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Dominic Cantrella: The Battle Behind The Smile

TW: mentions suicide

Originally published by Hope for Athletes

My first love was the sport of basketball. At the age of four, there was nothing I would rather be doing than playing. I tried my hand at many other sports: football, baseball, soccer, but nothing could fill up my heart like basketball did. I wanted nothing more than to play for a club team and move to school basketball, 24/7, 365 days a year.

Until I didn't.

To the outside person looking in at me, I was sitting on top of the world. I had a supportive family, a great group of friends, college basketball offers, good academics, and my faith, but I was still missing something.

It all started back in high school. I was always a very happy, mostly laid-back, kid. I never thought too much about mental health and always thought I would never have to deal with things like depression or anxiety. Why would I? I had a great group of people around me.

During my sophomore year, I felt like I was almost judgmental about the topic of mental health. I always thought that there was no way that kids at such a young age could be so sad, anxious, or even suicidal, but a lesson I learned later was that you can never understand the loneliness, emptiness, and helplessness of depression until you feel it yourself.

My junior year of high school was a blast, maybe some of the best times I had playing basketball. It was a wild and unpredictable season, with my team ending 21-4 after the best year in school history.

I was featured on SportsCenter and Overtime for a viral video of a full court, buzzer-beating game winner in a rivalry game. I was then featured for another buzzer beater in the next game we played. I felt like I was on top of the world, and who wouldn't? Endless interviews from local news and radio stations, my social media blew up, and there were viral videos going around.

Unfortunately, that fairy tale of a season came to an end...and then came COVID, where my mental health battle started. COVID was a very difficult time in my life, as it was for most others. Being locked down in a house 24/7 gave me a lot of time to think and get in my own head, leading to my anxiety began to spiral out of control.

In the fall of 2020, right before my senior season was about to start, my sister was diagnosed with end stage renal disease, which caused kidney failure, due to her diabetes. I was shocked and didn't know how to handle this type of news. Because of COVID quarantines, my school gave us the option to learn remotely instead of going in-person to school each day. I chose online learning, in part to minimize the risk of bringing COVID home to my sister. It was heartbreaking seeing my sister go through such a tough time and not knowing what was going to come out of the situation at hand.

During this period of online classes, I spent a lot more time alone. There were many sleepless nights and I would often cry myself to sleep. It was a constant cycle...sleep, classes, and basketball. It was draining, I felt empty, I felt like there was no way out.

To the people around me, I'm sure it seemed like I was doing just fine. I was having a good year on the court, but I still felt empty. Despite it all, I continued to put a smile on my face.

My high school team won our league for the second year in a row and then my high school basketball career came to a sudden halt. It was over. I didn't know what to do. I got the chance to put on my jersey one more time for the Cincinnati All-Star game. All I remember from that night is pulling over in a parking lot on my way home and letting out all my emotions. It felt like my world crashed down on me as I had a panic attack. It was the first, but certainly not the last. I can remember nights in the hospital with my parents and feeling hopeless. Almost feeling like I was bringing my family and friends down, as the feelings of dread and hopelessness kept building up.

After thinking about whether I wanted to pursue my dream of playing basketball at the next level, I committed to Otterbein University. My commitment and graduation gave me a boost and I was the happiest I had felt in awhile, but I was still fighting a mental battle every day.

I remember a night vividly as me and my buddies went to a friend's graduation party. we had a blast, but at the end of the night I found myself at home alone in a deep state of depression. I thought that was the night I was going to let everything go.

That was the night I planned on ending my life.

I remember texting my friends apologizing, telling them I loved them. I wrote my family a note.

God had other plans that night though. A friend I texted earlier that night was concerned about my well-being, and she reached out to my sister who texted my mom. Luckily, my mom came downstairs and as I heard her footsteps, I ran into my room and acted like I was asleep. It was truly a blessing from God telling my it was not my time to go.

The next day I was admitted to the hospital where I got help for my depression. It was an eye-opening experience. After being at my most vulnerable and lowest point, I learned through those few days that I had support, love, hope, and I had a purpose in this world. Some people may find that purpose sooner than others, but that's what I learned through my faith.

As I began my freshman year of college, I met some life-long friends. After a great freshman year, I slowly fell out of love with the game during my sophomore year. Instead of it feeling like a passion, it felt like a grinding job, and I knew it wasn't for me anymore. I decided to give up the thing i loved most, and transferred back home to Cincinnati.

Although my first love didn't last as long as I dreamed it would, I found my purpose and happiness through this battle, and I am not ashamed or embarassed of what I went through because it has made me into the person I am today. There are still good and bad days, but I am blessed to be alive today. My goal is to help other people you may find themselves in similar circumstances. There will always be heartbreak, losses, missed opportunities, and failures as we all navigate out own paths. But there is hope for everyone, we all have a purpose.

Through every dark night there is a bright day ahead if you choose to accept love and assistance from those who care and those who love you.


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