Content warning: depression, suicide, suicide ideation
While logged into Twitter last Thursday, I saw the news of the tragic death of Chester Bennington, the lead singer of the band Linkin Park. I was in disbelief because I couldn’t see how someone who once helped me fight my depression could take his own life.
Linkin Park was one of the bands I listened to as a teen in the mid 2000’s. At that time, I was an awkward Black girl who was extremely self-conscious about how different I was from my Black peers. I was nerdy, they were cool. They were loud, I was quiet unless I answered questions in class or made them laugh. My Black peers were aware of this contrast and used it as an excuse to bully me in half of my classes.
On top of that, I was dealing with pressure from teachers to ace standardized tests and dealing with parental verbal abuse. Anger, self-hate, and loneliness was starting to make me depressed, but I kept silent because books, television, and movies taught me that depression was for white kids and that anger made me a Sassy Black Woman.
One day, a female classmate I managed to befriend gave me a CD with songs by Linkin Park and the band Evanescence. She told me she liked Linkin Park’s “My December” because the way the singer sang was beautiful. When I heard the song for the first time, I felt like someone was giving voice to a coldness that was inside me, a coldness that attempted to numb my feelings.
Despite my attempts to be numb, the next Linkin Park songs I listened to flayed my heart open and left me raw. “Faint” took my anger and made it defiant and loud. “Numb” expressed the frustration I felt while enduring verbal abuse at home. “In The End” gave voice to the futility I felt while trying to please my parents. Finally, “Somewhere I Belong” gave voice to the desire to have a place to just be myself.
Through these songs, Linkin Park showed me that my feelings and experiences were valid when I had no representation anywhere else. I started to listen to these songs when I felt overwhelmed by life. I remember listening to “Numb” after an incident of parental verbal abuse, whisper-screaming the chorus and feeling relieved that a song was acknowledging me.
In 2007, my depression worsened to the point where I experienced suicidal ideation. “Somewhere I Belong” kept me treading above water by giving me hope that someday things wouldn’t be so bad. A decade later, I look back on that turbulent year proud that I never acted on my suicidal thoughts and never changed who I was despite my desire to belong.
In the days since Chester Bennington’s death, some have considered Linkin Park’s entire discography as a cry for help. Bennington did channel personal pain into many of his songs, but that’s only because music, like any creative expression, is an outlet. As much as some people like to glamorize creatives with mental illness, they don’t realize that being creative isn’t a magical cure, but a method to manage the madness.
Although I haven’t to Linkin Park in years, I will always be grateful to Chester Bennington for being the first to give me music that validated my pain. He sang like an angel, screamed like a demon, and showed me that I was human. Thank you Chester, for voicing my pain when I couldn’t do it myself. Rest in peace and power.
If you or someone who you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or talk to their counselors online.
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Latonya Pennington is a proud blerd who loves having nerdgasms about animated series and films, fantasy fiction, and mythology and folklore. Her passion for these things is only matched by her eclectic love of music.