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Hania Taduran: Balancing grief into my daily schedule as an athlete

My name is Hania Taduran. I am a junior, Beach Volleyball player at University of the Pacific. Throughout most of my life, I have allowed the stigma of mental health to silence me. My father was bipolar and passed by suicide when I was six years old. When I was a senior in high school, my male therapist also passed due to suicide. Grief and guilt became feelings that I was way too acquainted with at a young age. I began struggling with depression which would come as a surprise to most of my friends, as I was always seen as smiling, outgoing, and as a big personality.

Not only did I feel like I couldn't talk about the grief I was feeling because of the stigma surrounding suicide in particular, but I also felt like there was never enough time. I felt like people may judge me or even judge my dad. All of us student-athletes are always on the go, so I often thought I would waste my time feeling despair rather than focusing on my sport. The hard thing about this kind of loss is everyone deals with it differently, meaning it's so easy to feel alone in your grief. Some people feel anger, sadness, regret, and a wide range of other emotions. For me, it was easy to get consumed by guilt and blame. I felt that I wasn't good enough --not good enough for my loved ones to stay around, not good enough at helping someone feel needed and appreciated, etc. Even though I was only a child, I still felt this responsibility that I couldn't rid myself of.

This “not being good enough” idea that my mind created quickly translated into most aspects of my life. Whether it was my relationships, school work, self-esteem, or extracurriculars, I had subconsciously allowed this negative thinking as I did not allow myself time to grieve this loss. Specifically, in volleyball, I began only believing in my capabilities when someone else said it. To have your worth placed in someone else's words/actions is an inconsistent and dangerous form of esteem. I grew extremely hard on myself, constantly worried if I was going to make a mistake, and compared myself to every other player I knew. I slowly began to fall out of love with the game. It took me years to make the connection to heal my mental health in order to see my best physical skills.

The thing about healing from grief is that it is insanely time-consuming. As an athlete, I am trying to balance classes, homework, sports, clubs, weight lifting, a social life, and about a hundred other things. I never found taking time to forgive the world, and most importantly myself, for these deaths as a priority. I stacked on everything else until it got so bad that I couldn't carry any of it. This is what was taught to me as "strength." Unlike a physical injury, there was nothing that could be seen as a reason to keep me from playing. I did not have a way to explain this type of brokenness to my coaches or teammates, especially without feeling like I would be seen as weak or pitied. I knew coaches would most likely allow me to take a mental break if needed, though I also knew that it would mean losing my starting spot and overall importance to the team. As someone who was filled with blame, my self-esteem was solely based on how perfect I played. Little did I know, this would cause me to perform the worst I ever have. Deciding between your emotional well-being and your achievements should never be a choice, as they work hand in hand.

I have always pushed a notion on myself and felt the pressures of coaches or teammates to “be happy, focus on the positive, have good energy.” This made me feel selfish and ungrateful at times when I wanted to speak up about my struggles and bad days. I think there is a power in letting ourselves feel the bad moments in order to move forward from them. When I was finally able to allow myself to be vulnerable, cry, and let it all in, it was almost a stepping stone for feeling the truly good emotions again. I wasn't able to appreciate real happiness until I let myself experience my grief. I began making time for my grief a few years ago. It looks different for everyone, but for me, it was writing.

Writing was a space where I was able to accept the thoughts that I didn't think society would find acceptable or relatable. I was able to get to know myself and understand who I wanted to be, both as a player and a person. I was able to heal the younger version of myself who was filled with so much heartbreak and slowly, I grew out of her. I have come to terms with the deaths of my loved ones, in my own way. Although healing is never ending, it does get better. I did not forget about those I have lost but it no longer negatively affects me on a day-to-day basis. I found my athletic confidence fairly quickly as I was able to deal with these tragedies. I was no longer playing as a perfectionist or as if that one game/practice was going to measure my worth. I have found that releasing myself from the responsibility and blame of my dad's death also released the pressure cage that I mentally put myself in during beach volleyball. I have finally been able to find success on the sand again. I was on the first team as a sophomore at Pacific and found myself in a large leadership position on the team. I still continue to make time each day to continue healing myself in order to maintain this success.

I truly believe there needs to be a space for athletes to deal with grief and all other mental health issues. In my second year of college, I created a mental health awareness club for athletes on my campus called breaking barriers. It is a safe space for athletes to come together and break the stigma of mental health. I think all of us student-athletes need a community to empower our voices, feel heard, and set aside time to heal. Although my sport is my absolute life, I hope my fellow athletes remember that athletics will eventually come to an end. I will not be playing volleyball when I am 90 years old. But, I will be forced to live in my own mind forever. If we can keep it a kind, forgiving, and constantly healing environment, all other daily tasks will become just a little bit easier. Therefore, it's not worth it to push through your worst mental days and go to practice in fear of being judged, punished, or seen as weak. We have enormous pressures put on us daily as student-athletes, so please do not push any more onto yourself. I hope any athletes reading this can find an outlet for their mental health, whether it's journaling, meditating, seeing a professional, going to the beach, or literally anything else. Just find something outside of athletics, stress, and school. Finding that one thing that is solely for yourself makes a huge difference. Your mental health is begging you to prioritize it above any other thing on your busy schedule.

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