Hey there! We’ve made it through another week, and you know what? This weekend is one of my favorite times here in Austin: it’s the Austin Film Festival and Writer’s Conference! I am volunteering this weekend, and it’s just a great time to see some of the best writers and creators come together and make cool things happen. I’m in need of inspiration, so this is coming at the right (write) time!
It’s also supposed to be a little chilly – FINALLY – this weekend (like, in the low 50s), even though it will warm back up next week. I’ll take what I can get; I am so tired of having my air conditioning running.
But, I’ve got a really fantastic, important book to discuss this week: “What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen” by Kate Fagan. Here is the official description from Amazon:
From noted ESPN commentator and journalist Kate Fagan, the heartbreaking and vital story of college athlete Madison Holleran, whose death by suicide rocked the University of Pennsylvania campus and whose life reveals with haunting detail and uncommon understanding the struggle of young people suffering from mental illness today.
If you scrolled through the Instagram feed of 19-year-old Maddy Holleran, you would see a perfect life: a freshman at an Ivy League school, recruited for the track team, who was also beautiful, popular, and fiercely intelligent. This was a girl who succeeded at everything she tried, and who was only getting started.
But when Maddy began her long-awaited college career, her parents noticed something changed. Previously indefatigable Maddy became withdrawn, and her thoughts centered on how she could change her life. In spite of thousands of hours of practice and study, she contemplated transferring from the school that had once been her dream. When Maddy’s dad, Jim, dropped her off for the first day of spring semester, she held him a second longer than usual. That would be the last time Jim would see his daughter.
WHAT MADE MADDY RUN began as a piece that Kate Fagan, a columnist for espnW, wrote about Maddy’s life. What started as a profile of a successful young athlete whose life ended in suicide became so much larger when Fagan started to hear from other college athletes also struggling with mental illness. This is the story of Maddy Holleran’s life, and her struggle with depression, which also reveals the mounting pressures young people, and college athletes in particular, face to be perfect, especially in an age of relentless connectivity and social media saturation.
I added this book to my reading list after seeing Kate Fagan on an episode of “The Daily Show”. The book sounded fascinating, although heartbreaking. I was able to get the book just a few weeks later, and I immediately did something I probably shouldn’t have: I looked up Madison Holleran on Instagram.
And there she was: a seemingly perfect college athlete, a woman I likely would have thought had her life – a beautiful life – all tied together. But obviously that’s not entirely true. And now, her public Instagram profile serves as a bit of a time capsule – even the picture she posted in the last moments of her life is there – neatly filtered and edited.
We’re all guilty of it: we put things into the public that we are only OK with people knowing. When I was reading this book, I blamed this on social media. But, once I was finished with the book, I went back and read some of Fagan’s earlier work and she made a great point: humans have been editing their outward “look” for years – even when we’d write letters to each other, we would only mention the things we wanted people to know.
Remember AOL messenger? It’s going away this December, but I know I made myself look different online – even through AOL. I would put away messages alluding that I was out, partying, leaving my computer idle for days, when in reality I was sitting in my dorm room watching “Sex and the City”.
Of course, Maddy Holleran was going through much more than a social struggle. She was suffering from a mental illness, and was really feeling the pressures of college, on top of being a sought-after athlete. Here are some of the lines from the book I took note of:
- Many coaches believe these moments are forks in the road, and that choosing to push through the pain – in whatever form that pain comes – is what creates champions.
- …the more polished and put-together someone seems – everything lovely and beautiful and just as it should be – perhaps the more likely something vital is falling apart just offscreen.
- Comparing your everyday existence to someone else’s highlight reel is dangerous for both of you.
- Digital life, and social media at its most complex, is an interweaving of public and private personas, a blending and splintering of identities unlike anything other generations have experienced.
- And nothing turns enjoyment into dread faster than obligation.
I’ll be honest, there were times I felt sick while reading this book. Partially because I knew what was coming and I had mixed feelings about reading it, and partially because I found a lot of myself in Maddy – and that’s scary.
I think there’s a lot to learn from Maddy’s story, and that’s probably why her family let the author in so much – so other families wouldn’t have to suffer from a similar tragedy.
Despite the darkness of this book, I absolutely loved it. The way it was told was respectable, true, and easy to read. I am recommending this book to my social media lovers, and my true-story obsessors. This is one you won’t be able to put down.
The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “The Art of Crash Landing” by Melissa DeCarlo.
I hope you all have a fantastic weekend!