When Hope Is Not Enough

When the lead singer of Audioslave and Soundgarden Chris Cornell, killed himself recently it sent a tremor through the music industry. His many fans were shattered by his sudden and unexpected death. They were handed two challenging questions. How do you process the shock of loss when the person who died has been a source of inspiration? How do you make sense of something that can’t be explained?

In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2014 Cornell acknowledged that he struggled with depression and isolation. He said,

“No matter how happy you are, you can wake up one day without any specific thing occurring to bring you into a darker place… To me, that was always a terrifying thought, because that’s something that – as far as I know – we don’t necessarily have control over.”

Speaking about his music, Cornell said, “There’s an eeriness in there, a kind of unresolvable sadness or indescribable longing.”

Cornell died alone in his hotel room having performed at the MGM Grand in Detroit several hours earlier. After the adrenaline rush subsides and the sounds of adulation fade it can be a desolate place. Thomas Wolfe makes the point, “The central and inevitable fact of human existence is loneliness.”

Cornell battled with addictions throughout his life. He was taking prescription medication for anxiety before his death.

Cornell’s life appeared to be hope-filled. He had a stellar career winning many music awards. He was married to his second wife Vicky Karayiannis for over ten years. They had two children. In 2012, he and Vicky created the Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation to protect the most vulnerable children, to mobilise support for children facing tough challenges including homelessness, poverty, abuse and neglect.

But can you have it all and not have hope? Is it possible to have all the above, the giftedness, the recognition, the fame, the fortune, the family relationships, the concern for the vulnerable and still struggle with suicidal thoughts?

Cornell spoke of the ‘darkness.’ He saw himself a victim. He felt powerless to escape its effect on his life. Cornell, like the many others who struggle with depression, could not accommodate not knowing. Why the darkness? Where does it come from? Why does it have such a hold? Is the darkness forever? How do you fight the darkness? How do you survive the darkness? Cornell found the darkness to be an intrusive presence and an uninvited guest.

The imagery is instructive. When we are in the grip of darkness, we are unable to see, and seeing is the basis of hope.

Researchers have found that it is possible to quantify hope. They suggest that people with high hope are achievers and experience lower levels of depression. Meanwhile, low hope is associated with negative outcomes including a reduction in well-being. People who are depressed lose sight of the things that bring meaning and purpose to their lives. Their hope is derailed.

Mark Hemick, speaking on the subject of ‘Why We Choose Suicide,’ says that when a person is feeling suicidal they find themselves in a perceptual field bubble where everything feels constricted and darkened. It is a desperate place that often leads to desperate measures.

The ultimate challenge Cornell faced was how to navigate the darkness. It seems this was neglected or not given the attention it deserved.  We all need effective strategies to survive the dark moments, the vulnerable moments, the life threatening moments. For someone like Cornell, he shouldn’t have been on his own. The more disturbing thought, he planned it that way.

Australian author Hugh Mackay reminds us of the importance of having people in our lives who are looking out for us. He says,

“We are all struggling with the frailty, flaws and failings that go with being human which is why we need emotional support and guidance to see us through the dark and difficult passages of our lives.”

Internationally renowned concert pianist, James Rhodes, understands the darkness. He appreciates how it can destroy you. Rhodes was sexually abused as a child. The emotional and psychological damage he experienced resulted in a life of substance abuse and mental illness. He was admitted to a psychiatric unit. He self-harmed and made an attempt on his life.

Rhodes answer to the darkness was found in classical music. He says,

“Music has quite literally, saved my life. It provides company when there is none, understanding where there is confusion, comfort where there is distress and sheer, unpolluted energy where there is a hollow shell of brokenness and fatigue.”

For Rhodes music provides solace, wisdom, hope and warmth. It is medicine to his soul.

When we are deprived of hope we are left with despair. Despair feels like fatigue. It feels like running on empty. Despair holds us captive; it inhibits, it restrains and curtails every effort to move on. Despair is resignation and defeat.

Hope is triumphant. It is a source of motivation; it feeds expectation, it encourages perseverance, and it inspires confidence. Hope sustains us if it is grounded in something tangible, lasting, and true. Hope is having faith in the future. Hope promotes a passion for life.

Keep hope alive.

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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