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BBC: ‘What Made Maddy Run’.

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 Previously indefatigable Maddy became withdrawn, and her thoughts centered on how she could change her life.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!

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On keeping it real (honest).

A good soak in the tub.

It’s 9:30 pm, and I’m writing this on my phone as I soak in the tub. I just had a mini-meltdown in my car and am grasping for all of my self care necessities at once: Blanche, bubble bath, John Mayer, and a clay mask. 

Since Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, I’ve been stressed. I’ve been doing several things to help those in need (and am looking forward to doing more), but it takes a toll. 

I feel really lucky that Austin wasn’t affected as much as predicted and I still have my house, my kitty, my car…but events like these either bring out the best in people, or the worst. 

I couldn’t help but notice just how many people did not contact me to see how I weathered the storm. In fact, the 3 people who did contact me, are people I haven’t seen in at least a year. 

Maybe it’s not a big deal to most, but no matter what’s going on between me and you when shit hits the fan, I’m going to reach out and see how you’re doing. That’s what we do. Right? 

I know many people probably just don’t feel a need to check in because it’s much easier to just look online and see the last time they posted on social media. 

But what if that wasn’t an option?

In the last week, I read a book (“What Made Maddy Run?”) and saw a movie (“Ingrid Goes West”) that both talked about the cultural change we’ve experienced because of social media and the effect it has on our mental health. No spoilers, but the result is not a good one. 

I know I’m guilty of scrolling through Instagram and being jealous of someone’s outfit, their vacation, or really just…their entire life. Of course, I’m only seeing the highlight reel. And that’s where things get dicey. 

I always think I’m putting the real me out there, but you’ve never seen a picture of my face after I’ve been crying. 

If you wanted to, you could read a lot of my issues right here on this blog. And there’s plenty of dirt on my Twitter feed. But I’m going to put some realness out there, right now. 

In the last year, I’ve spoken to only four members of my family. Including my mom. In the last two years, I’ve had other family members tell me I need Jesus, threaten to sue me, and tell me I’m a piece of trash. 

I spent last Thanksgiving and Christmas with my cat. And it was awful. 

There are days when I feel lonely, times I feel there’s no one I could call, times I feel like a burden to this world. 

I work in politics. Liberal politics. And things are dark right now. Obviously. 

I suffer from financial stress. The money I make at my day job barely covers my bills, and I’m constantly doing extra work to keep up, to save for fun things, or to just pay off a credit card or taxes. I worry about bills, and trying to save. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever feel financially free. 

I’ve done some shit I shouldn’t have. Mathematically, I feel like I shouldn’t still actually be alive but I’m here and I get very stressed about making my time here count. 

I know I’m critical of myself. And of others, too. At times I wonder if I’m right in the way I feel, and I recall years of therapy where I learned it’s ok to feel anything you feel. 

I’ve spent many years searching for what I think is happiness, and I’ve found that generally it’s my weekly trip to the library, cooking, or driving by these two palm trees at the bend on my street. 

So there. Now you see it, my dirty laundry. I know we have a long way to go before posts like these are accepted just as any other. It’s less of a pity party and more of a display so you know that if you’ve ever felt any of these things, you’re not alone. 

I’d like to think that’s a small reason I’ve created this blog for myself – it’s my place to go when the seas get rough, when I feel like there’s no one to call. 

There’s another (literal) storm out there. If you know someone that’s going to be affected by it, at all, shoot them a message. We need each other – the real each other, not the Instagram stuff. 

I’m not apologizing for my crazy today. It’s real, just like any of my blog posts – this one’s just a little less pretty. 

She’s perfect, so flawless, oh so they say…she thinks I can’t see the smile that she’s faking, posing for pictures that are being taken. I loved you, gray sweatpants, no makeup, so perfect. 

Sent from my iPhone