The pageant community lost a beautiful soul last weekend. Miss USA 2019, Cheslie Kryst, lost her mental health battle. So many of us have been impacted by this in different ways. I have struggled to navigate my thoughts, and I hope getting them out in writing will help me move forward.
In high school, I suffered from depression. I think the culprit of this depression was a medication – Accutane. It was dark. I was lonely, full of painful emotions, and I used writing dark poetry and listening to The Used and Something Corporate as an outlet. I had thoughts of self-harm. No one knew I was depressed. I didn’t tell a soul, and my family thought I was just a typical, moody teenage girl. Thankfully my mom took me off the medication when certain bloodwork levels were changing unfavorably, and my mental health improved.
During my first year of college, two people close to me were battling depression. One was taking medication but chose to mix their medication with heavy drinking. The other person shared thoughts of suicide after a breakup. I did my best to be there for them despite being several states away. One night working the front desk of a busy restaurant, they texted me and my heart sank. I knew they were drinking, and it was a possibility that they would try to do something they couldn’t reverse. Not knowing any of their friends on campus (these were the days of Myspace), I called the campus police. They were found, taken to the hospital, and made some life changes afterward.
In my early twenties, I was in a serious relationship. When he broke up with me, he said it was because I was depressed. The thing is, I didn’t know I was depressed. I did a lot of reflecting and realized how unhappy I was with my life. I was struggling to become the person I told my younger self I would be in my 20s. After our breakup, I took a trip to Hawaii to support a pageant sister competing at Miss Hawaii USA. I remember floating between living in the moment and enjoying beautiful Hawaii with one of my favorite people, and feeling the sadness of the relationship loss and having literally no clue what to do with my life. Being single allowed me to find myself, be kinder to myself, and discover what I wanted to do in life.
Now that I’m in my thirties and blessed with a beautiful family. I know deep in my soul that I was meant to be a mother. I still desire to be successful in the terms I set for myself many years ago and pursue my passions. I love pageantry and being able to coach and do photography. Last year I felt at an all-time low after some events. I shared this with a few that are close to me. They all offered encouraging words, but I don’t think they all understood how low I felt. My solution was to quit pageant photography (despite dreaming of reaching the point of success where I could travel and shoot in other states like the pageant photographers I admire). It seemed easier to walk away than have repeated moments that led to me feeling worthless. I was hurt, sad, felt used, and taken advantage of for convenience, which led to me beating myself up - “You’re never going to be good enough”, “You don’t have what it takes”. It took the support of others to lift me back up and find value in my skills and dreams again.
At the end of last year, I was nominated for Best in Pageantry Best Headshot Photographer and thought it would be a long shot. I spent hours downsizing headshots, updated my profile, and asked for reviews. I was blown away when I was selected in the Top 10 and felt a light that I could achieve my dream. Unfortunately, with everything in pageantry and in life, there is always someone waiting to take joy from others. A pageant coach commented insinuating that these photographers bought their spot on the list and shared a photographer he felt was missing from the list. Another comment read, "I've never hard of half these people" and she tagged that same photographer. I chose to respond tactfully to the coach hoping to remind him to be a better example. There are ways to support your friends or favorites in the industry without tearing others down.
This is just a glimpse of the negativity in pageantry that tears girls down. While you might be stating what you believe to be true in a comment or on a forum, you’re also choosing words that can make people feel less than. Be mindful of how your words can be perceived. We see this in so many ways - comments shared while a girl takes the stage, what you've said behind a girl's back, directors comparing their titleholders, and parents speaking negatively about contestants to their daughters.
Aside from these events and some others that I have been reflecting on this past week, I also have anxiety. I have been on medication three times in my life, and I currently am right now. I have no shame in sharing that I take medication and I plan to see a therapist to learn additional coping mechanisms.
Reading of Cheslie Kryst’s death has been a reminder that life is too short. To all of us, Cheslie was an incredible, beautiful, and bright light in the world. She was well-spoken, intelligent, successful, and strong. Despite what we saw, she was also hurting. Life is too short to not enjoy your time here on earth and the people you surround yourself with. I have a habit of putting others first, giving everyone 110% of me and not standing up for myself. I allow people to take all that they can from me.
Various people in the pageant community have been sharing their struggles, and it has been both heartbreaking and inspiring. My heart goes out to these people that I don’t know on a personal level but I am inspired by their ability to be vulnerable and share their mental health journey with the world.
All in all, I just want to say that it is so important to pay attention. Pay attention to your loved ones, the strong ones, the happy ones, the sad ones, the ones that share their weaknesses with you, and the ones that don't. Listen to your people and be there for them. Check-in on each other. Even more importantly, take care of yourself. It's ok to seek help and reach out to others.