I was catching up with a friend about my time living abroad when she asked me what ever came of the situationship I was in before I left. Things just kind of fizzled between John and me, mostly because we hadn’t built the kind of conflict intimacy that could sustain us through arguments at such a long distance.
Of the fights we had was about his reaction to my grief about the passing of Cheslie Kryst.
To him, sure the story was sad but it wasn’t anything to write home about. I didn’t know her personally. She wasn’t a household name like Beyoncé or Oprah. It should have been easy to acknowledge the situation and keep a distance from it.
For me, the logic of the situation had nothing to do with my emotions on it. Not only was Cheslie someone I admired, I saw so much of who I was and what I wanted to become in her. My ideas of going to law school or becoming a pageant queen started to seem real and achievable because part of my mind lived those things through her; I believed it because I could see it. More and more clearly I identified with the feeling of wearing a Miss USA crown or celebrating a passing score on the bar exam. But that sense of relatability was just as powerful at her story’s tragic turn.
People generally view me as someone with everything put together. Confident. Strong. But I started having suicidal thoughts when I was 12 and have battled high functioning depression ever since. Cheslie’s passing happened just days after I’d gone bungee jumping; and when I found out she died jumping down from a New York high rise, those visions of success and joy quickly became eerie. I couldn’t shake the visualization of myself back in that suicidal place, this time with that uncomfortably familiar pit in my stomach from dangling through the sky. The fear, desperation, contemplation, and physical drainage all came rushing back and I barely made it through the first night getting the news without getting to a complete state of panic.
As upset as I was with John for minimizing my feelings, I didn’t fully express to him what I was going through. He didn’t know why I was triggered or how I experienced that kind of physical duress. The moment I sensed a lack of empathy, I went on the defensive and stopped communicating the way I needed to if I wanted to get the right support.
Trust is a funny game of give and take. You have to feel safe to be vulnerable but you also have to be vulnerable to know you’re truly safe. John was wrong to gaslight me and I know you shouldn’t have to bare your soul to someone for them to understand you or take you seriously when you’re in a bad place, but the people you cherish will only have the chance to know, love, and support you to the extent that you let them and teach them how to do so.
"The people you cherish will only have the chance to know, love, and support you to the extent that you let them."
When I started this blog, I made a vow to be honest and transparent and I didn’t do that either. The first piece I wrote about Cheslie skirted around the truth of my grief because I was afraid to come off as insensitive. Grief Columbussing is a legitimate threat that amplifies narcissism and undermines the realities of trauma. Addressing Cheslie on a first name basis, making (what could be viewed as) claims to know how she felt, or drawing comparisons between her death and my experience with a voluntary recreational activity seemed tactless and unreasonable. The line is drawn where we allow others to determine for us what’s real and what’s not.
"Grief Columbussing is a legitimate threat that amplifies narcissism and undermines the realities of trauma."
My feelings were authentic and my intentions behind sharing those feelings are pure. I wish for continued healing for Cheslie's loved ones, and I know I'm only one of many who admired her dearly from afar. I've learned that you should never sweep yourself under the rug because you’re worried someone may not find validity in what you have to say. To this day I’m still processing my grief over Cheslie’s suicide, but if I’d been accountable to myself earlier on, I could have sooner begun to uncover the truth behind my feelings and understand how to cope.
Please visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org or call 1-800-273-8255 to get help for yourself or someone you know, and read more about the alarming spike in suicide amongst Black youth at The New York Times.