Teresa Scanlan was the youngest contestant to be crowned Miss America. She has always been what some would term an over-achiever or a people-pleaser. As one of her AWANA leaders, I saw a delightful young lady who loves Jesus. Teresa has had several struggles and victories over the years and yet her perseverance and determination have shown through. She is open, honest, authentic and eloquent as she shares her life and her faith.
Teresa recently wrote a heartfelt response to the death of Cheslie Krist. It is real, raw and true. Mental health needs to be brought into the light and treated as a health issue.
I’m gutted. I haven’t been able to form words over this for days.
When I first heard the news, I started panicking. My mind started racing, “no, no, no, it can’t be true. Just wait. …Just wait, hold on.
Let me talk to her. Nononono… please no!
No, just wait… please wait and let me talk to her!”
…But of course I couldn’t.
It was true, and it was too late.
Cheslie, I’m so sorry we couldn’t save you.
I’m so sorry this was the only way to find the rest you so desperately sought.
I know what it is to claw and crawl in desperation toward even the smallest semblance of rest and peace. I know it’s all you wanted.
I hadn’t met her yet. I have many friends and other former Miss Americas and Miss USAs who were close friends with her though, and I certainly felt like I knew her. The pageant world is so small.
I was so excited when she won. I watched her win as an attorney, while I was in law school. I watched her win Miss USA at 28, one of the oldest winners, while 10 years prior I had won Miss America at 17, one of the youngest.
…I just wish I could have talked with her.
Many people ask “why,” and I wish I could adequately explain.
I won’t purport to speak for Cheslie; I can only speak for myself… but her article written for Allure last year, as well as her final Instagram post also speak directly to me.
The struggle for rest… the struggle for peace.
You work so hard your entire life, striving after always being the best, always making the most out of what you’ve been given, never wanting to squander a single moment. You enjoy it at first, but the pressure creeps up on you before you even know it.
“You’ve been given so much.”
“You have it all.”
“I wish I could be like you.”
Suddenly, the pressure bubble is crushing, suffocating, squeezing the breath out of your lungs… you’re racing on a treadmill, trying to keep up. Don’t slip. Don’t fall. Don’t make a single wrong move. You’ll disappoint them all. Keep the smile on your face. Don’t move a muscle. After all, the precise opposite closes in on you from the other side…
“She’s too fat. She’s too skinny.
She’s too girly. She’s too manly.
She’s too loud. She’s too quiet.
She’s too over-the-top. She’s too boring.
She’s so stupid. She thinks she’s so smart.
She’s too young. She’s too old.”
Shake them off. Focus on grinding. Focus on your goals, your next move. You’ll show them. …but wait, do you even want to?
…no time to think about that now! On to the next. Move, move, move.
“What amazing thing are you up to these days?!”
“What’s your PLAN?!”
“Where are you going from here??”
You’re scaling a ladder, limbs quivering as you frantically reach for the next rung. The moment you pull yourself up on the rung, gasping for air, the only thing you can do is reach for the next, and the next… and the next.
…But it’s not enough. I have to find another thing to accomplish. Something, anything. It has to be bigger, better, faster than the last.
What am I doing? Why am I doing these things? No no, no time to think, just go.
It’s pressure… to PERFORM.
Pressure… to PRODUCE.
Pressure… to PROGRESS.
Pressure… to PROVIDE.
Where does it stop? HOW can it stop?
You can’t get out without disappointing everyone. Everyone who looks up to you. Everyone who is inspired by you. Everyone who is proud of you. Little girls to whom you’re a role model. … and the problem is… you care. You care about each and every one of these people. You don’t want to take anything or anyone for granted. You don’t want to squander the amazing opportunities you’ve been given.
That just wouldn’t be right… right?
You feel you can’t “throw it all away.” Because you care too much. …you love people and don’t want to let anyone down. …so the pressure bubble never pops. Instead, it keeps growing, crushing, suffocating… and you can’t breathe.
In the wake of all of this, many have been asking, “what do we do?”
What needs to change? Is normalizing talking about mental health going to solve all our problems?
First, I humbly submit that normalizing mental health conversations is absolutely half the equation.
Mental health is health.
We have to stop talking about mental health as if it’s for “young people” only. Stop talking about “your brain isn’t even developed until 25,” as if that will magically solve all our problems. We have to start recognizing that ANYONE, at ANY age, any phase of life, of any physical attributes, any socioeconomic status, and any level of “success” can and will struggle with maintaining their mental health, just as surely as we will all, at one point or another, struggle with some aspect of our physical health.
Second, I also humbly submit that the second portion of the equation is changing the culture.
- The culture that worships accomplishment and achievement.
- The culture that says millennials are lazy if they prioritize relationships over career, work-life freedom over salary.
- The culture that glorifies “success” in finances and business, over character and values.
- The culture that only wants to know “what’s NEXT?” And “where are they now??” And marvels: “Celebrities… they’re just like us!”
As Miss America or Miss USA, you have a million people who want to take a picture with you, but only one in a million truly wants to get to know your heart.
What if we cared about a person’s heart more than we did their accomplishments? What if we valued a person’s soul over their job, their face, or even their “work ethic?”
I once went to do an appearance at an event, and a man stopped me and said, “Teresa, I just wanted to tell you that YOU MATTER. Not for being Miss America, and not for anything you’ve ever done, but just for you. YOU matter.”
…I cried all day over that one comment.
THAT is the embodiment of valuing a person’s soul over their achievements. That is the type of sea-change cultural revolution we need in the world today.
Start with your kids. Start in your most intimate circle.
Check how much you talk about people’s outward appearances.
Check how much you talk about a person’s outward “success.”
Check how much you focus on accomplishments and achievements
… and whether we think we focus on these things in a “good” way or a “bad” way… I assure you, it doesn’t matter.
For while it does nothing to motivate the “unmotivated” person or child we think we’re speaking to, it does *everything* to pressure and overwhelm those of us who are already prone to be over-motivated by these things, and to contribute to the social norm of constant pressure to perform.
Focus on talking about character.
Focus on talking about values.
Focus on the small things, the tiny matters of your child’s heart, and their mind.
If they accomplish “great things,” so be it. But if they accomplish “small things with great love,” as Mother Teresa has put it, celebrate them with your whole being.
Break the pressure bubble.
Break the idea of being “perfect.”
Let those around you be awkward, uncomfortable, and weird.
…Rest and peace.
Peace and rest.
Allow it for yourself.
Allow it for your children.
Allow it for your friends, family, and all those around you.
Put no one on a pedestal.
Do not allow it for yourself, your children, or anyone else.
Your greatest sports idol, celebrity idol, parenting idol, religious idol, or otherwise will always fail you. They’re human. They are not perfect. Only God is perfect, and only God will never fail you. He is the only One worthy of all our trust, hope, and adoration.
But do not expect your role model to be perfect.
Do not expect anyone to be.
It is far, far too much pressure for any human to bear.
…for no one should ever feel that they must escape this life just to find the rest and peace we all so desperately need.
Travis Stanton, who worked with Cheslie at Miss USA, posted this touching story.
I’ve struggled to find the right words to pay tribute to this beautiful soul, but I’ve come to the conclusion there are no right words. So what I’ll share instead are the honest ones that keep running through my head. Forty-eight hours ago, I received the tragic news via text. I just remember staring at my phone repeating, “no no no no no” as my heart sank. Since then, it’s been a roller-coaster of emotions: shock, disbelief, confusion, sadness, guilt, anger, and a deep, persistent feeling of emptiness.
I met Cheslie while working on the production crew of Miss USA 2019, which she won. I would later work with her on three different telecasts as the segment producer responsible for her scenes alongside Christian Murphy, Demitebow Tebow, Paulina Vega, and Carson Kressley. She constantly impressed me with her professionalism and the ease with which she seemed to approach whatever was thrown at her. But it was her laugh, her smile, her infectious joy, and the way she’d always yell “TRAVIS!” when she saw me that warmed my heart. She had an iridescent soul that managed to find and reflect the most brilliant light, even in the darkest of times — always dancing, singing, glowing.
We initially connected over conversations about our struggles with depression and anxiety (something I’ve not shared publicly before but feel inclined to now). We also discussed how we’re both 100-percent introverted by nature, even though nobody believes us when we tell them that. We talked about our own methods for dealing with social anxiety, and how essential downtime/me time was to maintain a sort of equilibrium. We once commiserated about having too much and never enough, meaning that when we sat back and took stock, we knew how lucky we were … but that day to day and moment to moment what we had DONE didn’t seem as important as whatever we were trying to do next. In so many ways our brains seemed to be wired similarly, and I felt like she saw me on a level few do (and vice versa). I once joked that we were the same person, but she had bigger hair.
Even though I knew there were issues beneath the surface, I never suspected they presented anything more than daily obstacles she (we) had learned to amble over as gracefully as possible without anyone noticing. And given my belief that we ALL face struggles and could benefit from psychiatric care, I believed those obstacles were mere annoyances for her, not daunting, unscalable walls. I certainly never saw anything that was cause for concern. In fact, even as we discussed these challenges, she still struck me as the kindest, funniest, and happiest person I’d ever met. Our last text was about looking forward to working together again soon, something I sincerely assumed we’d be doing for years and years. That’s what makes this all so difficult to accept and impossible to understand. How could someone with such a zest for life, who always seemed to be living in the moment and looking forward to the future, feel this was her only option. And unfortunately, I suspect that’s something we’ll never fully understand.
Perhaps it’s fitting that she left us all wanting more, because that’s how I felt every time she left my presence. But the sad truth might be that she had no more to give. Cheslie was the kind of star who made everyone around her feel celestial, too. And the only explanation I can fathom is that she shined so brightly for us all that there was no light left for herself.
In many ways, I’ve been dreading this post because it makes something so unfathomable real, and the finality of having to face that truth stings. Monday morning when I woke up, I said a quick prayer that it was all a bad dream. But it’s so much worse than that. One of the brightest lights I’ve encountered was snuffed out too soon, and I mourn the future she’ll never have, the laughs we would have shared, and what could and should have been.
To say I’m heartbroken is an understatement. I wish for one more hug, one more show, one more funny face or hilarious moment, one more impromptu dance party, one more “TRAVIS!” I hope she knew deep down how much she was loved, respected, and adored, and how much she’ll be missed. I hope she wrapped herself in the memories she left the rest of us to cherish. And I hope she has found the peace that eluded her here on Earth. And while it feels impossible right now, as we all mourn in our own unique ways, I hope those of us who knew her are inspired to live brighter and brighter in her honor.
I Am Vertical -Sylvia Plath
But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam into leaf,
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one’s longevity and the other’s daring.
Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars,
The trees and the flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.
Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping
I must most perfectly resemble them —
Thoughts gone dim.
It is more natural to me, lying down.
Then the sky and I are in open conversation,
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
Then the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Call 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org/talk-to-someone-now/ to chat with someone who can help. And please, check on your friends and loved ones.