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Potter’s Point of View: My Battle with Mental Health

Adam Fondren
Emily Potter at the University of Utah Basketball Training Facility in Salt Lake City, UT on Monday, Feb. 12, 2018 (Photo by Adam Fondren | Daily Utah Chronicle)

My Battle with Mental Health

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.

The Beginning

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.

Emily Potter at the University of Utah Basketball Training Facility in Salt Lake City, UT on Monday, Feb. 12, 2018
(Photo by Adam Fondren | Daily Utah Chronicle)

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.

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Comments (21)

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  • J

    Jane WinninghamFeb 24, 2018 at 12:26 am

    Thank you for your candor with such a delicate part of our lives! I am 72 and have suffered with depression for as long as I can remember.. I was given medication at the age of 30 and have never looked back! My main struggle with the stigma of this disease is when family and or friends use it against me like” yeah,but you take medication for it” ….I have a delightful life, married 50 + years, two sons, and now thanks to them..7 of the most precious grandchildren. God has been a great part of my life and I have cultivated a deep sense of joy with his help! Hang in there and look for beauty and joy each day!

  • W

    william klingerFeb 23, 2018 at 4:26 pm

    Emily, I have become familiar with your name the past few years as I drive along listening to Ute Women’s basketball games. Your name is mentioned quite often which attests to your many contributions to your team and the U. I have worked in mental health for about twice as long as you have been living and understand it from both sides of the glass. I believe you have just touched more lives through this article than you even do on the hardwood.

    Depression is one of the invisible disabilities that far too many individuals face.
    First: I am sorry that you are one of those individuals.
    Second: Thank you for having the strength to share your humanness and vulnerability – especially since you are someone that is highly respected and admired among Ute Fanatics and others.
    Third: Your description of your experience with depression and all that entails physically, emotionally and socially is spot on and will help many others who will experience depression in one way or another.
    Fourth: It is my hope and prayer that your journey with depression will not keep you from reaching your full potential as a woman, an athlete, an career employee and a friend.

    Go Utes & God Bless Emily

  • S

    sherrie hawkerFeb 22, 2018 at 10:11 pm

    Emily, thank you! you are brave and beautiful! I too had a real battle with mental health and suicide feelings were definitely there. I have been an elite gymnastics coach and had many similar feelings you had or still have. my prayers and love is with you!

  • C

    CathyFeb 22, 2018 at 8:35 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story, Emily. Great job!

  • C

    Carl SchierhornFeb 22, 2018 at 7:08 pm

    Emily, I do a blog on women’s basketball at Kent State University and saw your story through a national retweet. I’m also a retired journalism professor and a companion in battling depression. The only way we’ll ever break down the stigma is through stories like yours. Thank you for sharing it. And as a teacher, I want to say that the story was very nicely done as a piece of writing. I did something similar last year after a player at Northwestern committed suicide. It wasn’t as strong. For what it’s worth, here it is:
    Best wishes in your basketball and professional career.

  • S

    Susan MoynihanFeb 22, 2018 at 3:16 pm

    What a fantastic article. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

  • E

    elizabeth robbinsFeb 22, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    Thank you for this, it was as if you were writing this for me, although we are very different from one another, meaning I’m so much older (55). I am a wife, mother of 4, grandmother of 4, I have lost many many loved ones in life and one too many from suicide and addictions. What you have written regarding mental illness is going to help so many! My depression throughoumy life has kept me from achieving so much in life because of being so afraid of failing in going further with my education. When I was younger my dream was to become a teacher and then later in life was to help people with addictions . As time goes by ( so quickly ) how could I help anyone when to this day I’m fighting my own demons , but even with those I get up every morning with the attitude that its going to be a better day because of the love my family has for me! I’m so lucky and blessed to have them in my life, thats what gives me hope everyday. So once again thank you! We also loved your 3 against the Huskies and will miss you on the court next year! Sincerely, Liz

  • A

    Andre MeloFeb 22, 2018 at 1:34 am

    A million thanks for taking that courageous step. Having my own story of mental health crisis, I cannot agree with you any less. And being a U of U alumnus not only do I feel comfortable of the company, at least someone out there with a similar experience, but I am now sure that we are a family, UNITED TO RAISE AWARENESS AND RESILIENCE TO MENTAL HEALTH. Let’s make it happen!
    André Melo

  • G

    Garriet SappFeb 21, 2018 at 3:55 pm

    Emily that was a fantastic article. I applaud your courage in writing it and seeking help for your problems.

    I have no doubt that this will help others fighting the same struggle.

    Thanks for everything you have brought to the campus. The U is a better place for you being here.

  • E

    Edalt16Feb 21, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story I hope those who suffer will find the strength to get help like you did. Best of luck! Go UTES!

  • J

    Josh WardleFeb 21, 2018 at 11:31 am

    Incredible article, Emily. I currently work as an athletic academic coordinator at Southern Utah University. This is something that I am striving each day to better understand how to help the student athletes I work with. Your story really helps me to connect with my guys and what they may be going through. Thank you!

  • K

    Kelly Monson Class of '83Feb 21, 2018 at 5:58 am

    Utah basketball fans wish you nothing but the best. One of your goals was to improve each year as a basketball player, and you’ve done that. More important, you have become a better, stronger person.

  • L

    Laverne GraceFeb 20, 2018 at 11:53 pm

    Awesome well done. I’m so Glad you decided to write about it because it is a hard subject to talk about. God Bless You Potter! And you are an out sanding player. I watched all of your games for the past Two year. And that team will not be the same next year with out you. Don’t sell your self short. You could go on to the Woman NBA and be a star your that good. I wish you nothing but the best In your Life you deserve every bit of it. God Blesses You! Aloha from Hawaii ?

  • K

    Karen AnastasopoulosFeb 20, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    You are a courageous and honest lady. Sharing your story is so commendable — we must be strong together. Thanks so much for your postcard I received from you thanking me for support of Utah Athletics. So proud of you. Go UTES.

  • L

    lannie OlsonFeb 20, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing. Our son is also going through depression and has been suicidal. I am his mother and do not know how to help him. This has given me some ideas and hope. He is precious and a wonderful man as you are also wonderful. Please know you are not alone and are appreciated for sharing.

  • D

    Dawn BFeb 20, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    What a great story. A friend of mine, her son lost his roommate to suicide. It was horrible and even put him into a deep depression because he felt he should have been able to stop it. You may never be able to stop someone who is intent on hurting themselves, but if we have open dialogue without fear to speak up about our worries for others we may well get them the help they need. Watch the movie “Ordinary People” with Timothy Hutton, Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland and Judd Hirsch. Great movie about a young man struggling with depression after losing his brother.

  • J

    John JFeb 20, 2018 at 7:18 pm

    Great article

  • J

    JulieFeb 20, 2018 at 7:04 pm

    Bravo!!! Depression is an illness, not a defect. I struggled for half my life and am lucky my suicide attempt was not successful. What I have learned since then is that everyone has hidden struggles.

  • F

    FrankFeb 20, 2018 at 6:53 pm

    Thank you for being brave enough to share this. Mental health issues are real and there _is_ a stigma about it. Unfortunately that is the way it is right now. Some people are of the opinion that you can just shrug it off, they’ve been depressed too. No, that isn’t depression. It’s not something you can just shrug off and be happy again. You can’t just “snap out of it” like you’re a Slim Jim. The stigma is pervasive and effects all aspects of your life from the personal pleasures, your schooling, and even job opportunities. Who wants to hire someone who has mental health issues, I mean they’re crazy, right? Right? That’s how it feels. So, you lie about it, you hide it, and it only gets worse. Breaking through that barrier and explaining to “normal” people that depression is a real issue and that it is serious is a serious obstacle in today’s society. Thanks for sharing, Emily. Now, go win some games. 😀

  • F

    Forrest ChildsFeb 20, 2018 at 4:54 pm

    Hi Emily, I also have struggled most of my life with depression. I am currently in therapy and on medication. I enjoyed your three pointer against Washington on Sunday. When I make your breakfast burrito tomorrow I’ll put extra love and joy in all of them. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story

  • H

    Harold A MaioFeb 20, 2018 at 4:44 pm

    —–Spread the word, because together we can end the stigma.

    The proper thing to do on a college campus when someone voices that prejudice is to counsel them. Never does one allow it to stand any more than one allows voicing racism to stand.

    Editors please take note. HM