The Shade In Bennington’s Spotlight

If you didn’t know who Chester Bennington was before, you know now. Singer-songwriter of the California rock band, Linkin Park, was depression’s latest victim in the spotlight as news broke of the 41 year-old’s late suicide by hanging. Sorrow outpoured on social media as fans mourned the loss of an idol in sentimental status updates and cry-face emojis. Meanwhile friends, band-mates, his wife and six kids likely wept and questioned the goodness of God.

He was a musician and singer-songwriter-turned-celebrity, but the shimmer of gold blinds the impressionable to the reality of Chester Bennington as a father, son, brother, friend, and a victim of drug and alcohol abuse and depression. The cultural elevation of influential people like him is a grave disservice as society raises them too high to find support. And when an idol falls, we are sobered once again by the realization of not only our own mortality but the humanness of our beloved gods. Both considerations overwhelm.

The Spotlight Dilemma

As Bennington’s family and friends dealt with a nauseatingly tragic loss and fans learned they needed to cope with the news of another fallen star, I was in the relentless heat of the Pennsylvania sun on a beautiful mountainous golf course. In my 29 years of life, I’ve played eighteen holes, nine of which were thirteen years ago, and the other nine were that day. Needless to say, I’m no Jordan Spieth. I’m not a golfer. I’m not even competitive. The fact that I was the worst one out there, hacking away at the air above a ball too small to care about didn’t bother me. However, absolutely sucking and then questioning my inherent value did.

Being a Van Gogh at the art of dodging questions, when asked how golfing was when we got back to the others, I replied, “Well, I’m good at a lot of things, but golfing is not one of them.” Certainly, if there was any comfort to my blistered hands, wounded pride, and lost balls, it was the opportunity to reflect on the activities of which I am actually good. I’m an artist, writer, a singer-songwriter; I’ve been a leader in many arenas; I’m an influencer of others, a collector of ideas, and a born creative. I’ve stood illuminated in the local spotlight, and you can even Google me and find pictures, songs, and videos I’m too embarrassed to review myself. It’s not that I’m worthless because I can’t hit a stupid tiny white ball past ten yards. It’s that because I have achieved success in other things, especially activities that offered me recognition, and because I think people expect me to be put-together, strong, and successful, I slip into believing I should be good at everything or else I’m failing expectations, others, and even myself. I fall into the traps of all-or-nothing thinking and people-pleasing, figuring that my worth is only found in the services I provide.

Turn Off The Spotlight

On a much smaller scale, I believe I can relate to the supposed plight of Chester Bennington. Those expected to be the strong and successful of the world are haunted by the fear of failing high expectations. Thus, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, addiction, and so on, often go hand in hand with the stresses of the spotlight. Although one should never determine fame is the single reason for mental health issues, those elevated by society are not immune and oftentimes the consequent pressure of a leadership role fuels unhealthy fostering of mental illness.

Perhaps Bennington adored fame, or maybe the pressure really was his Achilles’ heel. Either way, his suicide highlights a prominent issue for celebrities, leaders, and influential people around the globe. Those lifted high without real support fall the hardest because they are dehumanized by being idolized. It’s vital to remember that celebrities are people too–leaders are people too. Whether they are the manager at a grocery store or filling auditoriums with fans, they’re people. Those of influence have friends, family, insecurities, hurts, hopes, dreams, strengths, weaknesses, habits, addictions, and even mental health issues. To assume that their lives do not carry such fluctuations is to strip them of their humanity as well as their right to appear broken and hurting to the rest of us. It’d be an outstanding service to our idols as to ourselves to not be blinded by the shimmer of gold. We all walk the same earth.

To the leader reading this, you are allowed to be broken. Be vulnerable and seek appropriate support. You don’t need to be strong all of the time. To the non-leader, quit raising men up as gods. It’s unfair to everyone.

Linkin Park kicked off a suicide prevention website in honor of their late frontman. Please check it out, especially if it can be a resource for you. 

Lastly, (bonus) here is a short poem I wrote years ago when I was heavily involved as singer-songwriter of Doug Mains & The City Folk. 

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