We’re human. In being human, we take things for granted. Our mental well-being is one of those things. We rely on certain consistencies in our lives, things we expect to always be there. The key word in the previous sentence was ‘lives,’ something we often forget how lucky we are to have, until one is taken from us. And usually only then are we humbled.
I believe the most beautiful thing about playing a sport for/with any team is how many people you have the opportunity to meet, touch and connect with. You may meet someone once and never meet them again, but you can only hope that you have left some form of impact on their life as they have left on yours. You only get one chance, sometimes, and you only get one life to fill with human connection. It hit me this weekend, that my chance is now, and I don’t want to waste another second.
In sports, there is an expectation that we portray how strong we are. But strength is symbolized in so many more ways than the world scratches the surface of. Mental strength is not how much pain we can take without crumbling; it is often how brave we are when we ask for help. This week, I am going to talk about something a little different, and something that I think pertains to everyone, not just athletes, or the ‘sports world.’ That is the power of your brain, the greatest asset that we take for granted. For the first time I will share my story, as an example, for anyone who would like to listen.
The first thing I wish to stress is that my case is in no way unique. I am not the only one, and for anyone reading this, you are never alone.
On Monday night, there was an event on campus called Kaleidoscope, which was geared toward bringing mental health into focus through all and any forms of artwork. Helping co-organize the event and giving a spoken word performance about my experiences that night might have been the scariest, most freeing and uplifting thing I have ever done.
I’ve had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for as long as I can remember and, very plainly, I was terrified of it. I was afraid of it in the way it perpetuated the bullying at school, the things it made me do that I couldn’t control, the way it kept me awake at night, the way it made me cry and the way it took my tears. Pain haunted me for years, and those feelings don’t go away. It desperately tried to claw at everything I did. I put my soul into school and basketball, but even yet it was only a matter of time before it started to lust for those things too. In my freshman year of college, I hit a breaking point and developed a major depressive disorder. I fell helplessly into the dark. I spent time in the hospital going through intensive therapy and on suicide watch in the mental health ward. I remember not being able to eat with anything except a spoon. I missed a Pac-12 Championship and a Final Four run. Yet, as much as those experiences bring pain and some of my darkest memories, I am still here and I did not get through it on my own. Many of these sentences begin with “I,” and truthfully, I don’t want this to be about me. What I want to share is that nobody is defined by how they are different. I wish I could say that I am free of those experiences, free of what it all felt like, but I am not. I struggle with it every single day and there are so many people, athletes, professionals and parents who do as well, and this is for them.
BUT. The stigma is real and it is deadly. It takes lives as we have all seen all around us. I have this platform to share my story and scream through my laptop that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Even those at the very top struggle immensely.
You can learn incredible things about yourself, the people around you, the things that you love and the difficulties that you have had and are guaranteed to encounter. I strive to express that I am not unlike anyone else in any given room that I walk into. I have my demons, not unlike anyone else, and it takes time and everyone’s effort to no longer be afraid of them.
I am only 20 years old. Many people will disregard my words because of my age, but we ALL have to reach the bridge. You know, the one that we all say we will cross when we get to it. The bravest thing we can realize is that we have to cross it, even if we can’t see the other side. So, here is where we all have the power to say: this is not how the story is going to end. If anything, I’ve been taught this: pain is real, and it is strong and it can be overpowering. I’ve also realized that hope is real, and it is strong and it can overpower pain. In order to understand and appreciate the beauty of the light, sometimes we must first harness what the dark can teach us. There is NO shame in fully experiencing that darkness; in fact, I am thankful that I did, even if it was the most painful thing I’ve ever been through. You have no reason to be ashamed of who you are, what you’ve been through or how you may be different. I only hope that as I begin to share my story, someone who needs to see the pen in their own hands will see it. I hope that they will realize that they choose not only how the story ends, but where it can begin again.
All of my teammates came on Monday night. And when I finished speaking and put down the mic, they swarmed me in one of the most meaningful hugs I have ever been a part of. I can honestly say that I haven’t felt that in a long time and it brought me to tears, but this time they were tears of happiness and love, and nobody was going to take that away.