated when people bothered to look beyond the misleading hackery that they first saw. Even if the statement had been nothing more than third rate editors decided to label it as though the aggressive response wasn’t, in my opinion, necessarily fair.

Suicide, and to a degree the depression that can precede it, can be taken in two ways and the closer you are to the individual in question the truer that becomes. On the one hand the factual realities of mental illness are, as any decent person can realise, tragic ones. People who drift so far into their problems/condition really shouldn’t be judged or attacked for the manifestations of them, any more than a victim of more clearly physical disorders should. On the other hand though mental health problems, while they may be illnesses, aren’t as easily quarantined into disdain as physical ailments. It’s easy to section off a physical disease from the person afflicted, it’s easy to hate what the former does while never for a second losing love for the latter. But with mental health the illness can become so insidiously wired into the behaviour of the individual that it’s hard, or even near impossible, to be objective about it.

From my own personal experience I’ve known individuals who’ve committed suicide and been driven to the point of attempting or openly considering it. And my reaction, like Brian Welch’s, wasn’t exactly as detached and understanding as some of those attacking him might have liked it to be. In fact at times it’s been downright bitter and disdainful and even if I didn’t term their actions as ‘cowardly’ I can’t deny that my views weren’t much more friendly or considerate. I was angry at them, or more accurately at my inability to help them, or the world for leading them to a place where the hope I wanted for them became such an impossibility in their eyes. I was even disgusted by them at times, although never openly, because I wanted their problems to become a matter of choice. Helpless in the face of them I wanted it to be a simple matter of personal strength to escape that trap they’d fallen into. Much as I told myself that it was the manifestations of an illness and not the nature of a person I was dealing with that was a hard line to maintain in day to day life, where that truth wasn’t just considered as a ‘right’ thing but was tested as a daily requirement.

Now, with a measure of hindsight and more comfortably separated from the more visceral immediacy of things I can certainly say that my reactions could have and should have been better but at the time, as I experienced the loss, or was around the destructive force of people being driven into that extreme darkness, I reacted as a human being being effected by someone close to them. I reacted, I think, naturally for the circumstances. Which isn’t to say I didn’t do what I felt to be best to help them but it is to say that the understanding, benign feelings I would have liked to have felt towards them and within myself were near impossible to maintain.

And that’s an important thing to remember when it comes to comments like Brian Welch’s. His insensitivity, his cruelty even, weren’t the sum total of his broader reaction to mental health, they were a reaction to a death which to everyone who isn’t in a place where suicide becomes a necessity will always seem avoidable. They were a reaction to the loss of a friend who, as everyone whose been around similar situations will know, will always leave him wondering whether there was some way to stop it from happening. That they seem so personal, so vitriolic is a testament to the nature of the illness rather than the failings of the man himself. As I said, depression is insidious, consuming and winds its way into every aspect of who a person is. To hate it is, in part, to always risk the act of hating it’s victim too. And as abhorrent as that may seem from a distance, as much as we may all want to be the sound voice of reason which can judge the condition as wholly separate from the person, the closer you are the harder that gets to do.

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