I have been struggling with whether or not to write this — to say anything at all. The thing about mental health is that people still stigmatize it, and people are still afraid to talk about it. I admittedly am one of those people, but when I was presented with the opportunity to write about mental health, I felt like it was a sign. I knew I needed to speak up.
Last October, I lost a close friend to suicide. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. It was such a shock when it happened because I had no idea she was struggling. That’s when I realized collectively, we need to do better when addressing mental health. It is because of my desire to honor my beautiful friend that I want to open up the conversation about mental health and share my story.
I remember when I first felt symptoms of depression. It was a few years ago, and it never lasted longer than a few days. I knew what I was feeling wasn’t normal, but I thought it would be better if I handled it by myself. Back then, I could always pull myself out of it, until the day I no longer could.
In October, everything starting crumbling. It wasn’t one thing that was falling apart — it felt like it was everything all at once. My friend passing away, me not playing to my potential in basketball practice and my struggles in personal relationships seemed to all hit me so much harder. Still, I told myself I could ride it out and that I was fine.
I kept waiting to feel like myself again, but I made it through each day and no one said anything to me, so I figured I was doing pretty well. I wonder if anyone could even notice I was pretending?
I can confidently say I love basketball more than the average person. I have dedicated half of my life to excelling at the sport, and I came to the University of Utah to earn my degree and become the best player I could be. But for the first time in my career, I wasn’t enjoying myself. My senior season was just beginning, but when I woke up in the morning, I didn’t feel that same passion. It didn’t matter that I was a good basketball player — mental health doesn’t discriminate.
In December I felt like I was trying to swim and barely staying above the water. Only then was I finally able to admit to myself I was struggling with depression. Shortly thereafter, I made the decision to tell the sports psychologist we have on staff with Utah Athletics.
Asking for help was no easy task, and I was truly petrified. It was scary then and it’s still scary now, but I hope that by being vulnerable, it can help others in their mental health journeys, too. Currently, only a handful of people know about my struggles and my decision to go on medication to help with them, but I’m now ready to tell anyone who wants to listen.
Depression in My Words
I can feel the paranoia creeping in around me.
“Your coaches have no confidence in you, your friends don’t want to hang out with you and no one wants you around.”
My mind constantly tells me these lies, and I believe every word.
Depression makes me feel like it takes all my strength to get out of bed or return text messages. I tell myself after pretending like everything is fine for a few hours a day during a practice, I can then head straight home to climb back into bed, but every day when I get there, I never feel any better. I either sleep as much as I possibly can or barely sleep at all, and still, I feel perpetually tired. It’s like walking in a thick fog that I can’t focus in or find my way out of.
Fulfilling my everyday responsibilities as a student-athlete seems like the hardest task in the world, when really, it’s something I know I love and enjoy. I’m supposed to show up every day to basketball practice with focus, energy and intensity, but some days I can’t even concentrate on the square of the backboard to get a layup through the hoop. I’m usually a confident person, but at times I second guess every decision I make.
Some days I want to get in my car and just drive until I’m somewhere new, as if running away from my problems will leave them behind me. I feel like I am on a roller coaster, either too high or too low, and I can’t for the life of me get off — it just keeps going around and around and around.
When things get dark, I think of my amazing family and how much they love me. Sometimes though, it’s scary when you’re fighting with your own mind, and you’re afraid that one day you’re going to lose.
Why it’s Important
Suicide is the second leading cause of death around the world for people ages 15-29 according to the World Health Organization. It’s the 10th leading cause of death for all ages in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Approximately every 12 minutes, someone in the U.S. takes their own life.
One person taking their own life is one too many. I believe suicide doesn’t kill people, it is the depression or some other mental illness that robs people of the life they no longer believe is worth living. It is time we move away from the idea of only talking about mental health after someone is lost. It’s time to be proactive and speak before a loved one is gone.
So many people understand the feelings of depression as it affects 20-25 percent of Americans ages 18+ in any given year. More than one in four people share some of these same feelings, so why do we keep them to ourselves? It’s important to talk about this topic because odds are, you or someone close to you knows what depression feels like.
What You Can Do
Telling your story is the easiest way to help end the stigma of mental health. I could list all the statistics in the world on suicide, but people relate to other people and their stories. We need more people to step up, face the fear of being vulnerable and tell their stories until it isn’t scary anymore.
When I was at my lowest, I didn’t feel like an accomplished athlete, and I didn’t feel worthy of stepping on the court. I thought I was only hurting my team, and that mindset made me feel even worse. Being critical of myself is a key reason I have become the basketball player I am today, but it is also partly responsible for all my struggles.
Being nicer to ourselves is a way we can all help. Whether you fail or pass a quiz, win or lose a basketball game or get the job you want or not, life goes on. Sometimes it’s a victory to get out of bed in the morning and that’s okay. I know a lot of athletes aim for perfection in their sport, but it’s impossible to obtain. We can all use a reminder that failure is a part of both sports and life.
It’s Okay Not to be Okay
My journey with mental health is far from over, and I am not magically fixed because I take medication to help with it. I have my good days and bad days, but by talking about how I feel and learning tools from a psychologist to pull myself out of a bad mood as best as I can, I feel more like myself every day. I anticipate that each time I tell another person, it will become easier to talk about each time.
My depression does not define me. I am a sister, a friend, a daughter, an athlete and a student. I am stronger and more compassionate because of all of my struggles. You are, too.
My whole purpose in writing this piece is so others know they are not alone. Please tell someone if you are struggling. It does not make you weak — it actually makes you incredibly courageous and strong. Please ask your friends and family how they are doing, and don’t be content if they say they are good. Dig deeper and let your loved ones know you’re available to listen. Spread the word, because together we can end the stigma.