June 24, 2024

Thoughts from a colored girl who has considered suicide…often

Cheslie Kryst theGrio
(From left to right): Natasha S. Alford, Alexis Flakes, Cheslie Kryst, Shana Pinnock and Jasmine Hardy (Photo courtesy of Shana Pinnock)

“No one knows what it feels like until they’re in it. That the darkness can be SO loud that it drowns out everything else. When all the love you know comes from your family and friends is overshadowed by the pain and despair you’re feeling every day. When the voices say they’d be better off without you, that you’re doing them a favor. When all you have, see and feel at that very moment is yourself and the pain. Nothing else. And it’s SO hard to scratch, climb, and dig yourself out of that darkness back to the light, that you just want to give up.” 

I said these words to my boyfriend as we drove home. Half-sobbing, half-hyperventilating, I tried to express to him what so many people do not understand about the throes of suicidal ideations and, worse, the depths of low one feels when they’ve actively decided to take the steps to end their suffering. 

The death of Cheslie Kryst, the 2019 Miss USA winner, hit me hard. It also didn’t help that this was the third suicide in the last week and a half that I’ve had to cover for work. (Ian Alexander Jr., son of beloved actress and director Regina King, and Kevin Ward, mayor of Hyattsville, Md., also died by suicide recently).  

I met Cheslie back in 2019 when she and the other year’s pageant winners, Miss America’s Nia Franklin and Miss Teen USA’s Kaliegh Garris, visited theGrio’s New York office. They were being interviewed for their historic moment of three Black women claiming their respective pageant crowns for the first time in history. 

Cheslie was sweet. Poised. Beautiful. Articulate. Intelligent. Humble.

She was so honored to be a shining example of #BlackGirlMagic for little girls everywhere. I remember telling her, Nia, and Kaliegh how incredibly proud I was of them. That their moment meant so much to “the culture” and their crowns were something for Black folks everywhere to take pride in.

I wonder if, even then, amid all of those accomplishments, accolades, and pride was Cheslie in pain? In that moment, did her gorgeous face and stunning smile serve as a mask for an internal storm raging within her? 

We’ll never really know, but Cheslie’s last post on Instagram, hours before she took her own life, was an image of herself with the accompanying caption, “May this day bring you rest and peace❤️”. I would imagine she was long exhausted by the daily struggle of living, so she chose to do something she felt would finally bring her rest and peace.

I know the sentiment intimately. 

My note (Courtesy of Shana Pinnock)

On October 20, 2015, I made an attempt on my own life. Done with waking up every day feeling like a failure, alone, and loathing every single thing about myself, I wrote a note I intended to leave behind for my loved ones.

“Dear family & friends, I’m tired. I’m so so tired.” reads the very first line. 

And I was tired

Tired of pretending as though I were fine. Tired of constantly feeling alone in a room full of people. Tired of feeling that I couldn’t talk about the turmoil happening internally because, relatively, my life though not void of struggle, wasn’t terrible and “somebody else has it worse.”

I hate that ideology.

That somewhere in this world of billions of people, my life’s challenges and the anguish and constant hold depression and anxiety had on my brain were less valid. Less deserving of attention. Talking about what I was enduring felt like whining.

It’s also why I take umbrage with people who, amid their condolences, turn to finger-wag at the person who was successful in ending their suffering.

With the death of Ian Alexander, so many callously wrote on social media “what could possibly have been wrong in his life with a mother like Regina King?” For Kevin Ward, many put on their tinfoil hats to launch a conspiracy theory that there was no way he’d take his own life in a public park. With the news that Cheslie left a note indicating she wanted all of her worldly possessions to be left to her mother, several people so boldly exclaimed, “why would she put her mother through this?!”

To those people, I have some expletives I’d like to insert here; but, instead, I’d implore you to 1) shut up about things you don’t know, John Snow; 2) get some empathy; 3) read up on mental illness; and, 4) learn the actual statistics surrounding Black folks and suicide.

The idea that anyone would be “selfish” enough to end their life amid family and friends and loved ones is insulting and devoid of the most minute of compassion. Seriously. Do you really think anyone in their right frame of mind would intentionally want to put the people they hold nearest and dearest through any kind of emotional suffering? That they “should have” turned to those, despite feeling like a burden? 

But that’s the f*cked up part about depression and mental health: when your entire spirit has reached the most extreme of lows, no one is able to love you out of that valley. No amount of encouragement or prayer helps one out of that profound hopelessness because there is the ever-present idea that you will always feel the way you’re feeling. That nothing will change. It’s debilitating until you decide to make a choice. For many, unfortunately, that choice is to end it all. 

Truthfully, my survival was a fluke. A combination of edibles, alcohol, and pills resulted in me waking up the next morning to discover I had vomited most of the intentionally deadly concoction. 

I remember muttering aloud, “I can’t even kill myself right.” 

Don’t get me wrong. While I am incredibly grateful that I was a failure at suicide, it would be a lie to say that I’ve since traversed a world of sunshine and rainbows for the last seven years. The grip that depression has on my mind is unyielding even in times of (what looks like to the outside world), joy and peace.

I remember being on a yacht with my line sisters in Costa Rica four years ago for our 10-year Deltaversary. Surrounded by some of the women I love most in the world, the thought of drowning in the beautiful Costa Rican sea crept into my mind and stayed there awhile. 

When those thoughts decide to take up residence in the corners of my brain, I tend to go back to that note I left for my family and friends in 2015. I keep it in my nightstand as a reminder that so many amazing things have occurred in my life, since that fateful day, that I would have never been around to witness. That, inevitably, there is so much more life left to live.

While I find comfort in that idea, there are way too many people living with the reality that life, to them, seems unbearable. To those people, I send love, compassion, and a light that I sincerely hope they’re able to see shine through the darkness. Because I understand what they’re enduring at the moment, I have no other empty platitudes or prayers. 

Instead, I would simply suggest, perhaps, to give it another day before you decide to start making plans. The difference a day can make in one’s circumstances or mindset could be what allows you to pull yourself out of the hole, and feel the light shining on your face again.

Trust me, it’s worth it.  

If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts or are experiencing a mental health crisis, you can dial the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.

Shana is theGrio’s Social Media Director, co-host of ‘Dear Culture’ podcast, and a true creative at heart whose love for writing, Blackness, Black people, and Black culture has manifested into a desire and ability to tell compelling stories, create change, and positively impact communities through the wide lens of social media and marketing. Follow her on Twitter at @QueenSqueakz.

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