My sophomore year of college I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression disorders. In the time leading up to that I had a lot going on in the beginning of that year. I had a death in the family, some personal matters in my relationships/friendships, and the stress that just comes with playing college sports. I woke up every morning feeling like I was not enough. I didn’t have many friends and honestly, I was broken and it was like I had no one around me to even notice much less care. The anxiety had been building up in me for so long I developed a stomach ulcer, but I was so worried about having to sit out of volleyball that I ignored it. I had sharp pains in my stomach constantly, I could barely take a bite of food without feeling nauseous, and it took everything out of me to make it through the day on the amount I was eating. After months of this, one day at practice I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. I told my trainer and we set up a doctors appointment only for the next month to be consumed with different doctors appointments, major tests, and hospital visits trying to see what was wrong with me. The ulcer was gone but not doing anything to treat it had left erosions in my stomach lining that I am still trying to heal 4 years later and had me out of volleyball for 3 months. The time I spent sitting out and having to focus on all the bad things that I used volleyball to distract me from is when the depression really hit me hard. My years of never feeling good enough built up and made sure that I felt my absolute lowest. I was on my own for the first time and I felt like I had no purpose in life anymore.
Trying to get healthy again from this point was definitely a process. I was on a number of medications for months to help my stomach and still am doing that today, I was on a liquid diet for a few months that year, and I eventually became vegetarian for three years to help my stomach have an easier time digesting. For my mental health, I started seeing a therapist the rest of that year who really helped me to see that there was so much more to life than volleyball. I had spent so long focusing on this sport that brought me to college that I never had time to focus on other passions and see what else brought me joy. I started doing yoga once I was cleared for activity again and found it to be a great way to still get in exercise while I was also reducing my anxiety. I took my time in yoga as a part of the day that I didn’t have to worry about volleyball, school, or anyone other than myself. This time is really special to me because I never really take time to focus on myself and make sure that I’m doing alright. My dad also thought a dog would help my mental health so one day he came by our facility after practice and showed up with a dog. He became my best friend within a very short time and as most people know dogs can really take away some of those feelings of loneliness and make you feel loved no matter what. This was a great way to help me get back on track with my mental health because I always felt like someone needed me when I had him around. I also discovered that I loved nutrition and I was passionate about health and helping others feel better about themselves. I’ve taken that passion into today by working in healthcare, fighting the current COVID-19 pandemic, and living by the mantra that I want to make the world a better place.
The time I spent in therapy also helped me to see that we needed more resources inside our athletic department to be able to help athletes with their mental health. While my therapist really helped me through a lot, it was also hard for me that she didn’t understand how important volleyball was and that I couldn’t just miss practices or quit because that’s not how it works in college athletics. This need I saw encouraged me to do a research project my senior year on Prevalence of Anxiety and Depression Symptoms in Division 1 Student Athletes. My project was to send out a survey to my fellow athletes in my school which included certified tests of anxiety and depression and questions on how their symptoms related to athletics. I saw that around 40% of athletes in my school struggled with major symptoms of anxiety or depression and that every single person that showed prevalent symptoms also demonstrated a strong correlation between these symptoms and their sport. I had always felt like something was wrong with me that I was going through these mental health issues all on my own and that I wasn’t strong enough to handle it like everyone else was. It really changed my entire viewpoint to realize how many people were also going through the same thing. The people I spent all my time with over my four years in college were struggling like I was and I didn’t have to feel alone anymore.
Even though it is difficult for me at times to talk about this subject, I love being able to talk about what happened to me with others. I try to share my story and talk about my personal struggles with mental illness as much as I can to hopefully normalize being able to talk about mental health so that others don’t feel alone like I did. I also like to tell my story so that people who don’t realize the overall effects mental illness can take on a person can see that my mental illness developed into a physical illness that caused me immense pain and suffering for years to come. I think that’s important for people to realize it’s not just “feeling anxious” or “feeling sad” these have serious effects on individuals. For me, I have had to deal with stomach issues for years since this incident, but going through every day trying to remind myself that I am enough and fighting my depression and anxiety can at times take just as much of a toll on me. I also want to help athletes realize that you are not just your sport. There is so much more to your life than your sport and I know that is so so hard to see sometimes but just being you is enough, your whole life does not have to revolve around your athletic career.