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Alexcia Zeller: My Bipolar Battle With Inconsistency

TW: suicide

Every coach I have ever played for has told me that my weakness lies in my inconsistency. I would hear I have really good days where they don’t even recognize the player out there, and then I have bad days where I missing all the fundamentals.

Growing up I remember time after time being taken to the doctors trying to figure out what my mother referred to as my "mood swings." The doctors told my mom, my hormones were shifting because of my age and the “mood swings” would eventually level out. I was a very good kid growing up. I never got in trouble in school and never had any issues outside of school. So not red flags ever stood out besides my moods which would drastically swing from one polar to the other instantly that my parents saw. However at the time, mental health wasn’t really openly discussed, and more importantly my disorder was never talked about.

When it came to high school, things just got worse. I never acted out on others; it was always within my family. I'd go from a tremendously high high to really low low at the flip of a switch. My highs looked like snappiness, abnormally energetic, aggressiveness, and extreme irritability. They would then plummet to a very low stage, depressed, exhausted, and highly emotional. As time passed, the lows became exceedingly low, and the highs became more impulsive, sleepless, and very futuristic. When the highs were high, they were really good for the most part, no one can complain about a little extra energy out of nowhere, right. The ability to go through my days on minimal sleep seemed great. However when the lows were low, they felt impossible to survive and the basic human needs to function were the most difficult tasks to complete. This cycle was detrimental to my overall health and wellbeing everyday.

I had spent my entire life believing emotions were just disguised excuses and that how you felt was not a reason to take a break. I had formed a bad habit of suppressing all of my feelings and never dealing with them. I kept myself so busy that there was never time for me to deal with them. Everything changed significantly once COVID-19 emerged. All those suppressed feelings began to resurface following lockdown and left with nothing but thoughts and time alone. Unfortunately, when those suppressed emotions resurfaced, I faced double the hardship once I swooped into a depressive state.

In February of 2020, during a brief period when my impulsivity resurfaced and what I later learned was a manic episode emerged, I jumped and attempted to take my life. Fortunately, I was not successful. Almost a year later, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder. At this point in my life, I felt so small. I felt "crazy", helpless, and as if my entire life was slipping through my fingers. My freshman year of college, I transferred schools and made an effort to find a balance between this new found disorder in my life and the life I had once only known and envisioned, lacrosse. I had lost all confidence and felt completely alone in this situation. Mental health was becoming a widely discussed concern at the time. Depression was more relatable than ever before, but Bipolar Disorder was not. The depressive episodes were the only things that made me feel "normal," as if I wasn't "crazy" or alone. However, I was aware that I was dealing with more than simply depression, and that my disorder was much more complicated than anyone had discussed. The stigma associated with Bipolar Disorder was still that it was a condition of the insane, crazy, and out of control.

Most people were unaware that I had mastered the art of masking my highs and, more significantly, my lows. I was in one polar or the other more than 80% of the time, yet I still had to show up to practices, contributing the same energy as everyone else. I needed to "keep it together." During the end of my sophomore year, I decided to open up to my coaches about my challenges. The problem with Bipolar Disorder is that it’s one of the most unknown and misunderstood disorders out there. Sure, my coaches might say they heard and understood what I was saying. They could tell me to let them know if I needed anything, but the expectation was still to keep it together and show up (consistently) every day like everyone else. Even when you explain to coaches that inconsistency is a war you fight not only on the field, but every day of your life, they don't completely comprehend it let alone accept it.

Early on in my athletic career, I quickly realized that having anything in your life, good or bad, was expected to be left at the door. Turn off your thoughts about anything other than lacrosse and concentrate solely on the game for the time being. The challenge was figuring out how to turn off a mind that never stops in the first place. How can you show up and leave your worries at the door when you're operating on 2 hours of sleep yet have so much energy you could climb Mount Everest and only you know you'll be flipping to the exact opposite in a matter of days? Even though, I learned to mask things quickly and effectively, the issue was that I was constantly wearing a mask. I appeared "normal" although I knew I was going through a great deal on the inside. Even if I hid how I was truly feeling, I knew it would be visible on the field because that portion was beyond my control. It didn't matter how much work I did outside of practice because everything seemed to dissipate once I entered a depressive state. In a depressive episode, my standard mind and abilities were practically reduced by at least 50%, however in a manic episode, my mind and abilities expanded to 150%, all the time. When I'm in a mania, I can really show up and show out, but when I'm in a depressive episode, simply getting out of bed, much alone showing up, takes so much energy out of me that there's no cognitive capacity left to get me to do anything but go through the motions.

Today, I'm still working my way through learning how to manage my highs and lows. Even with the help of medications, I know they will never be fully absent, but the goal is to make them less frequent. Every day, I concentrate on increasing my awareness and, more significantly, using that awareness to allow me to not only show up but also show out, no matter what state I am in. I hope that my experience raises awareness among not just players, but also coaches, about what Bipolar disorder looks like and the significance in understanding that inconsistency is the largest battle for any individual who suffers from it. With this knowledge, hopefully more grace and compassion will be poured into these individuals, so they know they are more than their highs and lows and can be seen beyond the surface of their inconsistent days. If you are suffering with Bipolar Disorder, I inspire you to keep fighting. Every day is a battle, but know that your worth is determined by your ability to persevere despite the inconsistency everyday. You are worth than what you can provide to others on and off the field every day.


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