Indulged in my sweet slumber, I was interrupted by my phone’s rather familiar notification bell. I took a gander at the stingingly bright screen, only to learn the unsettling news of Chester Bennington’s passing.“Linkin Park’s lead singer just passed away…” wrote my friend in our Whatsapp group, inevitably leading to an influx of messages from my other friends expressing their grief and lament. As if his death alone did not send me into a state of shock, another friend wrote, “It was an apparent suicide guys.” and I start bawling like my nine-year-old self, around the same age I discovered the band.

I opened up Youtube and played Numb by the band and was teleported back to much simpler times: my cousins and I squawking rather than singing, myself banging my head into the wall in the process of moving my head around in a circle, and the sense of validation I felt for being considered cool for knowing the song.

Their music transcended across everyone; even a misfit such as myself, felt a rare connection with the other kids. They were arguably one of the best bands in history; with their debut album Hybrid Theory certified Diamond as well their other albums doing exceptionally well on the charts and their music videos with millions of views, they had already left their mark. And Bennington with his breathtaking and versatile vocals was easily one of the major factors that gave Linkin Park that extra ‘umph’. 

His apparent suicide left me baffled. Candidly speaking, I wasn’t a diehard fan of the band, their music made me feel something and that is all that mattered; their personal life was irrelevant to me. However, this is what I did know about Bennington: The man was part of a critically acclaimed and successful band loved by millions, not only that he was married to a former PlayBoy model and had six children. On the surface, it seemed like the perfect life. The people on the internet seemed to agree with me, however, their views were perhaps more extreme with some even deeming him selfish for leaving his kids and wife behind, inquiring why that wasn’t enough for him to stay.

Despite not caring about what happened in the band members’ lives all these years, this sudden curiosity developed rapidly within me to try and answer the question on both the minds of the people of the internet and my own. I typed Bennington’s name in the search bar and read his IMDB page as well as his Wikipedia page (not the best source, I am aware). As I go through his life, the epiphany of my ignorance hit me like a ton of bricks. How insensitive and naïve of me to think everything is what it seems?

Bennington was rather open about his struggle with depression in interviews. His parent’s divorce led to his drug addiction and substance which he struggled with for years. He was sexually abused by an older male, whose identity he did not disclose until eventually to his father. Upon finding out his abuser himself had been a victim of sexual abuse, he chose to not go on with the case. In school, he was physically bullied for his ‘peculiar’ appearance. In his adult life, he struggled with alcoholism for a while as well. Bennington frequently got injured and had health problems to deal with all the time. He went through divorce with Samantha Marie Olit, before marrying his eventual widow Talinda Ann Bentley. Two months prior to his death, he suffered the loss of his close friend Chris Cornell of Soundgarden to suicide. Cornell’s suicide took a toll on Bennington according to Bennington’s band members. It really struck me that Bennington’s death took place on Cornell’s birthday.

My body froze as I was left overwhelmed by all this information. Somebody whom I had been oblivious of and whose matters I was indifferent towards suddenly felt like someone I knew personally. Coping the best way I know how to, I decided to play some music. Heavy, one of the band’s most recent ballads written by Bennington, was listed by Youtube on suggestions. I played the lyric video and focused on the lyrics. I felt the sudden urge to hit myself in the head. The song was a cry for help. Listening to his soft voice, I felt as if a friend was trying to share his sorrows with me. You could feel him choking, trying hard to fight his mind, wanting an end to all this pain. I had the audacity of undermining his pain just because of what seemed to be the case.

Bennington’s apparent suicide is a classic example of our society’s ignorance towards mental illness, most prominently depression. Within minutes of the publishing of his death’s new, people trivialised his struggle. However, I do not blame the people. For even I, someone that has been so vocal about issues such as sexism, racism, religious tolerance and mental illness stigmas on her social media, questioned Bennington’s struggle for an infinitesimal moment. When you are brought up with a certain kind of mindset of the people around you, that is, telling depressed people to sleep it off or that they are making things about themselves or treating people with mental illnesses as social outcasts and anything less than human, you internalise them and it takes years to ever shed off completely.

Though suicide is certainly not the answer to anything, people forget that no one sees it as an easy way out. You have to go through incomprehensible suffering for death to seem like a better option than living. Pain is real, no matter how big or small, and deserves to be acknowledged.