From the outside looking in, it seemed like Cheslie Kryst had it all. But we can’t always see inside each other. Rarely, in fact. Even the people we think we know best. Moreover, sometimes the view isn’t so clear even when we’re peering into our very own souls.
Human beings are complicated.
The curse of inner conflict is something that haunts a whole lot of us during our brief stay here. It quietly haunted Cheslie Kryst, a woman whose early resumé gave a whole new meaning to the terms “over-achiever” and “limitless potential.” But ultimately, it wasn’t enough. Ultimately, it seems as though this star’s self-imposed pressure was a large part of the pain. The tragic end came yesterday, when at the age of 30, Ms. Kryst took her own life.
I confess that I didn’t even recognize the former Miss USA’s name when I came across the news several hours ago. Yet referring to this stranger now as “Ms. Kryst,” somehow feels too formal. Maybe it’s because her heart and smile shine like Tiffany diamonds in every online segment I’ve watched of her. Or maybe it’s because I now know her story — and I can personally relate to some of the pain that must have led to her desperate decision.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t list a person’s accomplishments in the following fashion. But there is a reason why this context matters. Therefore, among other things, Cheslie Kryst was a:
- Wake Forest Law School Graduate and MBA Graduate (cum laude)
- Division 1 Track Athlete and Honors Graduate at the University of South Carolina
- Civil Rights Attorney at Poyner Spruill Law Firm and Advocate for Criminal Sentencing Reform
- 2019 Miss North Carolina & Miss USA
- Extra Entertainment Correspondent
- Founder of White Collar Glam
This is the short list. And Ms. Kryst was just getting started.
Going back a tad, it was on May 2, 2019, when the native South Carolinian was crowned Miss USA.
Five months later, on World Mental Health Day, Miss Kryst used her platform to post a Facebook video where she announced: “I do a lot to make sure I maintain my mental health, and the most important thing that I did is talk to a counselor.” She went on to explain the other ways that she went about de-stressing.
Eighteen months later, Cheslie Kryst wrote an incredibly honest essay in allure magazine, wherein she acknowledged her own hunger for accolades and symbols of self-worth. And she made it clear just how conscious she was about the roots and dangers of this tendency:
“Too often, I noticed that the only people impressed by an accomplishment were those who wanted it for themselves. Meanwhile, I was rewarded with a lonely craving for the next award. Some would see this hunger and label it ‘competitiveness’: others might call it the unquenchable thirst of insecurity.”
Again, Ms. Kryst doesn’t feel like such a stranger to me.
Mental health disorders are diseases. Period. In some ways, they are no different than maladies that afflict the rest of our bits.
Mental health challenges that are confronted head-on can often meet with spiritual rebirth. The process can be a door. A slow-motion springboard.
But these grueling cognitive clashes can also end in death. It’s just a brutal fact. And it happens every day.
Today on CBS This Morning, host Gayle King couldn’t hold back her tears as she announced the terrible news of Ms. Kryst’s suicide. And then she said something that hit so close to home:
“How do you offer someone help if you don’t know they need the help? That’s what I’m struggling with today.”
It’s early, but by all accounts thus far, no one knew the depths of Ms. Kryst’s inner torture. The horrible irony is that her substantial depth as a person was almost certainly a part of what led to her despair. I don’t need to know this woman to know that — it’s right there in the quote from her essay. Introspection is hard. And when it gets to an extreme, it can slash deep.
I’ve written publicly about my own battles in this area over the last several years. Two of the articles that are the most personal and painful — yet ultimately hopeful — are included in the book I put out a few months ago: Write Or Die.
Publishing this second book, six years after my first, has been a little scary but mostly a wonderful experience. And I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t care about selling lots of copies and receiving positive reviews. And those things have gone just fine.
But far and away the most humbling and satisfying result from the book has been the surprising amount of calls and emails from readers who’ve expressed just how much they’ve been impacted by the personal parts I shared.
Some folks have said it’s just a relief to read a public description of exactly how they’ve been feeling in their own lives. Others want me to know that they are always there for me and that I can get in touch anytime. Likewise. Always.
But the very best connections have been the ones where a parent or friend (or friends of friends) have reached out directly because they needed help. The fact that they felt comfortable enough to write or call and courageously make this ask matters 10 universes more than any amount of books I ever sell. The only thing better is the actual opportunity to help.
The upshot here is that most people roaming around this earth are carrying some form of pain — even when you can’t see it. And what we need to keep in mind is that every one of us has the power to offer some measure of comfort and support to those who are hurting — even when we can’t see it. This is done through simple, daily kindness — towards as many people as we come into contact with. It ain’t astrophysics.
Throughout today my stomach has felt sick on and off since I read the news about Cheslie Kryst. Yet her very public story is also the most poignant reminder that we are all each other’s brothers and sisters. No matter what our myriad other differences, all of us at some point end up eye-to-eye with our demons. And that can be an indescribably lonely place.
It may feel “weak” to reach out and ask for help when the darkness sets in. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it is precisely the opposite. And in countless cases, that human connection is the very thing that ends up saving us. And sustaining us. It is why we are here.