Cheslie Kryst’s mother details daughter’s mental health struggles in memoir: ‘You have to accept what was’

Two years after Kryst's death by suicide, April Simpkins has completed her memoir, "By the Time You Read This: The Space Between Cheslie's Smile and Mental Illness." 

Cheslie Kryst’s mother is fulfilling her daughter’s dying wish of publishing her memoir.

Two years after Kryst’s death by suicide, April Simpkins is sharing intimate details about her 22-year-old daughter’s life in a newly published book, “By the Time You Read This: The Space Between Cheslie’s Smile and Mental Illness.”

According to People magazine, Kryst wrote the book, which Simpkins completed after her death to assist others battling with mental health issues. Simpkins has also helped launch the Cheslie C. Kryst Foundation, which will benefit from the book’s proceeds and support mental health programs for youth and young adults.

Cheslie Kryst, Miss USA, Black Miss USA winner, Black mental health, "By The Time You Read This," Black authors, Black pageant queens,
Cheslie Kryst visits the BUILD Series in New York City in May 2019 to discuss winning her Miss USA title. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

“I knew that I had to get this done,” said Simpkins, a mental health advocate and ambassador for the National Alliance on Mental Health. “Doing this thing that was so important to her, it was a phenomenal feeling. When it was finished, it was the first time I saw the sun and could exhale.”

At 30, Kryst had a law degree and an MBA, was a Miss USA crown holder, and worked as an Emmy-nominated correspondent for “Extra.” Still, she wrote in her memoir that she carried an “unshakable feeling that I did not belong” and battled a “constant inner voice repeating ‘never enough.'” 

Expressing the pressures that came with her success, she added, “I had to be perfect because I had to represent for all youth, women, and Black people who also wanted to be in the room but had been denied access.”

While news of Kryst’s death shocked those who only knew her as a beauty queen with multiple degrees and a high-profile job, Simpkins understood the severity of her daughter’s struggles.

She acknowledged that despite Kryst’s high-achieving personality, the struggle with depression was always present. She had attempted suicide in 2015.

“I was blindsided,” said Simpkins. “I thought we could talk about anything, so when I got that phone call, I’m playing through conversations in my head, thinking, ‘Why didn’t she feel comfortable enough to talk to me?'”

Simpkins said after Kryst’s initial suicide attempt, she pleaded with God for “more time” with her daughter, and she made the most of it. She dedicated herself to supporting Kryst and learning “not to talk at her, but to listen to her.”

Recommended Stories

Then, on Jan. 30, 2022, Kryst sent her mother a devastating text message describing the private pain she had gone through. She started it with a harrowing passage: “By the time you get this, I won’t be alive anymore.”

“I cannot bear the crushing weight of persistent sadness, hopelessness, and loneliness any longer,” she continued. “I cry almost every day now like I’m in mourning…I no longer feel like I have any purpose in life. I don’t know if I ever really did.”

Simpkins shared that when she first learned Kryst was gone, part of her thought she would die from a broken heart. While grieving, she faced criticism from some on social media, asking why she was unaware of her daughter’s struggles or why she wasn’t able to save her, given their close relationship.

However, the mother of six said it was a war her daughter had fought for many years, and no one was to blame.

As a mother, “you want to fight every battle, and you want your children to know, ‘I got your back,'” she said. “But mental illness is a fight you can’t fight for your child.”

“I lived every single day with her to its fullest,” Simpkins said per People. “I can’t let guilt erase what we had. I’m just thankful for all the days Cheslie fought and won and lived to fight another day. You have to accept what was. You can’t change it. And what’s left is gratitude.”

If you or someone you know is considering self-harm or suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433. Help is available 24 hours a day.