By Janice Morgan
There’s a wonderful new interview series on Instagram, created and hosted by Lily Cornell Silver. She’s the daughter of late musician Chris Cornell and Susan Silver, manager of Seattle bands like Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. Each episode begins with Lily’s brief introduction of her guest, followed by an intense conversation that continues for about thirty minutes without any intrusive interruption (no ads!) These intimate, forthright chats about issues like depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or thoughts of suicide might seem contraindicated for our period of Covid-19 exile, but after listening to an episode or two, you could easily find yourself joining the crowd waiting for the next one. In fact, Cornell Silver says the social distancing imposed by the pandemic is what inspired her to reach out and talk about what so many are carrying inside but have trouble expressing to others.
Lily doesn’t hold back. She talks about depression, anxiety, how even as a child she remembers being someone who “burned hot” and took bumps in the road harder than most. She credits both of her parents for being completely open and supportive with her about mental health. Growing up, she never felt it wasn’t OK to talk about difficult emotions; by age seven, she was already learning better ways to deal with the turbulence inside. Now as a young adult, she shares this remarkable fluency and openness with all of us.
If you haven’t watched yet, I highly recommend starting with Lily’s first interview with trauma therapist, Laura Lipsky, author of Trauma Stewardship and The Age of Overwhelm. Cornell Silver launched her show at the time of her father’s birthday in July 2020; he would have been 56 years old. Announcing this is a way for her to open the door to subjects so often closed—like her father’s suicide, yet there is nothing somber or dressed-in-black about how she takes this on. It’s clear from the outset that she wants to put passionate energy into healing, and talking with Lipsky about how to deal with trauma is a way to do that.
Both agree that our culture doesn’t do a good job of teaching people how to address grief or loss, especially around suicide. Often we are so afraid to offend someone by what we say, that we end up saying nothing at all, leaving grieving persons feeling isolated or as if their lost loved one has been completely erased from the earth. And if we are the ones grieving, we feel the eventual pressure to “get over it” or “to move on.” Lipsky, however, contends that we never get over a major loss in our lives; it’s with us in some way every day. She maintains the importance of working through the range of complex emotions, letting yourself feel and express whatever you need to, not putting too many “get back to normal” expectations on yourself until you’re ready. Even then, it’s part of healing to allow grief to come back for visits.
Lily says one of her goals is to break down the stigma surrounding mental health, especially suicide, because it prevents individuals from receiving the care they need when these inner struggles come to them. She also acknowledges having experienced the “erasure” effect of silence. She relates how good it felt to have somebody send her a thoughtful card on Father’s Day or to hear a best friend say simply: “I’m here for you: if you want to talk or if you just want to be distracted, or if you need to vent—it’s all OK.”
As you might guess from Cornell Silver’s family connections, many of her guests are associated with the music industry: Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam, Fantastic Negrito, and Nadya Tolokonnikova of the Russian feminist protest band, Pussy Riot, are examples. Musicians have become more vocal about the mental health perils of their tribe, particularly with the fast/slow, high/low rhythms of their performance schedules. Recently, isolation can be the danger. The interview with MusiCares director, Harold Owens, shows the many ways the industry has begun responding to the needs of musicians. Owens tells us movingly about his own history of addiction and ongoing recovery efforts with his long-time AA group; this is the core of his commitment to the nationwide recovery services he oversees to help musicians.
Lily’s interview with Guns ‘n Roses bassist Duff McKagan drew me in right away when he talked about his history with panic attacks, which started for him at age 16. I greatly appreciated his speaking so openly about his physical and mental symptoms, since my own son suffered similar panic attacks when he was a teenager. At the time, I couldn’t understood exactly what my Dylan was going through from his perspective; I only saw the horrible effect it was having on his behavior, and it scared me—both of us, I’m sure. McKagan’s frank discussion of similar episodes that struck him out of the blue and left him reeling brought home to me how essential it is to understand that this can happen to anyone and when it does, we all need to know how to get the right care.
For my son, panic attacks turned out to be one of the early signs of impending bipolar disorder. In McKagan’s case, they led to alternate periods of intense anxiety or else a deep depression that made it impossible to function. He tells about how he, like many, tried self-medicating with substances but eventually—after nearly losing his life—went through rehab and found medication, therapy, and far better ways to deal with his “altered states.” A difficult journey toward wellness like his (or my son’s) shows how serious mental health challenges aren’t just of a moment but often last a lifetime. As such they require regular attention and treatment. I found this ongoing recovery story truly inspiring.
It is so refreshing to hear Lily’s smart, compassionate, hopeful voice inviting discussions about “taboo subjects” that have been all too often swept under the rug. The same applies to current social issues that impact mental health—especially for her generation. In Episode 8, “The Kids are Alright,” she talks with six of her friends about a range of subjects from complex family histories, racial tensions (several are biracial), ambivalent religious attitudes, use of social media, and the impacts of global climate change. It’s encouraging to see how motivated these young persons are to bring new understandings to areas that cause so much conflict within our society. We know it will take both individual and collective efforts to face these challenges effectively.
In November, Cornell Silver received a NAMI New York state 2020 Award for being “a leader in mental health awareness, and for providing resources and education to a wide audience.”
At the end of each interview, Lily asks her guest “What gives you hope?” Though answers may be specific, each person invariably says “You starting this interview project.” Yes! And it is my hope that you will soon tune into this groundbreaking series, too. Depending on your age, you could even watch it with your teen or maybe invite your mom or dad to sit down with you for an episode. What you learn could help save your life, or the life of someone you care about.
Series available with an Instagram account or on www.mindwideopenproject.com
Feature photo by Gariay Thomas on Unsplash
Janice Morgan is the author of Suspended Sentence, a memoir (She Writes Press, 2019) where she recounts her son’s ongoing struggle with bipolar II and substance use as he leaves jail and enters a drug court program.