By His Own Hand
I awoke yesterday to the news that Chris Cornell had died. The voice that moved a generation, my generation, was gone. I was devastated to hear the news, but I was shattered to learn it was suicide. And when I saw people’s comments about it, I was pissed. I find myself feeling protective of a man I never knew, but who meant something to me through his music. I wanted, I want, to scream and yell at everyone for making such heartless judgements about him. How dare you say that he’s a coward, when you don’t know the battle he fought? How dare you say that he’s selfish, when you’re the one acting like he owes you something? Like he owes you his music, his words, his soul… you wanted more from him, expected more. And somehow HE is the selfish one?
I understand that anger is a stage of grief… well here’s mine. I’m angry, infuriated really, with my generation. My generation, that was given this gift of a soulful artist to inspire us, who can’t even summon a shred of compassion. My generation, who should be at the forefront of mental health awareness but instead shames a dead man for his struggle. My generation, who spouts platitudes like “It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” while having no fucking clue how pervasive depression and mental illness can be. My generation, that is so damn entitled that we’d actually believe that a person owes us more days of living their own life. Again I say, how dare you??? How dare you take every ounce of him that he poured into his music, and think that your money was a decent return? Oh, you say, he was rich, famous, he was living the dream. He had a family, people who depended on him. Fans who depended on his music to get them through. And to that I say, fuck you. Fuck you, generation of me, me, me. Generation of take. Generation of no compassion. Fuck. You.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want anyone to die. I want people struggling with mental illness to reach out, to keep fighting the fight until they find a solution. But how much can you demand of a person? How many medications, and side effects, should they endure before they’re allowed to say it’s not working? How many years of battling depression, before you’ll admit that it’s not a “temporary” problem? How long does a person have to struggle before they have your sympathy?
Ironically, alongside all the suicides reported by the news, is the right-to-die movement. The idea that those battling terminal illness should be able to choose when they die. So it comes down to people still not believing that mental illness is truly that, an illness. When you get cancer, people are compassionate. They say, yes, you have the right to end this horrific journey. But when you’ve fought depression for 40 years people say that you aren’t really sick, just tough it out.
When my father died, he’d already been sick for a long time. He was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at just 18 years old. In his early thirties, the diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease came. And at 45, the word was cancer. He chose not to treat the cancer. He chose to die, even when he desperately wanted to live. He chose not to stay sick for another month, another year. And with the aggressive treatments needed to slow down his cancer, he would have been very sick, every day, as he tried to buy more time of just being alive. I have always respected his choice. Never did I think, why didn’t you fight to stay with me? Because it’s not a fair question to ask. It’s not ok to ask someone to struggle, to be in pain, to be miserable, for you. You don’t get that right.
Yet, that’s exactly what my abusive ex-husband did. He expected me to give up my dreams, my friends, my very freedom, to offer him the comfort he needed. He needed something to take his rage, his pain, out on. He chose me, and he fully expected me to endure it for as long as he needed. And it’s not ok. It’s not ok to force someone to suffer for your comfort. All I thought about, every day, was escape. Is it any wonder that I have the deepest empathy for others wishing the same?
And I want to say I’m sorry, Chris. I’m sorry that in 2017 people don’t understand depression. I’m sorry that people took the product of your genius without ever taking a moment to realize that many artists are tormented souls. That the beautiful words that moved them so, had to come from somewhere deep inside you, and that place, while beautiful, was also sometimes dark and terrifying. I’m sorry that you thought there wasn’t another way. I honestly can’t tell you if there was. But I can tell you that the shame, and guilt, and cruelty being hurled at you now will not help the next person looking for an escape. They won’t help the understanding of mental illness. They only contribute to the stigma.
I’m sorry that so many people listened to your music and never really heard you. I’m sorry that they never realized that there was a human being behind it all. I’m sorry that they still don’t. What I’m most sorry about though, is that people still don’t realize that suicide isn’t just the problem of an ill person. It’s the problem of society. It’s the problem of our misunderstanding, our lack of compassion and empathy. It’s the problem of everyone who treats mental illness like it isn’t truly a disease. It’s the problem of everyone who listens without hearing. It’s the problem of everyone who is selfish and demanding and entitled. We failed you, when you’ve done so much for us. And I’m so sorry that we never even realized it. It shouldn’t have come to this. Not for you, not for anyone. And we’ll miss you, more than you could know. I can only pray that as a society, we start to change, before we lose anymore beautiful souls.