Mental Health, a Voice of a Generation Lost, and a Widow's Mission

by Kenneth Rayman on July 14, 2019

When writing, I try avoiding words that create vagueness, like “understanding,” “connection,” “new connection,” “self-care,” and “journey,” yet sometimes they are the only way to give certain things context. After publishing my last article, I chose to wind down with the memorial concert to Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington. Watching the crowd’s reaction to Chester’s wife, Talinda, walking on stage brought back the emotional loss felt along with so many other at Chester’s death.

I felt compelled to look up more on Talinda, only knowing she was a huge mental health advocate and, sadly, how a certain portion of the “fanbase” blamed her for his death. I vividly remember the shock reading the headline announcing his death, after how hard the music community, especially in Seattle, was hit after Chris Connell’s death. I knew that Chester took Chris’ death hard personally. The announcement affected me the same way suicide always does, except this was the voice that spoke my pain for me. I let my depression go, if only while the song played, through him and Mike. I chose to “celebrate” his life rather than mourn it through all the mechanisms I’d built through my previous year’s growth and the reality of death in my work in senior care. I listened for hours to his music, still trying to process it yet knowing my tendency for seclusion might not serve someone else as they cope, themselves. I hoped that someone, should they not have the necessary mechanisms built, knew how to get help or had someone they could be with. I saw the Seattle candlelight vigil get organized on Facebook but couldn’t attend due to work. I saw the band’s efforts to share their heartbreak with the fans and appreciation of the outpour of love and support, with their heartfelt message for Chester on their website and their call to “Make Chester Proud.”

Before, listening to “One More Light” I felt Chester’s emotion at Chris’ death when performing on Jimmy Kimmel; after though, the pain became of Chester’s own demons. When I finally got the full album from the library, it was as if it were a eulogy we just didn’t yet know, each song having its moment the radio was almost switched off. I never could watch the memorial concert, whether of pain or timing, but as I finally did, I was unaffected until Talinda’s appearance. The crowd went wild and I sat back with my jaw unhinged. She had exuded such strength when she and the band first popularized and branded the hashtags #fuckdepression and #makechesterproud; and her speech made the wound of Chester’s passing, fresh once more. I wanted to see what speeches she may have given, finding a few podcasts and several videos like the panel discussion with her, Mike’s wife Anna, their tour manager Jim, and Talinda’s organization and business partner, Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen.

Anna and Barbara’s introductions each spoke to the enormous disconnect between the vague words that people may associate with a sometimes eccentric “outward” appearance of mental health, now sometimes referred to as “self-care,” with the actual experience a person has in the process. A focus on “new healthy connections” speaks to the personal nature of new knowledge with what you’ve personally experienced and learning to cope with; yet, to the unsure or scared, or person eyeing it with suspicion, it sounds like work on top of their already heavy load or hollow terminology. When Anna talks of it becoming a “journey” rather than a destination, again the word seems to refer to more work (as the moderator experienced), perceived longer suffering, insular understanding rather than shared, and no ending gratification. Those words, however, ARE the best way to convey the transfor..(buzzword) change in thought process that occurs. Through dealing with the pain in therapy, personal growth, medication, or a combination, and the mindset of wanting different outcomes, you start to see what you thought was the destination is, rather, a journey through healthy association and proper insight on what matters most within you. Anna, herself, “outed” her own mental health problems on stage and her initial reluctance to talk openly about them, choosing to artistically express them through her writing.

Talinda’s retelling of going to home after Chester’s death was vivid in terms of detail and how she chose to handle it through years of mental health issues herself and helping Chester with his depression and addiction. She knew the way she handled it would affect their children’s experience of the trauma. How mental health was perceived by their children was her overriding concern and, with it, their father himself and his actions. She wanted the children to know that mental health is not always perfect, however it’s not to be something they fear. She thought next of his influence with others and the pain that Chester was the voice of, for so many. She wanted to make sure that they knew it as well, with the narrative that rockstar deaths so often take; how she handled it would dictate the children’s interpretation and the public’s.

Talinda, Anna, and Jim shared how they each grasped the concept of personal health through experiences they had helping Chester and themselves in the aftermath. Jim, as the tour manager, had noticed signs of Chester distancing himself, lashing out at him for a simple request shortly before his death, causing rumination on whether he’d failed to act in support. Anna, as someone struggling herself, highlighted the importance of having a personal mental health plan for when slips start to happen and what to do, while the immediate circle should be aware of changes and available. She stressed that the sufferer is the only one able to save themselves, as reason for the plan’s importance. Talinda poignantly talked about rash decision making, someone with depression faces, that can be triggered unexpectedly. Jim had opened the discussion with the vibrant family video shot right before his death saying, “You cannot see this coming,” while Talinda would talk of Chester’s worsening personal shame and guilt. While I knew of his alcohol addiction battle, I hadn’t known alcohol may have played a factor in his death. She illustrated the rash decision process by disclosing the discovery of two beer bottles in the room where he died, indicating to her that the instant shame of yet another relapse must have triggered such enormous internal doubt of himself that impulsivity took over.

On the podcast Talinda recalls telling Chester, “You feel everything big,” with Chester laughing in agreement. I always liken this, personally, to there being no middle ground, everything is either “0 or 60mph.” As she spoke, she recalled the last few years being some of his personal best in terms of how he dealt with his recovery, personal relationships, and mental health. She had learned since about moments of impulsivity happening for those with mental illness that overwhelm their logical thinking. She also learned in prior family therapy, as Anna had alluded to in the panel, of his mental health being his own journey, requiring him taking the steps, himself while she could only be available for him, instead of driving his recovery. She’s learned to support her son’s depression more productively through that growth and her advocacy work, supporting his decision to openly talk about his mental health to drive awareness of teenage issues include blaming himself for the final family trip being, somehow, a factor in his dad’s actions, as a school project.

Listening to panel and podcast, I thought back on everything related to Chester, the band, and what I knew of Talinda. I relived the emotion and shock, the empathy for the family that is Linkin Park, while learning new facets of the story, making new connections to inspire this article. I never understood the backlash Talinda faced and occasionally still does, but I couldn’t remember it anew; finding an inflammatory tweet from an account claiming to be her, it looked written as if “her” account had been hacked, especially as I listened to her genuineness. Finding the tweet also surfaced articles on Chester’s first wife and their less than amicable divorce which I’m sure may have portrayed Talinda, in this context, as a “homewrecker” and “gold digger” though they’d been married for over a decade.

I’m left to applaud the approach that mental health doesn’t start when there’s a problem, as we’re led socially to believe, but that good habits, support, and activities also make up mental health. We’ve tried to make them “socially acceptable” by labelling them. Yet “self-care” gets turned down as “woo woo,” and “personal development,” as I was once told, “needs to be kept to yourself” and is “inappropriate to talk about.” As Dr. Van Dahlen mentioned, if we don’t change the culture, meaning societal impression, to know mental health means environment, experience, genetics, and knowledge, not just issues and diagnoses, then we can’t support ourselves let alone others.
"Life After Suicide with Dr. Jennifer Ashton" episode with Talinda

Talinda's Awareness Organization, 320 Changes Direction

Dr. Van Dahlen's organization, Give An Hour

Dr. Van Dahlen's podcast and episode with Anna Shinoda