Since Chris Cornell’s death on 18th May this year I have been considering whether to write about it or not. I decided to reflect on this decision for a while and consider what it was I actually wanted to express, discuss and disclose.
As a music fan I first came across Chris Cornell as a musician with my purchase of the self titled album Temple of Dog which was released in 1991. This album blew my mind, Temple of the Dog is without doubt one of my all time favourite albums. The sheer quality of the songs, the vocal arrangements between the two vocalists is phenomenal, along with the underlying message of the album itself.
The album was a tribute to Andrew Wood, the former lead singer of Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone. Andrew Wood died in March 1990 due to a heroin overdose. Having been a close friend of Andrew Wood, Chris Cornell gathered together musicians to form Temple of the Dog. The line-up included former Mother Love Bone members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament. Soundgarden and later Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron was also involved. Newcomers Mike McCready and Eddie Vedder were also included due to their involvement with a project with Ament and Gossard, a project that would become Pearl Jam.
“As with any suicide the Cornell family are seeking answers.”
What went through the mind of Chris Cornell on that fateful night, only he knows. Cornell’s post mortem toxicology report notes that there were seven different drugs in his system, including a significant dose of the anxiety medicine Lorazepam (Ativan). However “these drugs did not contribute to the cause of death” was the statement of the medical examiner.
As with any suicide the Cornell family are seeking answers. They have previously blamed the rare side effects of lorazepam, that includes suicidal thoughts. However the medical examiner noted that the level of Lorazepam in Cornell’s blood was not high enough to suggest a correlation between the drug and the possibility of such side effects. Chris did on occassions talk openly about his depression. But for those unfamiliar with the complexities of mental health, the obvious question may arise “why would someone, in one of the biggest bands in world, married with three beautiful children want to kill themselves?”
I’m not a psychologist, I’m not a psychiatrist. I’m just a humble mental health nurse that works on an acute psychiatric ward. My own understanding of intentional suicide is simple but tragic. For whatever reason, an individual finds themself in a deep, dark and despairing state of mind. At this point the individual has lost all hope of recovery. The pain is all-consuming. This pain is so intense, so immense, that the only way out is to end their life.
The writing of this article has prompted me to reflect on a past experience at work. Sometime ago we had a particular patient with us for a number of weeks. This patient was so acutely unwell, that he was absolutely determined to kill himself by whatever means he could find. Suffice to say this individual was placed on what is known as an arms length constant. There is one particular incident regarding this patient that will always stay with me. On this particular shift this patient attempted to ligature himself to death (as he attempted to do regularly). An alarm was pulled by staff and additional staff immediately responded. Once the immediate risk had been managed I found myself in the company of the patient and two nursing assistants, in an attempt to continue to de-escalate the patient’s obvious anxiety.
“Fuck that bullshit, such academic bollocks is irrelevant in such extreme circumstances.”
Now I’m normally quite articulate with my words, but it is incredibly difficult to describe in words the compassion, empathy, kindness and overall unconditional positive regard these two nursing assistants showed this patient. Now I have a first class honours degree in mental health nursing. Fuck that bullshit, such academic bollocks is irrelevant in such extreme circumstances. I learnt more from the way those two nursing assistants spoke to that patient than I could ever have hoped to learn from my nursing degree. Their overall approach, demeanour and care for this individual on that particular day will stay with me forever. I am honoured to count these two members of staff as close friends of mine. And they in turn have been there for me in recent times, and I am eternally grateful for their love and support.
So in returning to Chris Cornell we still have no answer. All too often suicide occurs due to our ability to put on a brave face that dangerously hides any or all of the pain and torture being experienced.
To conclude, I think we all need to be talking about mental health more. Whether that be in a public or private capacity. Stating the obvious, the more we are there for each other the better.
The lyrics from Say Hello to Heaven speak for themselves:
“And he hurt so bad like a soul breaking
but he never said nothing to me”