Breaking the Stigma pt. 2: My Story

Since my first post, I shared some old excerpts from my journal and I actually think I may have started a conversation. Mental health is a tricky topic but through this project, I hope to inspire and educate other like me and get people talking. I stand with all my fellow strong female athletes out there and together we are making a movement. In this project, I am taking you inside my mind to the feelings that I’ve learned to overcome. As I’m about to tell my story, keep in mind that my recovery was not linear but I managed to overcome and now I hope to reach other people just like me to show that there is hope.

 

I’ve been an athlete all my life, I wasn’t always a good one, but an athlete nonetheless. I started competing in competitive sports when I was about seven years old. Basketball, soccer, softball, volleyball, and cheerleading; I did it all as a kid, except I wasn’t like my teammates. As a young kid, a struggled to keep up with the other kids athletically because I was actually disabled but no one could really tell. I walked a little funny and I was a little uncoordinated but other than that everyone just thought I wasn’t very athletic. However, I was born severely pronated, meaning my ankles were rolled inward. Despite the issue, I wore plastic braces and played sports every chance I had.

 

Then, when I was 12 on the last day of fifth grade I took the trip to Shriners Children’s Hospital for my long awaited operation that would fill the missing pieces in my ankles with a fibula-like bone from my hip. It was a major operation that put me into a wheelchair for the entire summer and, to add a little comedy to this story, I started my period that summer. Finally, the end of the summer approached and the day before I started sixth grade I went back to my doctor and he removed my casts. I was truly blessed to have Dr. Ackman and my late Uncle Lloyd who sponsored me to go to Shiners as a child.

 

Unfortunately, my tough uprising wasn’t over just yet and I had a long road to recovery ahead. I started sixth grade the next day after my casts were removed and, as you can imagine, it wasn’t easy. It was my first day with a lot of new classmates and I already didn’t have many friends. I went through a lot of bullying because of my lack of coordination in the way I walked; I’m still not very coordinated but I’ve learned to embrace it. I had very tough beginning to my middle school career, it wasn’t all bad, however, at the beginning of the school, I was on my way to my last class of the day that was on the other side of the school. Due to my difficulty to walk, I fell behind the crowd in the hall but then one of my classmates came up behind me and was the nicest that anyone has been to me all week. Little did I know that this girl that I’ve never met before would still be my best friend to this day, six years later.

 

Life kind of went on after that and the bullying eventually went away. I kind of was flying under the radar throughout middle school until the eighth grade. At the beginning of the school year, I was playing on the volleyball team and that was the year I fell in love with the sport. I had an amazing season and I was a starter for the first time in my life. After the season was over I went to play club volleyball and through that season I realized that I could be really good at volleyball if I keep working hard. I started dreaming about playing at Purdue University but as I got a little older I kind of discovered that was a little unrealistic. Sometimes I wonder what would’ve happened if I would’ve stuck with that dream but, nonetheless, as I got older I realized that the big school setting wasn’t for me because I have grown up in such a small community. I was still determined to play college volleyball in some shape or form and I was working harder than ever to get my game to the next level.

 

Things were going great and my game was progressing well. I had an amazing freshman season as one of the only starting freshmen on the junior varsity team and we ended our season 20-7. Sadly after that things started getting a little more complicated mentally and physically. I endured 2 injuries during that club season: a broken ankle and a sprained knee. At club tryouts, I collided with another girl during warmups and went down, but I got back up and played on a hurt ankle because I wanted it really badly. After tryouts, I went to the ER and they discovered a crack on the ankle so I was out for a good six weeks. On the other hand I still made it onto a good team but playing through the pain definitely didn’t help my case. Additionally, I also hurt my knee around mid-season and I’m still wearing a knee brace when I play.

 

At this point, I was so wrapped up in dedicating myself to the game that I sacrificed my physical health and this mindset eventually led to me developing anxiety and it really knocked me down sophomore year. The whole season I worked like crazy to get a varsity spot before sectionals which didn’t end up happening. I started experiencing anxiety attacks before and after games so I couldn’t focus on my game. I was a great player for my age but my mental game was weak, I started losing motivation because it felt like I was fighting an endless battle and I’d never come out on top. My anxiety started affecting my everyday life and I got to a very low point because I kept getting knocked farther and farther down.

 

Then I thought I was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel during that club season. I had amazing teammates and coaches who reminded me why I loved the game. I was at the top of my game and very excited about my future. Unfortunately, I sprained my knee again during a softball game, so I had to take a couple tournaments off but the day after I was released I played with my team in our last tournament together. I am forever grateful to that team for getting me back on track and restoring my love for the game. You could actually see the difference that they made in my life; my grades that semester were straight-A’s for the first time in my high school years, and I was also happier in my everyday life.

 

Sadly, just like that, I was thrown back down to the ground, I hurt my knee again over the summer. Despite my injury, I came back healed and very ambitious to start my junior year which started off pretty well. I was leading the varsity in at least one stat category every game for the first week of the season but then it started going downhill. I played pretty bad at a tournament then came back on Monday to find out that I lost my starting spot, which I never did get back. I shed so many tears that season because at the end of the day I didn’t know what I did wrong, she couldn’t be benching me the whole season because of one bad tournament, right? I still powered through and tried to be as positive as possible but behind the scenes, I was genuinely at an all-time low. My anxiety was the worst it’s ever been and I fell into a depressed state for a long period of time. I almost let this rough period in my life ruin my whole future. I started thinking I wasn’t good enough to play in college anymore until one night I received an email from a college coach offering me a spot to come play for his team. Granted it was a really small school and a not so great program but the tears of joy I started to shed made me realize that playing college volleyball was still my dream and I was good enough to do it.

 

I decided to take a little time off from the competitive volleyball world and played with a lower level team for that club season. I wanted to focus on getting my mind back in the right place while working on my game at the same time. It was really hard to step away from the competition for a little bit but I can honestly say that I don’t regret it one bit. I was getting my life back on track because I really let it get away from me during those times, I just wasn’t myself anymore. For once in my life, I was putting myself before anything else but I was also working harder than ever to prove a point, that success in life comes when you simply refuse to give up. No matter how many times I was knocked down I kept getting back up and coming back strong.

 

Finally, we have arrived at my life now. I still struggle with my mental health, thoughts in my brain still get in the way of my game but as time has progressed I have learned to manage my anxiety to keep it at a minimum. I’ve had a rough journey but I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon until I prove everyone wrong. Through sharing my journey I hope to inspire others just like me as I fight to start a conversation about mental health and beat the stigma surrounding it. To continue following my story please follow my blog and share my posts with your friends.

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