NOTE: Before I dive into this episode, I want to alert anyone who has triggers related to mental health or suicide that those are my topic of discussion today. I’m trying to be as upbeat as possible and find the lesson, but this episode is a little more serious than any of the others so far. Feel free to skip or come back later if needed.
As someone left behind by a suicide – that of my mom – I’ve spent many hours thinking about this topic. It’s been more than 30 years since her death, and I’m so grateful to be able to talk and write about it without crying or spiraling downhill into a pit of guilt. I’m also grateful that on my darkest days since then – even those when I was hurting so much I felt like I was dying - I’ve never given suicide serious consideration. The first-hand knowledge of the trauma suicide creates for those left behind may have actually saved my life. And no matter how bad things might get, I do not want to inflict that kind of pain on anyone else.
Yesterday, as I was fully taking in the news that the former USA and Miss Universe competitor, Cheslie Kryst, had taken her own life, I experienced a new feeling I’ve been trying to put a name to. While reading a Twitter thread about Cheslie which was mostly filled with sympathy, sadness, and sorrow, I came across some other comments and remarks of disbelief which left me speechless. One which stood out said this: “Nope!!! She just posted on TikTok a couple of days ago…hair, nails makeup were on point…she was funny and beautiful…everything in her favor career family…women like that DO NOT COMMIT SUICIDE!!!”
The poster and several others basically asserted that pretty, successful, funny, accomplished people who dress well, share amazing pictures, and write encouraging messages on social media don’t have mental health problems.
Unfortunately, yes they do. Remember Kate Spade?
These comments on Twitter made me so sad for the former Ms. USA. I mean, what else did Cheslie have to do to make it clear she was struggling? If she – even after flinging herself off a building and dying – isn’t allowed the space, acceptance, and acknowledgment of being depressed, when will she be? And what does that mean for those who still have to go about the business of living normal, non-pageant-winner lives while trying to deal with mental health issues?
Sigh. I don’t know.
Over the last few years, many funny, smart, attractive and successful people have revealed their struggles with mental illness to the world, some through their deaths like Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and Robin Williams. Others like Gracie Gold, Michael Phelps, and Simone Biles have courageously done so by talking openly about their experiences with depression, anxiety, suicidal feelings, and more.
Thank goodness this information is becoming publicly known because as much as no one wants to believe that someone who has everything to live for is not capable of taking their own life, it happens much too frequently. And so often, those who choose suicide are people who – at least outwardly – appear to have it made.
The reality is this. Depression and mental illness are real but often invisible diseases. In many, they masquerade as addictions, workaholism, perfectionism as well as seemingly “healthy” habits or behaviors. Personally, I’ve tried a lot of things on for size to cope with or hide my own challenges with mental health. And I understand from experience the people who seem to be conquering impossible goals may be doing so to try and outrun the demons chasing them. Their high level of overachieving and accomplishments may be done to prove they are worthy, good enough, and lovable to others – but may still not be enough for them to believe it themselves.
It’s hard to know why someone decides there is not enough good to stay in the world and instead stops everything to step off of it. And in fact, even if we think we know someone, we are not living inside their heart or head and do not know the true effects of their personal circumstances, feelings, emotions, or pain. We cannot assume the appearance we see on the outside matches what people experience of themselves or their lives. We must recognize that even “pretty people” can feel flawed; successful people can believe they’ve failed; and the ones making us laugh are often crying inside.
Treating someone with kindness, reaching out with support, and responding to their story with belief and compassion - even when we don’t understand it - is more important than ever before. It may very thing that helps someone see they would miss THIS universe and decide not to leave it.
Note: I am not a medical doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or mental health professional. The comments shared here were not intended to be construed as medical or mental health advice. Please look below for more resources related to mental health and suicide prevention.
We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States. Visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 800-273-8255 for more information.
OTHER ARTICLES & RESOURCES
Gracie Gold's story – Olympian
Kate Spade - designer