Two Faces….Understanding What Lies Beneath

I have a confession to make.  Chris Cornell was my favorite singer, my idol, my absolute God.  It was no secret by those who know me that he was my “love”.   Where do I begin, besides his obvious good looks, the man was perfection, his writing far surpassed the grunge genre, and the message in the words was there.  In the spaces between the words, the cryptic darkness, bearing his soul, was there, for all who know that pain all too well.  It was there.  This man was happy, on the surface, a man who had a phenomenal story book career as a front man for thre outstanding bands, Audioslave, Temple of the Dogs, and of course Soundgarden, not to mention his brilliant solo career.  This quintessential rocker, with the voice of an angel, who could make you really believe that he felt your pain and knew your heart.  Watching him command an audience was sheer poetry in motion.  He captivated not only women, for obvious reasons, but men as well, who could feel the gravity of his music on so many levels.  But just below the surface there it was, Chris himself, was always open about his dark side.  He had been battling drug addiction and alcohol abuse since his early teens, mostly to calm the demons of depression, which he candidly admitted, but after a stint in rehab in 2003, he had been clean and sober, and seemed to have risen above the drug culture of the grunge era.

But that’s the dirty little secret about mental illness, the veil of secrecy on the soul.  The darkness that won’t let you sleep, the façade you create in an attempt to conceal what lies beneath the surface.  I know in my struggle to understand all of what is inside of me, I finally learned to stop running from what I felt, what I fought vehemently to conceal, and start being honest about my anxiety and depression.  I had two faces that no one ever truly saw.  However, I now know by sharing with others it helps to free them from their own hell.  There is so much stigma attached to mental illness that no one wants to talk about it.

My grandmother, whom I loved and adored, had a nervous breakdown when my mother was a young girl.  My grandmother was raising 7 children, 6 sons, and my mother, the only girl, and suddenly found herself a single mother, after her husband cowardly left her without any word, any trace of his whereabouts, just disappeared like an apparition, never to be seen or heard from again.  He wasn’t abducted, or met with foul play, he told a trusted family member he had enough and wanted out of being a husband and father.  So seeing how this was the 1950’s and my grandmother wasn’t left with many choices to raise a family of 7,  its easy to see how this could lead to an emotional breakdown.  I don’t know much of what happened to my grandmother at that time when she was committed to a mental institution, but I do know mental health treatment in those days was almost always met with a frontal lobotomy, and drugs to keep the demons at bay.  Treatment, if you could call it that, was nothing more than making a zombie out of the person, taking away the essence of who they were and creating a more docile shell of a person.  When my grandmother was released from treatment, my mother barely recognized the woman who was her mother, but my Grandmother went on to have a career in the health care profession and raise her 7 children, with great success.  But her personality was severely altered.  Not to me, since she was such a kind, lovely, beautiful soul, who was an amazing artist, loved animals, and her grandchildren.  Not to mention people in general.

Mental illness has plagued our family, my sister was diagnosed as having Bipolar disorder, and her use of drugs to quiet her demons, was classic of many people with mental illness.  In her manic moments she was reckless, carefree and the life of any party, putting herself in harm’s way many, many times, just to silence the voices, when the manic depression kicked in, she was reduced to holding up in her bed for days and trying to convince herself not to end it.  My mother, suffered the remnants from my grandmother’s absence as a young girl, having had to live with relatives while my grandmother was institutionalized, not to mention the issues of being abandoned by her father at any early age, all this took a toll on my mother, but she refused to get help because of the stigma of mental illness and the effects it had on their family and my grandmother, so God rest her soul, she suffered for many years with depression and anxiety, never seeking help.  It makes me sad to see that she could have been helped with treatment and proper medication and wouldn’t have had to suffer through all that she did.  Make no mistake, my Mom was a tough as they come, she was the definition of bad ass, and she was a beautiful, caring, loving Mom, but I saw the pain that was there and knowing that she bore those scars breaks my heart.  I never saw it though, until I faced down my own demons, after her death.  So much came to light in my early days of psychotherapy.  Not only was I finally able to give my nerves a name, anxiety, but the out of control feelings and sadness I felt, was finally brought to light, depression.  While my anxiety always took center stage, my depression was just below the surface.  But what I discovered in my early days set the groundwork for my 20 plus years of regrowth and self-awareness.  Trust me when I say I worked harder than I ever have in my life, to get to this point that I am at now.  I walked through hell to confront my demons and made peace with most of them.  It’s a process that takes work, dedication, and the right amount of stubbornness that I thankfully possess.  The gifts my anxiety and depression have given me, are a blessing that I once cursed.  For one, I know about the importance of the family dynamic, each parent has a specific role in the family that will impact each child, male and female, in profound ways.  For instance, most people think that a mother is the biggest role model for her daughter and will impact her emotional health the most, which is true to some degree, but what if I told you that Fathers’ have a greater impact on their daughter’s self-worth, and are probably more pivotal in their well-being than a mother could be in early stages of their mental health development.  We have all heard that strippers become this way because they have “Daddy issues” there is undoubtedly some truth to this.  Which means, that father’s out there, it is your duty to be sure that your daughter sees nothing but love, kindness, respect, from you towards your wife, sisters, and all women you have a personal relationship with, and knows that she, herself,  is valued by you, for her mind,  and the person she is, above her physical attributes.  So yes as a Mom, I understand that with my sons’ it is my duty to teach them love, kindness, respect for women, and to show them how women want to be treated.  Long before my boys became interested in girls, I made them understand that women who are intelligent, who have self-respect, and are kind, are what should attract them, above looks.  Brains are sexy, now granted, I am not naïve and I know my boys are looking at physical attributes first, but I want them to see that women are more than a smoking body, and pretty face, that they have their own thoughts and opinions, which should be valued and listened to.  I would like to say that my I think my boys really get it, and make me proud, and my daughter,  well she has far surpassed me in self-confidence, intelligence, and being self-reliant.  What more could a mother want?  Further, as I began to understand about my anxiety and depression, I saw how events in my life, my molestation early in childhood, my teenage pregnancy, physical abuse, all played a role in my anxiety and depression.  I also came to see how it was up to me to be responsible for my life and ask for help when I needed it and do what I could to live the best possible life I could, and if this meant that I needed antidepressants to do that, so be it.

Understanding mental illness is two-fold.  Knowing the signs, and seeing this as an illness, which is very real, very powerful, and out of the person’s control.  Trust me, I tried to mask mine with alcohol for a very long time, and until I got into psychotherapy, I was in denial about what I was experiencing on a daily basis.  I don’t run from it anymore though,  and I am quite open about my struggles, probably because there was so much secrecy in my family about it.  I wanted to break the cycle for my children and help anyone I could.  I remember after the birth of my daughter, I suffered with Post Partum Depression, and in those early days of motherhood, not having my mother to talk to, I reached out to my trusted aunts, who admitted their own struggles with PPD as well.  Suddenly I didn’t feel so alone and getting through those first few months of motherhood gave me a new outlook and I suddenly felt empowered, because the stigma was gone for me and I made it a mission of sharing my struggles any time a new mother would seek my advice and I became a voice for women and it was a great feeling.  Many people are not comfortable unbearing their souls, but for me it is cathartic and makes me feel empowered.

The one thing I would like to stress to anyone who is finding it hard to be supportive to a partner who has anxiety, depression, or any mental illness for that matter, one of the worst things you can do to a person suffering with these issues, is to tell them to snap out of it, and give them a laundry list of reasons why they should be happy, should not worry, or feel a certain way.  You wouldn’t tell someone with diabetes not to take their insulin because they should have positive thoughts about their pancreas and it will produce insulin, so please don’t disparage anyone with mental health issues, by telling them to snap out of it.   Mental health requires, medical intervention, self-analysis and compassion.  Treatments vary by severity of the illness.  I resisted taking medication for many years because I felt it was a sign of weakness.  I felt that I should be able to work my issues out in therapy and they would quell the depression and anxiety, such a fool I was, thankfully, due to a health issue, and a wonderful caring doctor, who got me to see that I would benefit tremendously from the medication for my anxiety for one thing, as well as it addressing my pressing health concern, therefore, I tried it and you know what, it has been a tremendous help in conjunction with my continued weekly psychotherapy session.  I will say this as well, I do believe that medication alone, will for most people,  not be enough, and that psychotherapy is key to unraveling what is causing the anxiety and depression.  Some people don’t want to examine their demons and that is fine.  As long as you find a healthy outlet for the anxiety and depression that is perfectly fine.  However, there are some mental health issues that require medication and being under a doctor’s care, such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar disorder, and Multiple Personality disorder, to name a few, so for those severe health issues, alternative methods will not be enough, and will require serious interventions   But for mild anxiety and depression alternate methods may be suitable, for some it’s exercise, for others it is a glass or two of wine, for others even sex is a great way to calm the nerves and free the mind, with the right partner of course.  All are good ways that can help to keep anxiety and depression in check.

I want to stress this to anyone feeling out of control, dealing with anxiety, depression, or any mental health issues, please don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t suffer without meds if that is what is needed, like I did for far too long, and don’t be afraid to work on getting well.  There are so many alternatives and treatments to make you whole again, you don’t need to end your life to quiet the demons.

I still can’t imagine a world without Chris Cornell, and no one will ever know what was in his heart the day he took his life, but I do know that he will live on with his music, and the two faces of this beautiful man, can serve to be the force to help all of us deal with whatever demons haunt us in our waking moments of quiet desperation.

So, I leave you with the words of the immortal Chris Cornell, born, Christopher John Boyle.

**In this song, Chris has said the meaning behind it was that it is better to face the blackness you feel sober, than drowning it out with alcohol, and for me, for some time, it has become, my song to remind me.  Now in the wake of his death, maybe more so.

RIP Christopher John Boyle, may you find the peace you were longing for.

As Hope And Promise FadeBy Chris Cornell, Timothy Mosley, and Jerome Harmon

So open promise fades
And the sun forgets to rise
I’m lonely and I’m thirsty
But it’s better I stay dry
No more than two drinks away
From crying

Stare into the glass
And wait for the time to pass
And thank you for the offer
But you know I must decline
No more than two drinks away
From crying

There used to be a time
When I could hold my head up high
My life stretched out before me
And rivers flowed with wine
And had my love beside me
And everything was fine
But now the ride is over
It’s hard to say goodbye

So open promise fades
And midnight turns to day
I’d love to drown my sorrow
But I cannot tell a lie
No more than two drinks away
From crying

Sadly Missing Chris Cornell,

Susan xoxo


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