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Fighting the Darkness That’s Always There

Each depressive episode is a battle in a war that will never end. Sometimes, you can see the enemy coming, its march toward you set up in straight lines like a British military exercise, and you have time to fortify yourself, to build up your habits and your friends and your resources to protect you. But sometimes, when everything seems fine, and the horizon looks clear, you face a guerrilla attack. Every episode, you must fight not for victory, or power, or glory, but simply to continue, to stay alive.

Here is a list of habits I have constructed to keep me here: I walk every day for more than an hour. I exercise three times a week. I do not have more than three drinks at a time. I try to eat vegetables every day. I see a therapist weekly for an hour. I get eight hours of sleep. I take two pills every morning. I go to museums and walk in nature and do things I like even when I cannot feel anything from them at all. I am fighting like hell, and I am so tired.

“What merely a few weeks ago had seemed beautiful to her, was no longer beautiful, it was nothing,” Karl Ove Knausgaard writes about his wife’s depression in his new book, Spring. “She hated it. There was nothing she wanted more than to free herself of it. It ruined her life, she often said. There was something other inside her that took her over.”

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That other, that creeping terror, that darkness is always there. It creeps around the edges of your vision even on the best days. If you get to the darkest part, and you are all alone, danger is there waiting for you. I’m a solid six out of ten.… I’m drawn to negatives in life, and I dwell on them, and they consume me.… If I get a couple of days a week at a seven, fuck, it’s great,” Scott Hutchison, the former frontman of Scottish indie rock band Frightened Rabbit, recently told Noisey.

I say “former” because last month, Scott Hutchison lost the war. Designer Kate Spade lost last Tuesday; celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain on Friday.

In the past year, four beloved musicians got stuck in the dark space and couldn’t find their way out. Chester Bennington of Linkin Park lost his war last July. Chris Cornell lost last June. Tim Bergling, the Swedish DJ-producer who performed as Aviciilost in April. I know how all these men died. I shouldn’t, but I do. I know how Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain died. I know if they left notes. I know what method they used. There are guidelines to reporting on suicides that are perfectly clear: Don’t describe it. Sharing these details, we know, is statistically dangerous.

Among the depressed — those on the front lines — war stories are allowed, encouraged. The more people who know you’re scared and tired, in theory, the more people you have on your team. Rarely do those stories leave the safety of like-minded people with the same fears. And so we all — those of us with the brains that lie to us, who can see the vignette of depression always just there — know plenty of people struggling with our same fears. But depression manifests itself differently in different people. Its symptoms are both weight gain and weight loss, sleeping all the time and not at all. It is a loss of pleasure, a slowing of the brain and the body, an absolute conviction that those around you would be better off without you. And it is hard as hell to talk about. In the wake of these deaths, more people have been writing about this struggle, talking about it, opening up. Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes admitted Saturday in an Instagram post to once having been “dangerously and actively suicidal,” and that “suicide has been an at-many-times daily part of my psychic reality.”

I’m a high-functioning depressed person, and I am not brave. For years, I hid those thoughts from everyone, kept them tucked away from even those closest to me. They were too damning to share, I felt, too terrifying. I could hide the darkness — not from myself, but from everyone else — behind good grades and hard work and productivity. It feels easier, safer, to be more like Kate Spade, to tell no one how extreme your feelings are. But it isn’t actually. In a statement, Spade’s husband said that she struggled with both anxiety and depression, took pills, saw doctors, fought. But still he was blindsided; her death was a “complete shock.” 

Mental health remains stigmatized: To take an antidepressant is still, in some perceptions, an undeniable weakness; to see a therapist means that you must be broken. We are getting better at admitting that people have depression; we are even trying as a society to talk more about it. But suicide? Suicide seems, in the court of public opinion, like another level of mental illness, something beyond depression. But it’s not. The darkness can arrive at any moment. Ready or not.

These deaths are devastating. They are not romantic. They are brutal and terrible and so, so sad. Suicide is no one’s first choice. Suicide is an act a person commits because they feel they have no other option, because they feel — as David Foster Wallace so eloquently put it — like a person who jumps from the window of a burning building: “It’s not desiring the fall; it’s the terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk looking up yelling, ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’ can understand the jump. Not really.” Suicidal thoughts only make sense if you’ve at one point opened the front door of your consciousness to find them on the doorstep already pushing their way in.

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As Chris Gethard says in his HBO comedy special Career Suicideabout his lifelong battle with clinical mental illness, “Sometimes people just break.” It seems like more and more people are breaking, and not only artists or famous people or the rich. Depression does not discriminate. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that one of the action steps in preventing suicide is simply to talk openly and honestly about it. Not to debate its ethics, but to check in on people you love, even if they seem fine, explicitly about suicidal thoughts.

The hardest part for me about Scott Hutchinson’s loss, about Kate Spade’s loss, and Anthony Bourdain’s loss, is that we know they were fighting. Hutchison was even brave enough to talk about it publicly. He knew he was depressed, and he told us. He was vulnerable, and open, and he still failed. He found art that could mend him, and friends who could support him. He made mistakes, of course, but he was relatable. He lost a battle so many people are fighting. What happens if you fight like hell and still lose? You can know everything, be doing everything, and it might not be enough.

Perhaps the most important, most constructive thing we can do is continue to speak openly and honestly about the battles we are fighting; to listen, as Scott did, to each others’ stories and fears. Depression did not deserve to take any of these people. And it does not deserve to take you.


If you or someone you love is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It is free, operates 24-7, and provides confidential support for people in crisis.


More tough talk from America’s catchiest badasses

You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want, right? Well, guess what: Linkin Park is the army we have. Linkin Park is our best chance to get the largest swath of people really, really angry. Bright Eyes just ain’t gonna get shit done.

Let’s dispense with the comedy: Mike Shinoda raps like Weird Al, over-articulating and staggering on A-A, B-B rhyme-scheme crutches like he was Mother Goose. But he only does this on two tracks, because today’s Linkin Park is all about rock, with co-producer Rick Rubin (the Roger Clemens of pop music; the reason he wears those sunglasses is to hide the dollar signs in his eyes) mixing in bits of Slayer chug in places. But then, “Shadow of the Day” sounds like U2—it really does. (There are no more turntables. Remember turntables in rock? No? Good.) Meanwhile, co-frontman Chester Bennington has the most virtuosic duck-fart of a voice—check “Given Up,” in which he holds a scratchy scream for 17 seconds! He is still very sad: “Put [him] out of [his] fucking misery.”

As for Mad Mike, “When you can’t put gas in your tank/These fuckers are laughing their way to the bank/Cashing a check/Asking you to have compassion and have some respect/For a leader so nervous in an obvious way/Stuttering and mumbling for nightly news to replay.” That’s “Hands Held High” (chorus: “Amen!”). So Linkin Park are as mad as hell and they may or may not take it anymore.
Minutes to Midnight is the straight-talk express—clever’s out the window, and no one’s mincing words. Rock, rock, scream, rock, rap, sermonize, rock. Bitchin’! Mainline the heartland with your frustrations, boys! I wanna see fists pumping in that town where Friday Night Lights takes place. Nickelback won their hearts, and Coldplay won their balls, but you guys can eat their brains. Eat their brains like zombies. Zombies!


Rap-Metal in the Winter Sky, and 99 Dead Problems Go By

Before we applaud MTV for dreaming up another media stunt-turned-stocking stuffer, let’s answer this: Who—or what—is colliding here exactly? Certainly not rap and rock. Forget Run-D.M.C. versus Aerosmith, Onyx versus Biohazard, and the Beastie Boys: Rap and rock freaked so much in 2004 alone that only the most catastrophically kinky union would force the kids to wear neck braces again.

For Linkin Park and Jay-Z this is especially true. The Park have made a career of peddling hip-hop rhythms as metal pomp and butt-cut rhymes as good rap for the middle-school rockist set. Jay-Z, meanwhile, has alchemized and been alchemized, rock-rapping with Rick Rubin for “99 Problems” and sourcing those increasingly bland color-pun mash-ups. Then there’s the whole “crunk and nu-metal sound exactly the same, and Lil Jon is Fred Durst for a different demographic” argument. So, since rap and rock are more likely to collude than collide anymore, this “groundbreaking” Collision Course qualifies as bumper cars at best.

Mash-ups don’t need to break ground, though—they just need to sound good. (Derrida-jocking rock crits will figure out the rest.) And though Jay-Z calls the collaboration the “hybrid of the hot shit,” it’s the exact opposite, really. The tracks come off two-faced, Jay-Z and Linkin Park not so much mashed up as pieced together in alternation. Jay-Z hardly struggles over LP instrumentals—his nimble “Jigga What” run over “Faint” proves he’s still pretty much invincible, even in retirement. But with places traded, LP’s Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington embarrass themselves, mere ensemble players who double Jay-Z in spots and pepper tracks with pasty catcalls. On their own, Bennington’s wails are incongruous but at least inoffensive, and his minor-to-major melody trade for “Izzo/In the End” actually fits. Shinoda fares worse, though, huffing and puffing heavy-handed rhymes throughout, and at his most laughable when he reformats “99 Problems” to be about Jay-Z (“He’s got 99 problems . . . “).

There’s a DVD, too. Behind-the-scenes footage reveals Jay-Z as amiable but all business, maybe even a little bored. Collision Course clearly wasn’t his idea. The Parkies have a blast, though, especially Bennington. One minute he’s ragging on the cameramen, another he’s screaming at the studio help: “I ordered a Frappucino. Where’s my fucking Frappucino?!” As for collisions, there’s a small one during the concert: Jay-Z tosses his water bottle to a fan, but instead it hits the kid in the face.


Show Me the Way

Peter Frampton never asked Shuggie Otis and Brian Eno to mess with Frampton Comes Alive, but supremely zealous rap-metal flagbearers Linkin Park essentially do just that with Reanimation. The new album sells itself as remixes of songs from this era’s most incomprehensible mega-seller, but it’s more than that. It rips apart the Pro Tools-loving, hip-hop-cred-seeking Linkins’ Hybrid Theory and invites edgy producers and rappers to build new houses out of the cards.

Here, the hits can no longer stand as hits. Kutmaster Kurt (of Kool Keith fame) bastardizes the echoing technopop of “In the End” (renamed “Enth E Nd.”—beware of other weird spellings), sliding the tension between rapper Mike Shinoda and singer Chester Bennington and making mechanical, staccato hip-hop out of it. He banishes a quieted Bennington to the hook, leaving the verses to Shinoda and Motion Man. “One Step Closer,” another smash, turns into pure mud at the hands of Canada’s Humble Brothers, who add an eerie coda with Korn’s Jonathan Davis belching the original’s bridge—”Shut up!!”

Other songs benefit from a complete makeover, especially “Points of Authority” (now “Pts.of.Athrty”). Orgy’s Jay Gordon chops the buffalo-butt riff, installs booming drums, and adds a spooky keyboard loop for melody. Result: an industrial-pop powerhouse. Elsewhere, Dilated Peoples’ Evidence transforms “High Voltage,” a vocoderized tribute to Japanimation that predates Hybrid Theory, into a Dilated Peoples song—amazing texture and energy, stupid lyrics about nothing. Pharaohe Monch, shamefully, follows suit.

These improvements, which also find Linkin Park’s own Joseph Hahn outdoing the Dust Brothers’ old production of “With You,” raise an obvious question—why didn’t they travel this far out of the box initially? Apparently, Linkin Park asked the same thing endlessly in recording Reanimation, making them maybe the most interesting of mediocre bands.