Suicide and Perfectionism

As a person diagnosed with clinical depression, I have considered suicide many times. I have a great life, and I have almost everything I want. Depression, however, does not discriminate. Mental illness doesn’t know I have a beautiful apartment and great friends who love and support me. It doesn’t know that I am doing well and getting good grades and calling my mom every day. It doesn’t care. I wish I could shake these feelings of general malaise and ennui and every other pretentious French word for sadness, but they follow me everywhere. I sit with these feelings sometimes, and really let myself feel the dull ache that is depression but that can make those emotions comfortable in my mind’s living room. There’s nothing romantic to be said about depression—it is a chronic disease that people deal with for lifetimes, if they are lucky. Sometimes, however, people are less lucky. Some people don’t live through this diagnosis. Suicide is the last resort for these people. Young, successful women have been going through an epidemic of suicide. 

 

Earlier this year, Kelly Catlin, an Olympic bronze medalist studying at Stanford committed suicide. The news led to a lengthy Washington Post article that captured my attention because it seemed like something that could have happened to one of my friends, or cousins. Catlin was a perfect student, daughter and athlete. She spoke Mandarin and was first chair in violin, and had everything going for her. She was driven and her drive became her downfall. She had injured herself in a biking incident, and suffered a concussion. This set off a rapid course of events that ended her life. She could no longer train to get the gold medal she desperately wanted, and her mental health quickly declined. She was not the kind of person who failed, and her bronze medal was, to her, a glaring mistake for which she had to atone. Since she could no longer practice, her life came to a standstill and she felt so depressed that she was driven to make a grave decision.

 

She attempted suicide, in the calculated, perfectionist way she lived her life—but to her dismay, she failed. This real failure was a catalyst for her demise, whereas most suicide attempt survivors use their second chance at life to reinvent themselves. She became so obsessed with this failure that even though she was healing from the original reason for her suicide attempt, she was more determined than ever to end her own life. 

 

On March 7th, Catlin’s pursuit of perfection came to a tragic end. She left her 4.0 GPA, Olympic medals, and her violin to reach one last goal. Her obsession with success which ultimately led to her untimely death ended up causing a media firestorm, raising awareness for the people that are often left out of the discussion about mental health. Her death brought young, bright women to the forefront of the America’s depression problem for a moment. And that is something I would like all of us to sit down and absorb.

 

I have a 3.9 GPA. I have a job, a car, my own apartment, and a loving support group of people surrounding me. I am the leader of two organizations on campus, and I greet every new face with a smile. I complain a little too much about how tired I am, but I always make sure to get my 8 hours of sleep. I tend to roll my eyes and say I definitely failed, after a test I know I passed. I have nearly everything I have ever wanted but that does not change my diagnosis. None of this detracts from the fact that I have attempted suicide and I have suicidal thoughts from time to time. Check on your friends who “have it all”, and call up your sister who has always been the “angel child”. Your cousin that is doing great things in medical school or volunteering in Thailand might be going through an internal struggle that you know nothing about. Take the time out of your day, today, to text a loved one who has the life you envy. Ask that person “How are you?”, and listen to the answer. You may be surprised.