According to reports, Chris Cornell, singer and guitarist of the pioneering grunge band Soundgarden and rock band Audioslave, died by suicide on Wednesday night in Detroit. This is a great tragedy, obviously. In fact, that does not even begin to get at describing the loss that Cornell’s death brings. It does not get at describing the death that anyone who succumbs to suicide entails. Tragedy just does not cover the pain, hurt, suffering, aloneness, frustration, not knowing, and all else that goes into someone dying by suicide.
Cornell’s death, though, is more difficult to deal with because he was a celebrity. And, from the way that he described things and the way that his family has described it, he had pulled himself together and was dealing with his demons. He was taking medication for anxiety, yes, but that is what you do when you have anxiety. He had dealt, rather openly, with the fact that he had a drug addiction. He talked openly about his depression. And, even if he did not, his music definitely showed the fact that he was dealing with his demons. And, so, this loss becomes more frustrating because at some point, in some place and time, he stopped dealing with the demons and gave into the voices, the urges that asked him to take his own life.
Cornell’s death, then, brings up a myriad of things. First, just because someone battling depression and suicidal thoughts and tendencies is ok today does not mean they will be ok tomorrow. Depression is a mean, nasty companion that comes back and rears its head for no apparent reason. This is why it is necessary to do the things what keep depression at bay, like exercise, taking meds, talking to a counselor, getting enough rest, and the like. I do not know what Cornell did or did not do in that regard; I only know that he is no longer here and that is a tragedy.
Cornell’s death, though, also brings up the problems that come with taking psychiatric medicine. As his wife has conveyed in interviews, Cornell took too much of his anxiety medicine that night and then was slurring his speech and not making sense. Now, I think people should take psychiatric meds; I take meds and they save my life on a consistent basis. I do not begrudge Cornell for taking anxiety medicine (I cannot imagine the pressure on him to deliver a unique, powerhouse performance night after night on tour). But, they need to be taken the way that they are prescribed. The problem is that for most people with mental illness, the meds start to wear off or they do not have the same effect after awhile, symptoms are still there, and we take more to deal with that. And, then, the medicine that should help us becomes a literal poison that can end up killing us or giving us delusions or any number of other things. Or, on another note, people with mental illness are notorious for not taking their medicine on a regular basis or only take it when they think they need it and this leads to problems. I don’t know that Cornell did this; I do know that it is a common problem for those of us with a mental illness.
The last thing I want to say is that we should not judge Cornell. I don’t like that he died by suicide, that his life is over. The song “Black Hole Sun” was a godsend to me at one point in my life. But, I understand that he lost is battle, that the disease finally got to him in the worst way possible. I know what it is to become suicidal, to have thoughts you can’t control, to feel like suicide is your only option. The only difference between Cornell and myself is that I am still here (and he was a rock star with an incredible voice). There is no judgment to be made on my part regarding his death and no one else should either; I mean, can you imagine judging someone who died of diabetes or cancer? Cornell lost the battle, a battle he’s been fighting for a long time. It’s sad, it hurts, but he did not give up on people, did not back out on his bandmates, did not forlorn the world. No, he simply lost the fight. I wish he was still fighting and that he used the resources at his disposal to continue fighting, but this does not make him selfish or a narcissist. It means he simply lost the battle and we should mourn that fact while we celebrate his life.
With that said, there is hope. I promise, there is hope. There is another day, another hour, another minute to live. If you are hurting or in pain or need help, call 1-800-273-8255 or text START to 741741. These are both great resources. If you need to talk with someone, call a local counselor. If you are having a hard time finding joy in life, do something you really like to do or that you love. Go to the park, talk a walk, go to a concert, see a movie, or whatever. Just find something that makes you happy, even momentarily. And if all else fails, go to the emergency room. Just don’t give up. You are important, you are necessary. Your life matters more than you can possibly know.