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Chris Cornell once explained the origins of his depression


For many, myself included, Chris Cornell’s death in 2017 hit very hard. It felt like a haunting, like a reminder that fame and success offer very little protection from mental illness; quite the opposite in fact. However, it also hammered home just how awful it is that so many still glamourise the mental illness and suicide of musicians like Kurt Cobain, whose death has been the source of all manner of conspiracy theories.

Cornell’s passing served as a reminder that deaths such as Cobain’s are very real tragedies and not some chapter of an ‘unsolved’ rock ‘n roll noir thriller.

But perhaps the most upsetting thing about Cornell’s death was that, despite suffering from depression from an early age, the musician found ways of living with it — albeit uneasily. He managed to avoid being defined by his mental health, largely because he understood that it wasn’t an inherent part of his personality, but was still open and honest about this struggle. In 2006, the former Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman revealed how an incident when he was a teenager sparked the mental health problems he would struggle with for the rest of his life.

Speaking to SPIN, Cornell explained how a bad drug experience coupled with a lack of support led to a series of reoccurring panic attacks: “I had a bad PCP [angel dust] experience when I was 14 and I got panic disorder,” he began. “And of course, I wasn’t telling anyone the truth. It’s not like you go to your dad or your doctor and say, ‘Yeah, I smoked PCP and I’m having a bad time.’ So I became more or less agoraphobic because I’d have flashbacks. From 14 to 16, I didn’t have any friends. I stayed home most of the time. Up till then, life was pretty great. The world was big and I felt I could do anything I wanted. Suddenly, I felt like I couldn’t do anything.”

While this isolation apparently allowed Cornell’s “imagination to run,” it also led him towards a reliance on alcohol: “I never did any drugs until my late 20s. Unfortunately, being a child of two alcoholics, I started drinking a lot, and that’s what eventually got me back into drugs. You often hear that pot leads to harder drugs. But I think alcohol is what leads you to everything, because it takes away the fear. The worst drug experimentation I ever did was because I was drunk and didn’t care.”

But perhaps even more dangerous than Cornell’s alcoholism, was his belief that he was one of the lucky ones; that, because he didn’t go the way of Kurt Cobain or Shannon Hoon from Blind Melon, he was somehow validated in adopting a lifestyle that negatively impacted his mental health. “I think the fact that I was considered to be ‘the together one’ out of people from famous Seattle bands enabled me to lie to myself,” Cornell once said. “I didn’t see that it would get worse, but it does.”

If you’re looking for support with any of the issues discussed above, visit CALM, where you can talk to trained professionals and find advice about specific mental health issues.

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