What I have written has been in the works for years now, so this is very important to me. It is something I have thought about often, something I have had a lot of worries about, and yet something that I have felt so strongly about, too. I am going to reveal a side of me that almost nobody knows about. Not to the full extent. I am ready to open up about my battles with mental health differences.
This story was first published by our friends at UNCUT Madison on March 12, 2021.
Part 1: Written after my junior year in high school.
TW: Anxiety, Depression, Suicide
For two whole years, I had no motivation in life. There was no passion, drive, nor excitement for anything. Most people who know me are aware that sports have always been a huge part of my life, but throughout my first two years of high school, I did not care for a single one. I broke off from everything. I did not want to go outside and shoot hoops or play hockey anymore. I discontinued rooting for the teams I had been supporting my whole life. I even left my soccer team that I had been a part of for years and did not want to think about picking up a ball ever again. I also stopped caring about attending school, and my GPA plummeted to a 1.0. Interactions with friends came to an abrupt end as I did not want to be with them. I was alone.
On top of all of that, I was not able to sleep anymore. I had the weight of the world on my shoulders, especially at night. There were countless nights where I got little (an hour at most) to no sleep at all. It constantly felt as though I was trapped in the dark with absolutely no way of getting out.
For the first time ever, I was not able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
As all of these passions disappeared, so did I. My normal loving and vibrant self was missing, and nobody, including myself or my family, knew how to get me back. This was not something I could just “shake off” or “toughen out” anymore. This was serious, and it was time we did something about it.
With the hopes of getting myself back to “normal,” I started to see a therapist and psychiatrist. All of those negative thoughts about not wanting to be here anymore only worsened, though. As time went on, I switched doctors numerous times, but none of them were helping. I started to think that even the professionals in the mental health field could not help.
Fast forward, I was giving up, and I got to the point where I had a plan. It is impossible to put into words, but everything was just so hopeless. Only one thing was clear to me, and that was to put myself out of my misery and get myself off of this earth. The negative thoughts were worse than ever. The thoughts that “nothing matters,” “I am a horrible person,” and “everything is ruined” were screaming at me in my head constantly.
It was yet another night where I could not sleep, but this time, it was because of fear. I was drenched in sweat as I knew that this was it. I was ready to commit suicide.
There was one thing that kept me from killing myself. My family. I went hysterically crying into my parents’ room and told them everything. I could not do it. I could not leave my family. It would hurt them too much, so I could not hurt myself.
Even though it was one of the most traumatic moments in my life, I think that was a night that changed my life forever. That was the first time I could communicate with my parents. It was the first time I had the motivation to make a change.
The relationship with my therapist and psychiatrist at the time was obviously not working, so we tried switching once again. I finally met the doctor that was right for me: a doctor that really understood my struggles. One that informed me of how my depression actually stemmed from other mental health differences like OCD and ADHD. He was the first to discover a learning difference that had taken a grueling toll as well. On top of finding out how it all started and implementing proper medicine that could help reduce the negative thoughts, he also directed me to a therapist that I felt I could fully trust. It took time and very difficult moments, but my therapist’s understanding and our similarities eventually made me feel like she could help me. There is no other way to put it; these two doctors saved my life.
As I found all the components to my true team and completely bought into the recovery plan, I started to see an upward trend. It has been a very hard and slow process, but therapy has become life-changing for me. Actually opening up about myself, being willing to try group therapy, learning about mental distortions and different ways of thinking, all of it. This process has restructured me. I have also worked on exposing myself to stressful situations that address my social and contamination anxiety. This includes things like wearing a clown nose in public, picking up cigarettes off the ground, leaving a room an absolute mess, not checking my soccer bag 15 times, wearing tube socks to school; the list goes on and on. I have constantly been focusing on getting comfortable with what I consider uncomfortable. All of it has helped me adjust the way I think, and it has alleviated much of the pressure I put on myself.
I am still working on these things today. I still see my therapist and psychiatrist, I still take medicine, and I still attempt to use all of the tools I have learned whenever I get “stuck,” in a bad mood, or feel uneasy in certain situations. I still have bad days and bad moments, but I have improved in terms of recognizing it early and figuring out ways that work best for me to solve the issue.
Part 2: Written after my freshman year in college.
Quite a lot has happened since I wrote the first part of this paper. Saying that college is an adjustment from high school is an understatement. It is a whole new lifestyle. The changes throughout freshman year are already stressful enough, but now add playing a college sport, which is basically adding a full-time job to your schedule as well. I love it; that is why I play, but it is a huge time commitment, and it is a lot of work.
Just talking about school alone, class styles are different. The size is much bigger than before. The pace of the classes is quicker. Access to your professor can be a maze. It was hard for me to adjust, especially because I work so much better when I am able to establish relationships. At such a large university, it is not so easy to do that right away. I was also just starting to work with my academic advisor and learning specialist, as well as institute my accommodations to help with my learning differences. Furthermore, I had to focus on the sport I cared so much about and try to perform at my very best day in and day out. There were a lot of hurdles for the first couple of months of college. The struggle and anxiety of this massive adjustment were building up on me.
One day at practice, I just lost it. I did all I could to try and combat my anxiety and worries, but I just could not hold it in anymore. I walked over to my coach, fighting back tears, and asked if I could take a moment to try and gather myself. After he understandably excused me, I went sprinting with my head in my hands, trying to hide. In my mind, I kept saying, “please do not do this here, please,” but it was all just too much. I locked myself in the bathroom as I was hysterically crying and banging on the wall in anger. I felt that loneliness again. I had my therapist I could call, but I needed someone there at that very moment. It was only the early stages of my college career, so I was not super close with anyone yet. Not to where they knew this part of me. I had nowhere to turn.
I ended up missing the entire practice, and to make things worse, I was mad at myself for doing so. I just blew a chance to earn playing time. My teammates would question why I left. I am going to fail my classes. I will lose eligibility. All of this was raging in my head as I began to spiral.
The team was occupied with practice, so nobody knew what was happening, but later on I heard a little knock on the door. It was our athletic trainer. I had met and spoke with her a couple of times, but we barely knew each other. With tears and snot down my face and on my hands, without thinking about it… she grabbed my hands. As someone with contamination anxiety, that was personally shocking. Who in their right mind would do that willingly?
Ironically, that moment is what kind of broke the ice. I squeezed her hands tight and then released. Then again, and this time we added a deep breath. Finally, after a total of an hour and a half or so, I calmed down. Similar to the time in high school, I think hitting that rock bottom is what helped me start to find my way. It cracked the shell with my team and me, both my soccer team and my support team. It let everyone know that this is part of who I am, and we all accepted that, myself included.
I have not even gotten to the social or soccer part of my first year of college yet. I have taken many strides over the years within my social life. Social anxieties and contamination anxiety are for real, and I will prove it. For the record, the social world does not entirely mean friends and parties. It can be as simple as speaking to someone at the front desk or making a phone call to a restaurant. It has been a process, but I have continued to put myself in situations I consider difficult or anxiety-provoking.
Here at UW, I have made many friends, gone to other sporting events, picked up packages at the front desk, opened a door with my bare hand, and have had no problems ordering ice cream. Some would say all of those examples are no big deal and do not even consider it something to think about, but those are just a few things I was terrified of doing just a couple of years ago. I have exposed myself time and time again to the point where some people do not even realize I have these anxieties.
Now to soccer. I did not come into my freshman season expecting much. I was a walk-on into this program, and I was one of the last players in my class to sign as many positions were filled. I returned to the sport my junior year of high school with a mindset of playing for fun because I learned that if I am not enjoying it, it is not worth the time and effort. This mindset has proven well since returning to the game. I ended up seeing the field my freshman year, much more of it than anyone would have thought. I was given an opportunity, and I made the most of it. Not bad for someone who had not exercised or touched a soccer ball for an entire 18 months just a couple of years back.
Part 3: Written afterthe first semester of my sophomore year in college.
While in my apartment one day, I was on the phone with my dad, and he brought up a point that I could not help but admit was true. I tend to face a lot of adversity, and when I do, it is never just a little bump in the road. It is a damn roadblock. I am made for adversity, though. He noted that every time an issue does present itself, I rise above it. And he is right. Things can seem catastrophic at first for me, but I al
ways find the resilience to push past the obstacle I may face. That is how I have gotten to where I am today.
Even from the few stories and reflections I shared, I think it is safe to say there has been some major personal growth. Do I still have a ways to go? Absolutely, but I have done such a better job putting my life into perspective and understanding the importance and value of each experience. I have a willingness to learn, advance, and grow, and I cannot wait to see how this leads me to my next chapter in my life.
Part 4: My purpose.
In conclusion, there are three main reasons why I have chosen to share my battle with mental health differences.
First, I want to be another individual/athlete to come out and share their story and struggles. I think it is valuable to add to the population of people who are trying to destigmatize the negative outlook of having mental health differences.
The second reason is that this secret has been quite a burden on me. I have felt for a while now that there is this hidden part to me that nobody truly knows about. I feel like these experiences in my life have shaped me into who I am, and most people do not fully understand me because of it. I want people to know this about me. I am not ashamed of it, but rather very proud of how I have developed from it.
The final reason I wrote this is because I feel like it may help people who are going through tough times right now. Being willing to communicate and ask for help does not mean you are weak. It means you are strong enough, smart enough, and brave enough to realize that some things are too difficult to handle alone. I know how scary depression and anxiety can be. You are not alone, you never will be.
I will continue to have the desire to end the stigma, I will continue to encourage the people in need of support, and I will continue to advocate for the rest of my life. Each and every person on this earth is so valuable. Even though one may not see it in themselves at times, there always is that light at the end of the tunnel.
“A moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory” – Louis Zamperini