There’s no way to make sense of the death of Kelly Catlin. There’s no way to use a rational process to evaluate the suicide of a 23-year-old Olympic medalist and graduate student studying at Stanford University. That’s not a thing.
Knowing more detail, the exact how of her death, the method, the time, the anything, will not tell you anything that will allow you to let go of it like the news that Flint, Michigan, has an all-new water system. With such news one can say, “Okay, glad that’s resolved.” But Flint doesn’t have a new water system and not a single detail about Catlin’s death will help us find acceptance.
Cyclists all over the world are telling themselves, “But she had so much to live for?!”
Really? Says who? I don’t meant to argue or to say that there was anything wrong with her life. I meant to point out that where depression is concerned, the chair in which you sit can determine much. View is everything. The entire world can adore you—think Robin Williams—but if you look out at the world and you don’t see friends, if you don’t feel the warmth of their regard for you, then it is not there. We think she had it all. We think she had so much to live for. We think her future was bright. She couldn’t see her life the way we did.
Depression is an existential threat in a way few other things are. Depression can kill you long before your heart stops beating. You shrink from the world because it doesn’t feed you. You begin to see yourself as a burden, a blight on the world itself.
That Catlin was an Olympic medalist makes her death all the more stupefying to many. She’d achieved so much, people will think. She’d done something rare, something special, the sort of thing that is supposed to accelerate a career, mark you for future success. And the reasons why this didn’t immunize her from depression are diverse. If you’ve been trained to believe you’re a champion, that nothing short of winning matters, a silver medal isn’t an achievement, it’s a loss. If you think that you can’t possibly live up to that moment again, it’s easy to look upon your future and see 60 anticlimactic years ahead. If you look upon an achievement and think you didn’t fully deserve it, that you didn’t pull your weight or that there was something accidental, or ingenuine in your effort, that medal might not feel like it’s yours.
And that’s just one tiny facet of her life. A life is built, or torn down, on so much more than one public moment.
If nothing else, this is all the proof we need to appreciate that one cannot resolve depression from the outside. No award, no income, no significant other, no palace can fix that kind of depression.
I feel for her family and the devastation this leaves in the wake of her death. Suicide tears at the fabric of communities. Suicides rise within communities once one person chooses to leave by their own hand. It’s a chilling detail and one well-documented. I don’t know what her parents do to heal from this; I have no words to comfort anyone who loved her.
I feel even more for her. I feel for her, for the pain she felt, for the view she had of the world and how she concluded that the world would be, without her, a better place. I can report that nothing in this life feels worse than believing you are a source of pain to others. And when I think about pain, I return to the pain those who loved her are feeling. There’s an incredulity to the disconnect between how they felt about her and she felt about herself. And there’s an anger at that disconnect. Why didn’t she feel their love? It’s not a matter of anyone doing anything wrong.
It’s not enough to tell someone you love them. I don’t know why, but for those fighting for survival or departure, we don’t hear the message the way it’s meant to be heard. But don’t be dissuaded. Hug your loved ones close. And tell them. Tell them you love them at every opportunity. It’s as much for you as it is for them. As long as you love, you’re riding with the wind at your back.