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On Darkness, and Depression

It was publicized yesterday that Chris Cornell, former lead singer of Soundgarden, has killed himself.

I feel like now’s a really good time for me to tackle a topic I’ve been mentally avoiding for a little while – mental health & depression.

This isn’t a post about Chris Cornell, famous people, or mourning loss.  This is about you, and me, hard truth, and honesty.

Me

When I was 13, my father passed away from prostate cancer after a year long battle.  I don’t really want to share that, and I don’t want to hang the hat of my story on that, but it was the single largest event that has shaped the rest of my life.

Through the story that ensued, I’ve experienced the affects of alcoholism, addiction, suicidal thoughts, depression and bereavement, some form of PTSD, growing up fatherless, etc.

I share this so, hopefully, we can connect.  Many of you, I trust, have been through some really difficult things.  Perhaps you are experiencing them now.  You, like me, probably are/were even tempted to shrug them off.  But I want you to know, though I don’t deem myself an “authority”, I’ve been there too.  Sometimes I still am.

If you haven’t hit a tremendous moment of pain in life, don’t feel like you’re not supposed to read this.  Instead stick around, and know I’m super happy for you.

You

I’m going to try and make this as general as possible.  Usually, I write things for people who are interested in or life-devoted to audio, because that’s who I am.  But today, by “you” I mean creative, artist-like people.

One day I may be fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do this for real, but I want you to imagine something for a minute.  Read this story, close your eyes, and really imagine.

You’re at your industry’s biggest conference.  You’re in a room full of people you consider professional peers, some better and some worse than you, but peers.  I’m up on stage, I get everyone to close their eyes and ask you all to do the following:

  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt like life was hopeless
  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt like nobody cared, and you were alone
  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt like you are, or were a fraud
  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt like life might not be worth sticking around for

I could go on, but I think you get it.  I imagine at this point, a good chunk of the room would have their hands up.

I think I’d probably be really surprised and speechless myself.  I’d ask you to open your eyes, so you could see what I see.

You’re actually not alone.  You’re actually in a room full of people just like you whom you respect, admire, and even look up to.  They feel the exact same things you do.

Hard Truth

This brings me back to Chris Cornell.

Chris was a 52-year-old man with a wife and 3 kids.  Also one divorce.  He was famous, and to the best of my understanding, he was financially well off.  You could argue very easily that he had more resources than you and I could dream of.  You know, we imagine he could pick up the phone and “…but I’m Chris Cornell” somebody and get whatever he needed.  A lot of us wish we could experience that sort of life at least once, right?

Well, that guy killed himself.

To me, as brutal as this is – he’s not special.  He was a dude with problems, who happened to be famous.

I really truly doubt Chris’s problems were, at their root, much different than yours and mine.  If you read this as a musician, you could’ve imagined Chris Cornell in your fictional raised-hand conference.

So what makes this sad to me isn’t that we lost the singer of Soundgarden.  What’s sad is Chris’s problems just reflect our own.

Honesty

I struggle with mental health.  Some days are much better than others.  I feel like I can say that a good chunk of the hardest times in life are behind me.  But most every day it’s something I’m pretty aware of, at the very least.

I think it’s safe to say that Chris Cornell sadly ended his life due to some form of mental health problem.

I also think it’s safe to say that you, my reader, very likely struggle with some form of mental health.  Large or small.  Depression, extreme anxiety, bereavement, trauma, abuse, you name it.  A lot of artists are artists because that’s the only way they know to cope with their problems.

I want you to know that, if you’re affected – you’re supposed to admit you’re not okay.  Because you’re not.  When you do that, you also need to get help.  I can’t be extremely specific here for what that looks like for you and your own situation, but here are some options of people to reach out to (no specific order):

  • A friend
  • A mentor
  • A supportive family member
  • A pastor
  • A mental health or suicide hotline (1-800-273-8255 in the US)
  • A support group
  • A licensed therapist
  • An academic advisor
  • A supportive teacher

When you do this, realize you’re not looking for someone to “fix you”.  They can’t.  But they can listen, they can also point you to other people who can listen.  They also might be able to give you advice.

It’s at this point that you do what’s most difficult – share and communicate your pain and experience.  You’ll do this repeatedly.  You’ll also probably get some advice, and then you’ll have to navigate whether it’s good or bad advice.

Then you’ll keep doing that.  Eventually, after some time, the communicating part will get easier and you’ll have less to share.  You’ll also meet people that you really trust.  You’ll probably transition to listening to someone else’s problems and advising them too.

Through this circle, you’ll continually learn that you’re not alone.  I am regularly reminded I’m not all that special, and that’s okay.  It means I can get help when I need it, and I can help others too.

The most important part is that I know that I’m not unique, and help is close by.  At this point in my life, others depend on me to remember that too.  I believe my life matters regardless, but that’s an extra reminder that I need to stick around.  In Cornell’s case, he’s “survived by” a wife, 3 kids, bandmates, tour mates, friends, extended family, and fans.  Those are all people who his life literally radiated through.

I encourage you to think about that for yourself – who does your life touch?  If you think you’re a burden, try and reframe it to see yourself as a source of joy and light.

Most of all, know that you are in a boat with a bunch of other people you admire.  Your struggles are shared, and others can and will gladly help you navigate this if you share yourself.  Don’t leave when you’re still needed.

Afterword: a resource that helped me

If you share this post online, I ask that you try and point to any resources that you know of for people who struggle with mental health.  The most powerful stuff will be things that you’ve used, but general information is useful too.

I picked up a book a few years ago that has been pretty life-changing for me, “Feeling Good” by David Burns.

I’m very not into new-agey “feel your inner chi” or “just be positive and then you’ll get positive” or whatever other cliches.  I’m pretty super harsh about making bullshit walk, so I try to recommend something that truly helped me.

In short, Burns posits that depression’s source is what he calls “cognitive distortions”.  Imagine your brain views the world a bit like a funhouse mirror – some bad things are overexaggerated while other good ones are minimized, or vice-versa.  His book provides context for this, and tools to help you get better over time.

I certainly hope you do.  As always, feel free to reach out – @adamtcroft, me [at] adamtcroft.com


Copyright 2016-2017, Adam T. Croft, all rights reserved.