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Maelynn Leber: Sink or Swim

TW: suicidal ideation

It truly was the lowest of low for me. My sophomore year of college, one that was predicted to be a truly remarkable year turned dark, very quickly. The death of a close family member, an injury that left me questioning if I would participate in preseason, reeling from a toxic relationship, and the feeling of having no spark left for athletics or life led me to the ultimate decision to make; sink or swim. 

In the beginning of January 2021, I was already facing a tough bout of anxiety and depression. Most of this stemmed from leaving my family and friends at home, going back to a living situation that was not ideal, and returning to the sport that I had lost my spark for. With all this on my plate, to say I was struggling is an understatement. I had lost the spark for softball. I had no motivation to go to practices, games, or lifts. My teammates and coaches knew I was not myself. I knew I was not myself. What my teammates and coaches did not know is that it was not just softball I was losing motivation for, it was everything. Waking up each morning, performing everyday tasks, going to softball, going to classes. It all felt so heavy. 

Halfway through the semester, I remember sitting in my room and thinking I would be okay with not waking up the next morning. I tried anti-anxiety and depression medication. I tried talking to someone. I did not know where else to turn. I did not want to worry anyone. I did not want to bother anyone. I thought I could get through it myself. But again, everything was so heavy. I remember leaving my house that night to go for a late night drive, something that I did often to help relieve the anxiety and nonstop sadness. When I got in my car that night, I remember praying for a sign to keep going, to continue to live and find the spark in myself again. 

Not knowing where or caring where I was, I approached a four way stop. To my right was a bright sign that read, “Your ship of faith will not overturn, trust in the Lord.” I remember looking at this sign and the tears fell instantly. I felt, and still believe, that the bright sign at that four way stop was my sign to keep going. To find my spark again. To continue to trust in the Lord. To not give up on myself and all my future has to offer. After that night, I took my grief and my mental health journey one step at a time. I decided to keep going and swim, not sink

After that harsh sophomore year, I learned so many important life lessons, and truly grew into the best version of myself. I learned how to contribute to my team and be a good teammate, even if I was not playing in every game. It was a struggle for me to be in love with a game I was barely getting to play in real competitions, but I learned that being a good teammate and light for others is often times more of a contribution than an at bat or inning pitched in a competition. I have learned to be where my feet are and enjoy even the littlest of things that this life has to offer. Most importantly, I found my spark again. Not only the spark for my sport and academics, but for the whole life I have ahead of me. I have never regretted my decision find that spark and choose to truly live again

My healing journey has not been easy. There are days where I get up and feel like I have taken five steps backwards. But in times of those feelings, I remind myself of how far I have come in these last two years. I took my healing journey into my own hands and made it my own. 

I have become an advocate for mental health in student-athletes on my campus. I am going into my second year as a Campus Captain for The Hidden Opponent (THO) and a member of the executive board on my campus’ chapter. I have made a commitment to spreading the message of THO and ending the stigma around mental health for athletes in the Shippensburg community, and all over the country.

Student-athletes are often told to push through hard times, mentally and physically. But we do not have to be strong all the time. We are all human and we are going go through periods of struggle. I hope anyone reading this knows that you are not alone. There are communities of other student-athletes and allies in coaches here to help and supply resources for you.

If I would not have leaned on my teammates, coaches, and family for support, I would not be here today. As I am entering into my last year of collegiate softball at Shippensburg University, I look forward to what is to come, and will leave knowing this place made me better. I hope I helped make our Shippensburg community better too. 

Keep fighting. You are not alone. You are so loved. You belong here.

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