Last night I had on an old concert by the band Linkin Park. One of the leads in the band, Chester Bennington, was one of my favorite vocalists for his talent and the sheer passion he brought to the music. Those who know the band know that Chester Bennington died by suicide in 2017. Before he died, he recorded and performed a song called “One More Light”; a song originally written for a friend who had died by cancer and later used to show tribute to another friend of the band’s, Chris Cornell, who had killed himself shortly before Bennington’s own death. What is astonishing is the lyrics; lyrics that when read seem to talk about the emptiness that comes from someone’s death and the importance of each one of us.
If they say
Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do
My husband and I spent time after watching the concert to remark on the talents of the band, the songs we liked, and the times in the past when they have awed us. But it was one little comment from my husband that really got me to thinking, “It’s ironic that the song “One More Light” came out so close to Bennington’s death.” Since then I have been looking into the past, the trajectory, of the song and I found that while Bennington didn’t solely write the song, he was the one who sang it. A man who committed suicide singing about how important each of us are and how much he cares as a human for the loss of even one person. Please note, these insights into the song are mine and mine alone. But if you listen to the desperation in Bennington’s voice, the pull of trying to get a message across as defined only by the singer, you will hear the irony of the man who would kill himself despite the passion of believing that we are all important.
Anyone who has ever experienced suicide, or even suicide thoughts, will easily tell you it doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t have to be something you need to understand. It is a deeply personal black hole that comes like the fog deep in the night to destroy all logic and gives one access only to the emotions that can provide an easy understanding of the situation as seen by the individual. But my husband can’t understand the personal narrative that happens during suicide. My mother can’t understand, my sister, my doctor. The truth is, the whole truth, about suicide can only be seen by the person who experiences those strong and powerful voices and thoughts that overwhelm one with a reality that may or may not exist.
This, of course, is incredibly frustrating for those of us who hear those voices, see those visions, and can’t explain them to those we love most. We can’t explain the importance voices deep in a suicidal attempt really are. We can’t truly talk about the words that are said that make suicide seem like a heroic choice. We can’t truly share what brush of colors the visions use. We can’t explain in a way that would make those without mental illness understand what it feels like when the suicide is the real answer; and only the answer.
My husband, last night during our conversation, spoke of the imagination of creative people and the other side of the brain that seems so prevalent in CEOs, accountants and those that don’t truly live in the same world as artists, singers. He remarked that while there are obvious suicides in the business world, there seemed to be more in the creative world. I don’t truly believe that but it got me to thinking about imagination over reality. And understanding imagination over reality.
First, let me state out loud that understanding imagination and reality in the mental health world is different than understanding imagination and reality in the well, “real” world. Imagination and reality are different in the mentally ill and are often misunderstood. The concepts of the nouns are not supposed to change but as is often the case with mental health, nothing is ever as easy as you believe it to be. I will try hard in the next couple of paragraphs to explain my position without belittling mental health. I will try to explain what I am trying to state without upsetting those with these diseases by my, quite frankly, over simplification of a difficult concept.
In an adult, who doesn’t have a mental health issue, imagination and reality are two different concepts. In simple terms, imagination is made up and reality is, real. In the average human there is a distinct line between imagination and reality. The line doesn’t waver. It doesn’t change. It is known the moment the thought enters the brain what is real and what is imagination. Imagination becomes a tool to be used; either in work or even when trying to stimulate the little brains of our children. Imagination has a price tag on it that directly affects the knowledge that the idea is not real. For instance, use your imagination to create a commercial to sell a product and you get a real time data of the money made, money used, and the reality of the money itself.
But imagination in the mentally ill is different. Imagination is the reality. Imagination can be something that is used as a tool, not for money, but for the peace of mind. Image for a moment those fantasy pink elephants that dance in your mind at two a.m. in the morning while you are finally getting some needed sleep. They aren’t real to a person who doesn’t have mental illness. They can wake up and see immediately that those elephants are devised. Now imagine for a moment, with your own imagination, what would happen if your brain could convince you, without a doubt, that those pink elephants were in your room, in your house, in your world.
Obviously, I am using a rather ridiculous story to try and prove a point. I may be severely mentally ill, but I know that pink elephants in my dreams are not real. But it gets my point across so we are going to run with it.
The brain is an amazing piece of machinery. A piece of our body that has power that can’t easily be understood. Why do we have thoughts? Why do we dream about pink elephants? Why do we know that those elephants are real in a dream and fake in the world around us? Why does our brain smell something that we haven’t smelled in fifteen years but immediately know the memory in that smell? Why does our brain hear something that isn’t being said? Why does our brain see something that no one else can see? Our brain can do all this and more. It can understand concepts that don’t exist; science that doesn’t exist can be proven. It can spend hours working on mathematical concepts that prove data that someone in a trailer in the middle of the Gobi desert wrote on a piece of napkin.
Brains are a piece of machinery. A piece of machinery that more than one in four have to live with each and every day. And when I say live with, I don’t mean needs to plan the next dinner. I mean has to deal with the happy times that shout so loud that a body naturally does manic things that are often reckless and dangerous. The brain can imagine a world that is more than blue and green, but full of the outrageous colors that are attributed to the greatest masters in art. And when a brain shouts that the world is beautiful, clean, colorful, and worth one’s time a mentally ill brain is going to accept that as fact. It becomes such a clear sense of reality that one doesn’t see the imagination it takes to make the trees green in the dead of winter or that need for a new set of electronics is what you need to succeed. The brain can imagine any scenario, any event, and a mentally ill person is forced by the facts presented that these scenarios are as real as the sun shining behind the clouds.
The imagination that accompanies the depression is also unique to the mentally ill. The sounds that accompany the symphony of horrible statistics about who and what you are can be so deafening that they become real. The depression can make the darkness feel as if it is your friend, your only friend. The imagination that finds itself in depression can also be the deadliest of them all. This imagination won’t create any money. This imagination won’t create pink elephants. The imagination goes from a place that has no space to the conscience that rules each of our worlds. It doesn’t stop at a check point to identify itself. It doesn’t stop to allow a brain to catch up and understand that the imagination isn’t real. The imagination in the case of mentally ill brain can become real before it becomes anything else. It makes the voices, the visions, the nightmares, the silence real. It makes the things that are surrounding our self be as real as the most perfect science.
Imagination becomes reality. Reality is the same as the imagination.
So how could Chester Bennington sing a song about love each other, even when no one else can, and then kill himself? How can Mr. Bennington sing with such passion that he can’t always finish the song and then not see how it immediately affects his own situation. When he talks about empty chairs in the song, why can’t he picture those same empty chairs around his kitchen table?
The truth probably resides somewhere else. If the imagination, the depth of darkness that often accompanies suicide, became Mr. Bennington’s reality then the song wouldn’t have even entered his brain. He might not have remembered or even felt the song that even the day before he could sing so passionately. His imagination would have been more powerful than his reality. And while we can never know what Mr. Bennington was thinking the day he died or the demons that were riding him; what we can know is that his imagination is in fact very far from the truth of his reality.