I joined the Army on my seventeenth birthday, thanks to the permission slip my parents signed. I left for basic August of 2000, a year before 9/11. I was just a kid– most of us were. We were full of angst, trying to figure out who we were, and yet, now we were adults. The military taught us how to shoot, how to survive, and continually trained us for war. There was so much going on inside of every single one of us, I’m surprised we didn’t all explode from the pressure. Morning PT would help get some aggression out but rarely was it ever enough. Then my battle buddies and I discovered Linkin Park.
It was as if all the chaos in our heads was broadcast over the radio and people all over the world loved it. Melodic screams mixed with heavy guitar and synthesized sound provided a cocktail of acceptance that we all drank from freely. It made us feel like maybe we weren’t the only people completely confused and trying to seem like we had it all together. Linkin Park was the soundtrack playing through early adulthood. Then last year, Chester Bennington lost his battle with mental illness and died by suicide. My heart, and the heart of my generation, simultaneously broke.
We tend to examine mental health through singular lenses: civilian, military, veteran…and then we put mental health into categories assuming that there’s no overlap or continuity. This does a disservice to all those who may be struggling with their mental health. This is something that makes us veterans uniquely multifaceted; we see it from all angles. We see our battle buddies who suffer from the wounds of war, but we recognize that you do not have to be a combat veteran to experience trauma and experience effects from it. We can become better advocates and learn more when we work together, across the individual lanes of mental health awareness.
Last month, Talinda Bentley, Chester Bennington’s widow did just that on a panel at the Canadian Event Safety Summit as they presented “Striking a Chord: Looking After Each Other.” Joining Talinda on the panel was Linkin Park’s manager Jim Digby, Live Nation Canada promoter Joey Scoleri, Anna Shinoda, wife of Mike Shinoda, and Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, a clinical psychologist working to destigmatize mental health among veterans and civilians alike. Van Dahlen’s advocacy and commitment to veterans is clear when you look at her organization, Give An Hour. The panel was powerful and together they spoke hopefully and offered support for people going through various struggles.
Dr. Van Dahlen said something that really stood out to me, that when we replay situations in our head, and think, “If only I had said something,” or, “If only I had… anything,” this is our brain attempting to cope with the pain of loss. She compared veterans and their lives to that of performers, or even addicts: we experience such extreme highs, especially in combat environments, running off of adrenaline, and when we return we lack that adrenaline in the absence of a threat. Compound this with something like “survivor’s remorse”, and it’s no wonder why so many veterans struggle when they return.
If I’ve learned anything from Linkin Park, and Chester’s death in particular, I’ve learned that when you need to scream at the top of your lungs, do it. It’s okay to reach out and talk about the pain you’re feeling, in fact, it is dangerous when you don’t. Together we need to break the habit of ignoring our mental health under the guise of strength, we need to be there for our battle buddies at home as we were in battle, 110%, no matter what.