Anxiety, Depression And Basketball: Why I Left The Toxicity Of Mental Health Stigmas Behind And Found Help
"Anxiety and depression can intertwined with one another, and it is far more complex than a feeling of sadness and a simple feeling of stress."
Sharp stinging, followed by a moment of no air. My palms sweat, hands shake and head throbs. My eyes expand feeling as if my lungs won't. The room condenses and I'm surrounded by darkness. The quick rise and fall of my chest releases a deafening fear as a I wonder what is happening to me. Minutes later, I am back to what seems like normal, but the weight is not removed and the cloud remains. I am walking through my day knowing at any second, at the flip of a switch, I could have a moment that I can't physically or mentally halt. One happens, two happens, then three. As time passes, the frequency increases.
May 1, 2018. Anxiety and depression is the diagnosis.
Although I have had my bouts with sadness in the past, dealing with the pressures of being a star collegiate athlete and my well documented low academic performance, and received assistance for these at the conclusion of my career, I have never been officially diagnosed with anything until recently. During my stint as collegiate basketball player, the game served as my therapy and refuge from my feelings. In 2013, as a senior at Limestone College, I was going through a very dark period and I did not have anyone around me who I felt would understand how broken I was mentally and emotionally. As an athlete with a mindset of invincibility, I felt there wasn't anything I needed to overcome any obstacle. My confusion morphed into anger, as I rebelled against my coaches, teammates and my family. I would disappear for moments at a time, trapped in my own mind, and the more I isolated myself, the thicker the smoke screen became. I did not want to verbalize anything with anyone because people tend to think that because you are an athlete, a scholarship collegiate athlete at that, that you are somehow exempt from the changes and challenges your life's journey can have on you. As if athletes are void of emotion and fears, because we are privileged to have a free education at institutions who profit off our blood, sweat and tears, putting W's in the left column and fans in the stands. When you are an athlete, you are exposed and susceptible to high stress situations and triggers. Some athletes suppress their true thoughts and feelings out of the fear of being viewed as soft or weak, because they admit that the world of college athletics is internally and externally overwhelming.
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Anxiety and depression do not care who you are. I wonder whether enough is being done at colleges and universities to inform student-athletes of the resources at their institutions of higher learning. What is provided for them, if and when they need help? I also believe that individuals in positions of influence should encourage their student-athletes to take advantage of these resources and educate them on the positive effects it can have.
On December 22, 2017, my life changed dramatically. Everything that I kept so close to my chest was now open for the world to see and analyze. Every flaw, every insecurity, every high, every low, trial, triumph and victory. My introverted nature was being pulled, stretched and challenged by the blessing of a new platform with an outreach far beyond by comfort zone. The feeling of navigating a different spotlight brought on a different type of fear and anxiety I had yet to experience. Although the overall feedback has so far been overwhelmingly positive, the challenge lies in finding comfort knowing so much of life's experiences can and will have such a profound impact on the people you come in contact with. My challenge has been living within the blessing and accepting what is authentic. Anytime I have shared where I have spoken and events I have participated in, I almost certainly conclude the message with, "this is a feeling I am still not used to," or "I don't know if this is a feeling I'll ever be used to." Formality, scares me. I find less fear in speaking to our youth vs. sitting down to do a radio or video interview. Being blessed with a platform that inspires change is a huge responsibility with huge implications if you do not understand or value your duty. I welcome God's blessings and the obstacles that may come, but I write this to illustrate to every one of my supporters, that life happens to everyone. Dramatic life shifts, changes, fear, trauma, loss, lack of confidence and the lack of purpose can all contribute to a deeper problem. No matter who you are or what you have, mental and emotional instability can affect you. It's important to remember that it's OK to not be OK.
My first reaction to the diagnosis was anchored in the stigma of the world surrounding mental health. I felt "confirmed crazy." I felt inadequate, and I felt like this was something I should be able to manage or combat with my inner strength. I am in the middle of promotional events for my Lost In A Game memoir, traveling the southeast, meeting new people, sharing my testimony and creating new connections. I'm doing this all while holding a good job, recently getting accepted into North Carolina Central's Graduate program for Public Administration, and my tribe is great. So what reason do I possibly have to be anxious or depressed?
Anxiety and depression can intertwined with one another, and it is far more complex than a feeling of sadness and a simple feeling of stress. It is also egregious for people to try and dismiss anxiety and depression when it's millions of individuals who genuinely struggle with these disorders. It is triggered by a number of different things and it's unique to each individual who experiences it. It can manifest through physical, emotional and mental capacities affecting your day to day activities and your ability to live a normal productive life. Individuals who are fighting this tend to suffer in silence. Externally they may be smiling, while internally they're drowning.
The language surrounding mental health, specifically anxiety and depression is extremely dangerous. Externally, there is still a ton of progress to be made on how we discuss this issue and the comfortability we allow individuals who are suffering to obtain. We underestimate the internalization of negativity surrounding issues that the individual can simply learn how to manage, not control.
Everyday is journey for me; I'm still growing and evolving as a 27-year-old black woman. I have been presented a new tribulation in a fresh form. The first step was acceptance, accepting that each day was becoming a struggle to power through. It's OK to embrace the fact that you do not feel like yourself. I had to tell myself that I would not allow external judgement to stop me from seeking the help I knew I needed.
As I illustrated in my Lost In aGame memoir, I have only truly known myself for five years, I evolved into the individual you see today through, faith, family, and the commitment to my personal development. As I've continued to expand in this life, methods of the past no longer fuse with the reality of this moment. So I had to circle back to my foundation. I have had to create a daily schedule that lists the context of my day which includes prayer, meditation and physical activity, in addition to occupational, recreational and book obligations. I have an established standing appointment with a local therapist in an effort to assist me in verbalizing feelings and to discover healthy ways of sustaining stability. I also limit my time on electronics and social media, as the contents of these spaces can contribute to the underlying problem if consumed in excess. I am continuing to construct ways to act as I am called by my higher power, while keeping self-care as my priority.
I decided to share this portion of my life because my story and my journey does not belong to me and I want anyone who is reading this to know that if you are suffering from similar thoughts and feelings, you are not alone. Your feelings are valid and your concerns are real. Suffering alone, isn't a sign of strength or toughness. Actively seeking assistance is a sign of bravery and perseverance. I hope to inspire empathy and understanding in individuals who tend to dismiss the hardships of mental health. Lending an open ear is beneficial for your education and shows someone else that you care about their internal struggle. You can never underestimate the positive impact you can have on someone simply by putting forth an effort to learn what you don't understand. This is my effort and attempt to normalize something that should no longer be an enigma. Humanizing in the face of what many believe is abnormal.
I encourage others to share your experiences, and seek help where you need it. God has a purpose for all of us. While the world needs your gifts, remember, you need them first.