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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Art of Flames

He’d gotten as far as piling them up and fetching the matches before the will to set them alight sloped away from him, an exhilarating thought drained in an instant of all value. It would be childish, cowardly even to condemn the sheets to the flames, an act of bitterness not liberation. It would have been an act though, it would have been something which, sat at the scene of his placidity, was all he’d really desired.

The sketches were a life’s work, his life’s work. A personality defined in ink and paint and charcoal, a rigid skeleton for his life to hang off of. That’s what they had been anyway, now they were just a mockery, the jibing graffiti of a dead self, there only to remind him of how far he’d sunk over the years from being that soul wallpapered by it’s own creations to the desolate concrete bunker he’d made of himself now.

When and why the change had come he didn’t know, certainly there’d been no conscious breaking point between the old and the new forms of self he’d lived through. He’d never accepted defeat or abandoned his art, instead he’d just moved through it, broken through to the other side of the miasma of creativity that he’d once believed immense enough to fill the universe, to find himself stood in absolute nothingness. No more ideas, no more creations, no more art, no more anything, just longing gazes behind him as if the past might beckon him back and all would be as it was again.

That was the mood in which, in a frenzy, he’d hurled the stacks of forgotten ideas and projects, finished or still underway, into a heap and resolved himself to condemn all that he’d lost to flames. If it was gone it could be forgotten perhaps, or at the very least the mocking derision of what he had done would be stricken from his sight. The memories and loss might have lingered anyway but for a moment it had seemed like it might help.

He threw the matches to the other side of the room and slumped down. Childish, cowardly. What right had he to strike at that better man who’d created these things? How could he imagine that there was any gain to be made from hacking away at the icon he’d made of his own past? Temper tantrums didn’t make more of the person having them, they simply elevated their target by virtue of comparison. A knowledge that sapped all will from him, even knowing he’d seen the truth did nothing to offer comfort. The pictures had to stay, which meant they had to continue judging him, sneering at the empty vessel out of which all value had been drained.

With the fury of the moment passed he remembered the one option that remained to him, the one that presented no passion or intent but simply was. If they wouldn’t go, he would. After all, he’d already seen the passing of the only part of himself worth living for.

For more from me you can check out my collection No Cure for Shell Shock – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks.

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Enemy of Grief

What could I have become after what happened? Anything, I was told. All they meant was anything they could understand. I could mirror any image those judgemental cunts could dredge up from their guilty and confused notions of what a ‘good’ victim should be. Scared and broken, scarred and tough, cruel and unfeeling, lonely and lost. All the permutations they decided were acceptable for someone who’d ‘suffered’ in the generic sense they needed to limit it to to satisfy their own discomfort. All the ways they could see to fence me off as a prisoner of what was done to me, forever shaped by it, never more than it.

What did I become? Nothing good, not in their eyes at least. Spiteful, they called it. They were there for me and I’d disappointed them, rejected them and ruined their narrative of how my pain should play out. A personal insult far worse than anything they cared to think had been done to me. That’s how eager they were to steal my pain, that’s how disgusted they were at me dealing with it in my own way – they had to make me the villain. An abuser of their own grief, which had long since stopped relating to me in anything but words.

What else could I have done? Maybe I am bitter and cruel and harsh. Maybe I did make their lives worse. Maybe I did reject their fawning and hollow pity. Fuck them. I survived, in the way I had to. If that makes me the enemy then I’ll still take that over being their victim.

For more from me you can check out my collection No Cure for Shell Shock – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks.

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Punch Drunk

He could feel his fists clenching automatically. The first sign of the desire that was swelling up within him, a physical reaction accompanied by vivid memories of his own time in the ring. Flashes of a long surpressed satisfaction found in the first flurry of thudding punches – a distillation and simplification of everything he was into one pure and comprehendible moment of action.

It had been a bad idea to come along tonight. Already he was feeling oppressed by the triggered ressurgance of everything he’d spent so long training himself to manage without giving in to the impulses which used to dictate his entire life.

He should have guesssed what his reaction would be. No, he’d known what his reaction would be, he should have accepted the truth rather than ignoring it for the sake of self-indulgence. For six years he’d lived out everything he was as a fighter, touring pubs, barns and carparks to serve an audience of barrel shaped drunks who barked at the entertainments of bare knuckle boxers. A form of sanity, he’d always told himself, a release for that large part of himself that he couldn’t manage internally as a violent expression to an approving crowd.

He remembered the force of that life with crystal clarity – how could he have fooled himself, even for a second, into believing that he’d conquered that drive for release in and from himself? No amount of therapy, self help books, meditation and positive thinking could drown out his nature. He could only even restrain it with almost obsessive focus.

Within the improvised ring of hay bales the night’s first fighters were enthusiastically dancing around each other. Neither of them yet rattled into punch drunkenness. It was a poor bout though. They were big men, solidly capable of doing real harm, but they were both playing roles. Neither of them willing to stop looking like a fighter for long enough to lose themselves in the glorious release of the moment, if they even knew what that would feel like. The crowd could see it, see the restraint and paranoid control. No one was here to see a parade of controlled skill or style. They came to see what they wanted for themselves, an absence of control, an unthinking release of all there was to give. They wanted someone like him, someone who wanted to be as consumed by the violence as they did themselves in their unmentioned fantasies.

A few token cheers went up as one of the fighters gained the upper hand, a chain of punches to the head sending his opponent staggering away in confusion. Drunken expression more than anything, even with the blows this was still a bout managed by fear and self image. Steve realised he was on the boundary, leaning forwards into the ring, muscles tensed. One step more, one punch and he would be free again. Liberated form all the bullshit ideas about control he’d covered himself in so he could walk down the street without guessing at who was judging him. They’d applaud him for it too. They’d welcome him back to the violence, not caring how or why he’d returned but eager to sink themselves into the chaos of it.

He held himself back, forcing his fists to unball with more strength than he’d ever put into using them.

He had to leave. He had to gulp down fresh air and let his head bathe in silence. He had quit. He had spent years trying to find control for a reason. If he could get far enough away from there then he’d remember what it was, sweep away the heavy fug of almost drunken addiction. For now though he just needed to run, to sprint away from the beautiful promise of stepping back into that ring.

For more from me you can check out my collection No Cure for Shell Shock – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks.

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