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Zahir Chapman: Let's Talk About Anxiety

Has your heart ever felt like it was beating so uncontrollably fast for no reason?

In the 8th grade, I experienced my first panic attack during a basketball game. My heart was pounding so fast and I could barely breathe. At the time I had no idea what was going on. There were so many thoughts rushing to my mind. It was like I wasn’t in control. I often had days where I thought I was close to having a heart attack and days where I felt like I was going to faint. It was the norm for me to experience these feelings.

After several trips to the hospital that year I later found out that I was having panic attacks and was diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder and Depression. While I was diagnosed with depression at the time it was more of the anxiety that affected me during that stage of my life. I thought I wasn’t normal and that I was the only one going through this. Later on, in my life, I would find out that wasn’t the case. After talking to doctors and counselors I learned how to cope with my anxiety.

Well, at least that’s what I originally thought. Up until my senior year of college, I seemed to have coped with my anxiety well. Last outdoor season I decided to change my track event and convert back to being a 400-meter runner which is what I did in high school. With this came a lot of pressure since I was also on a relay team. Running the 400 requires a lot of endurance and a healthy lifestyle. As a result, I began to take track way more seriously, to the point where I forgot to have fun.

I stopped hanging out with friends and became fixated on my race. I went on a streak of achieving my personal best time every race but I would always manage to beat myself up over it and would often have panic attacks before falling asleep after meets.

Towards the end of last season, we had a meet in Baltimore and I remember just feeling so out of it. I wanted to go home and take a break from the track. My teammates were approaching me asking what was wrong and I brushed them off. Before my relay race, my heart began pounding again and negative thoughts started to rush into my mind. What I feared so much was a reality once again but this time in a public setting. I was going through another panic attack and had to use the bathroom to calm myself down. I managed to still do well but I left the track meet unhappy.

The following Monday after the meet I told my coach that I needed to miss a few days of practice to focus on school work but in reality, it was to take a mental health day. I felt so embarrassed at the thought of telling my teammates and coaches the real reason. I felt so alone and for the first time in a while, I felt like there was no solution to the problems I was dealing with. I was so burnt out mentally that the thought of quitting entered my mind but I knew I couldn’t. I knew our relay team had a chance to be special, so I stuck it out. I learned a lot of valuable lessons from that season that will always stick with me no matter what.

Even though I had the best season of my career and shocked my teammates and coaches with my performances at times, it wasn’t enough to make me happy. I even medaled for the first time in college and received all-conference honors which would make the average person happy but it still didn’t move the needle. I later had graduation and still remember not feeling happy.

Looking back on that season I wish I would’ve had more fun and focused less on the numbers and results. I overworked myself physically and mentally to the point I didn’t enjoy winning that medal or graduating college which is a huge milestone. My message to everyone reading this is to never be afraid to celebrate your accomplishments because succeeding in sports and life is not always so easy.

If it weren’t for my teammates that year I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through that season. Seeing athletes such as Kevin Love, Naomi Osaka, and Mardy Fish come out and share their stories has made me feel so much more comfortable with who I am. I really owe them a huge thank you because them speaking out about mental health makes me feel like I'm not alone. Knowing that other people deal with Anxiety and have experienced what I have gone through gives me hope that I can get through obstacles I may come across.

Applying to be a Campus Captain for the Hidden Opponent at West Chester University was a no-brainer. Being able to be a part of a platform that advocates for mental health and being a mental health advocate is something I always envisioned for myself. The Hidden Opponent gives so many athletes, such as myself, to change the mental health stigma and speak up for current and former athletes who struggle with their mental health. I can't wait to see the work the THO Chapter at West Chester University puts into advocating mental health. I hope my article was able to reach someone and maybe even inspires others to share their story.



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