Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Time is Now!

In the description of my blog, I describe it as a place where I will share tips, tricks, rants, and wisecracks about life, education, politics, and everything in between.  Typically, I stick to the educational aspect of that description.  However, there have been a few occasions in which I have strayed from education to address something else that I am passionate about.  This post will be one of the latter.  If you are expecting a post dealing strictly with education, you may stop reading now, but I encourage you to keep going, as I believe that this is something that is of the utmost importance and can have a very strong impact on our lives as professional educators and for our students, colleagues, families, and communities.  

 On September 22, 1981, my mother, after hours of excruciating pain and suffering, gave birth to me (I've never asked her what her labor for me was like, so that may be a stretch, but after watching my wife give birth to our two children, I think I have a pretty good idea).  I was born in the 1980s, so technically I could be referred to as an 80s baby, but I definitely identify more as a 90s kid.  The 1990s is when I completed the bulk of my schooling, grew to my current height of 6'2" by the age of 14, and eventually graduated from high school in 2000.  Some of my biggest influences during this time came from the music of the era.  My mother has always listened to country, my father turned me on to classic rock.  To this day, I still listen to classic rock, much preferring it to most of the "music" of today.  I still appreciate a lot of the older country and what I grew up listening to with my mom (Garth Brooks, John Michael Montgomery, and Alan Jackson are still some of my favorites), but most of what is considered country music today does not appeal to me. By the time I had reached about 5th grade, I began to explore other types of music and really was turned on to harder rock and metal, especially the "Seattle sound", the grunge movement.  

Grunge had everything that I wanted as a preadolescent and teenager: it was loud, it was aggressive, it was something that my mom hated.  Bands like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Soundgarden kicked out album after album of tunes that I still listen to almost daily (Lithium on SiriusXM plays all of the 90s grunge and alternative, without commercials, and my car radio rarely strays).  Many songs spoke to me musically, others spoke to me lyrically ("You, my friend, I will defend, and if we change, I'll love you anyway."  -No Excuses by Alice in Chains).  Because of my love for the music that I grew up with, you can only imagine the shock when, as driving to work, I learned of the death of Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell's death.  

Chris Cornell's final tweet, just hours before his death
Upon learning of Cornell's death, instantly I was overcome with shock, grief, and disbelief.  How can a man so young, after playing a show before a sold-out crowd at the Fox Theater in Detroit, only hours before tweeting out how excited he was to be back in Detroit for a show, have passed away so suddenly and unexpectedly?  Unfortunately, after a few seconds of letting the news settle in, I had some ideas of what could have happened.  My first thought was a drug overdose.  It wasn't a secret that Chris Cornell had struggled with addiction throughout most of his life.  And sadly, way too many artists, musicians, and others that live their life in the limelight have their lives snuffed out way before their time because of addiction.  My second thought was that it was suicide.  Cornell also struggled with depression, which probably was partially why he had also struggled with drug addiction.  My thoughts were confirmed later in the day when multiple sources had confirmed that medical examiners had indeed ruled his death a suicide.  

I cannot even begin to pretend I know what had happened, why it happened, etc.  What I do know is that too many people struggle with addiction and depression in our world, and there aren't nearly enough resources to help people.  There is also the stigma of addiction and depression.  I recall listening to a recent episode of the Eagle Nation Podcast (the podcast for Team RWB, an amazing veterans' organization that seeks to bring veterans and their communities together through physical and social activity) where the guest on the episode talked about the difference between physical illness/injury and mental illness.  If you broke your arm, there would be no question whatsoever that you would visit a doctor, get your arm set and cast, be prescribed medication to prevent pain and infection, and you would follow up with a doctor to make sure that your arm healed properly.  Mental illness is different; those with mental illness were treated like criminals, housed in horrific prisons, for hundreds of years.  The stigma of mental illness still exists today where people are judged, people are afraid to talk about it, and most won't seek help, hoping they can "deal with it."  

Again, I can't say I know anything about Chris Cornell's circumstances.  Maybe he was seeking help, maybe he wasn't.  Maybe he was sober, fighting his addiction, maybe he had fallen off of the wagon.  As someone that deals with depression (see my previous post, Highs & Lows), I can definitely identify with bouts of sadness, feelings of worthlessness, and other symptoms that are common with depression.  With the help of a therapist and people that I love and care about, I have been doing much better. 

The whole idea of writing this post was to outline how important it is to do these three things:
  • Tell the people that you care about that you care.  Make an effort every day to tell somebody that you appreciate them and that you are glad to have them in your life.  
  • Encourage those people to never be afraid to talk to you if something is bothering them or they are struggling (I struggle sharing my own feelings at times, it's a work in progress).  This is especially important as educators to show our students that we care about them.  
  • Celebrate the accomplishments of those in your life and encourage during times of struggle.  
The time to remove the stigma of addiction and mental illness was a long time ago, but since we cannot jump into a Delorean with Doc and Marty to change things then, the time for change is now!  And while we are at it, we can celebrate the contributions that Chris Cornell made to society through his music and philanthropy.  And I know that for all of us, he took the moment to "say hello to heaven."  Until next time...