I was stunned when I read the news story. I remembered her winning Miss USA 2019, not because of her articulate answers or platform, but because her physical features mirrored my own. At the time, I was just beginning to embrace my curls and she proudly wore hers with confidence.
As I read through the breaking news story, once again, I saw myself in Cheslie Kryst. Her struggle with anxiety and depression echoed my own.
I rarely share about the time I sat, razor blade in hand, contemplating if I should live or die. Would anyone care if I were gone?
Or the time I called my mom at 3 a.m. to pick up our infant son because I couldn’t have him in the house. The doctor said I was fine. I knew I wasn’t. A year later, I finally heard the words “postpartum depression” for the first time.
Or the time I couldn’t get out of bed for months following a miscarriage because the grief and sadness were too much.
Or the countless times my husband has had to drive specific routes with detailed directions because I was paralyzed with anxiety, convinced we’d be in a car accident.
Mental Health Is an Internal Battle
Few know the internal battle waging inside at any moment. To some, Cheslie might have appeared to have it all. She was successful, intelligent, and beautiful. She held multiple degrees, worked as a news correspondent, attorney, and social justice advocate. Family and friends say she was loving, kind, funny, and a servant to others.
Like Cheslie, on the outside it looks like I have it all too—loving husband, incredible kids, fulfilling career, amazing friends. Yet, there are days when the darkness is all consuming, threatening to suck me back into the deep canyons inside myself.
Cheslie, like myself, was a Mixed Race woman. Her mom is Black. Her dad is White. My mom is White. My dad was Puerto Rican. Why is this important? Because regardless how you identify, which box you check, when you are Mixed Race, you experience the world differently. Your challenges and questions are unique. I know the constant balance of teetering between two worlds, two identities, never completely fitting into either.
The Struggle of Finding Representation in Mental Health
I’m not familiar with the details of Cheslie’s story, what she felt or the steps she may have taken to seek help. What I do know are the challenges I faced when I tried to find help. First, was the inner turmoil of suffering in silence, terrified of what others would think if they knew how hard I fought every day, combined with the sense of guilt and shame; guilt for acknowledging the great life I had wasn’t enough and shame for not being able to fix myself.
Next, came the feeling of being misunderstood. Once I finally mustered up the courage to say, “I need help,” I was told, “it’s not that bad” or “you should be grateful.”
Still, I tried. I scrolled through website profiles trying to find a professional who looked like me because if representation mattered when it came to my hair, how much more did it matter now.
After two years of searching and coming up empty, I finally gave up. I saw a couple of counselors and a doctor. I tried their tips, took their medicine, but nothing changed. Later I would learn that was because they only treated the symptom, not the root of my anxiety, sadness, and loneliness that led to my depression.
It’s exhausting to weed out the garden of your soul to a stranger who doesn’t really understand. Education isn’t a substitute for shared experience. Healing eluded me until I found someone who, being a woman of color herself, was able to understand the source of my pain because she has walked a similar path full of similar experiences.
During my search, I learned that resources and skilled professionals who look like me, experience the world like me, and understand the challenges I face, are extremely limited. It’s not that we (people of color) don’t look or want help. It’s that once we seek it out, we discover it doesn’t exist. And if it does, chances are high an appointment won’t be available for weeks or even months.
I faced that reality. When I finally found someone who sounded like a good fit, I was told their first available appointment would be in two months. I wasn’t sure I had two days left. I knew two months was out of the question. A concerned friend begged me to try one more time.
Mental Health Support for People of Color
Reluctantly, I agreed. We found a counselor who could see me. She wasn’t a great fit, but she kept me going until I found someone who understood my needs and with whom I felt comfortable enough to be vulnerable.
Maybe Cheslie wanted help too.
Maybe she tried to find someone.
Representation mattered when I saw myself in a Cheslie the day she won the Miss USA title. It mattered on January 30, when I read she’d passed away. It matters in times of celebration. It matters in times of tragedy. And it matters every day in between.
Torrie recently joined the podcast to share more about life from her perspective as a Mixed Race woman. Listen here: Do Conversations about Race Have to Divide or Can They Unite? with Torrie Sorge – 185