An open letter to anyone who is struggling:
My name is Katina Cokinos and I am a 2020 college graduate. I played D1 soccer at Manhattan College for three years and struggle with anxiety, depression, and auto-immune disorders. Like many other college graduates out there, I found myself searching for answers during these tumultuous times. In the midst of all the madness, I have tried to find some clarity and purpose. In this letter, I have disclosed my deepest struggles in the hopes that it’ll reach somebody. I am no expert on mental health, nor do I consider my story special. However, I know firsthand how incredibly important it is to feel seen and be heard. This is a subtle reminder to be kind to yourself and those around you –you never know what someone is going through.
I suppose I would consider my high school experience a rather privileged and “normal” one. I was a multi-sport athlete with many friends and teachers who cared about me. After an extensive and confusing college search –I stumbled upon a small school in Buffalo that I was excited to call my new “home.” I committed to play DI soccer at Canisius College while pursuing a degree in Secondary Education. I was on my merry way with endless support from my family and friends upon high school graduation in 2016.
However, within the first two weeks of pre-season, I was told that one of the most important people in my life was going to die within two months. My uncle and Nouno (godfather in Greek) was the person who I ran extra hard for in my soccer games and wanted to impress with everything I did. This devastating information coupled with the fact that I was a homebody at heart, inevitably led me to the difficult decision to take a leave of absence from soccer and return back home to Long Island at the end of the semester. On October 17th, 2016, my Nouno succumbed to his illness. Shortly thereafter, I lost about 20 pounds, quit soccer indefinitely, and started to dread every day that ended in a ‘y’.
cried almost every day for four months straight and couldn’t be in a social setting without violently shaking and/or feeling nauseous. Unbeknownst to me, this was anxiety and depression starting to take over my life. While I was ignoring the dire need for help, I noticed white circular spots started to show up on my body and my hair started to fall out. I was diagnosed with two auto-immune disorders: Vitiligo and Lichen-Planopilaris. These physical ailments were compounded by feelings of angst, insufficiency, sadness, and confusion. I realized I needed help after numerous family members and friends noticed a difference in my appearance and persona. The most difficult part was admitting to myself that I wasn’t ok. I realized there’s beauty in vulnerability, and that it’s okay to not be okay.
Fast forward through months of rebuilding, reinventing, and reorganizing myself; I stumbled across Manhattan College. I arrived as a Jasper in the Fall of 2017 with a chip on my shoulder, ready to face the new chances waiting for me as I aspired to continue on as a dedicated Division I student-athlete. I felt secure in knowing I was granted a second chance at the sport I loved and an academic program that would fulfill my life-long dream of becoming a teacher. However, I found myself not nearly as quick or as sharp as I used to be on the ball. I didn’t receive as much playing time as I would have liked and found myself questioning my decision to play soccer again.
I distinctly remember running a fitness test in the Fall of 2018, the yo-yo intermittent recovery test, and having a full fledged anxiety attack. On my last sprint, I blacked out. I fainted. My legs gave out and I fell flat on my face. I was confused, angry, and petrified. That night in my dorm, I realized my battle with anxiety was far from over. Despite being completely overwhelmed, the decision to persevere was a no-brainer for me. As I faced the choice to quit or continue, I chose to continue. I went to the counseling center at my school and got professional help. I kept my head down and worked hard every passing day. Perseverance, hard-work, and humility – I refused to accept anything less from myself.
The Greek word “μερακί” means to do all things with soul, creativity, and love. This is something I try to embody in everything that I do. When I played, I dedicated every moment to my angel in Heaven and cheered on my teammates. I took time out of every practice, game, meeting, lift, and bus ride to help a teammate in need or offer a well-deserved compliment. I firmly believe that lifting up those around me will make me a better human being.
As I reflect on the past four years, I can confidently say I don’t regret a single decision I made. Time is fleeting. The most powerful tool I possess now is my activism. I now stand in front of classrooms filled with young women, and I work to make sure that each of my students feels seen, heard, accepted and loved. If you’ve made it this far through reading my story, please take some time to take care of your mind and know that you are loved.
Katina Cokinos, #32.