1 in 4 college athletes suffer from depression. I am that one.
From a young age, I’ve always lived my life trying to please the people around me, trying to do the right thing, and trying to live that “perfect” life. I’ve always made good grades, I played 3 sports in high school, I went to church every Sunday, and I was on track to graduating college ahead of time. So it might be shocking to some people that I am that 1 athlete that suffers from depression.
You know the nervous feeling you get when you’re about to play in the big game, take the big test, or even make a big decision? What about the lump you get in your throat that makes you feel like you can’t breathe right before the tears start to fall. It’s the empty feeling or confusion that makes it so hard to deal with. It’s the sadness that overcomes you when you know you have to get out of the bed to just try to make it through a day that seems like it will never end.
It’s the feeling of loneliness when you’re sitting by yourself and your thoughts consume you. It’s even the feeling of anger that overtakes you and you don’t understand why it has to be you.
A feeling of hopelessness when you wonder why you even try because nothing good can come out of trying anymore. It’s the feeling of being afraid that you have to finally speak up and find the help that you desperately need.
The weight of embarrassment you carry when in the back of your mind you know that not everyone will understand what’s going on when you try your hardest to explain it to them.
Confusion because you don’t even know what’s wrong. It’s the feeling of the little white pills swirling around in the bottle as you decide if it’s really worth it. “What will my family do? What if my roommate finds me? How will my boyfriend feel? Will it be a cop out? Will I go straight to hell? Do I leave a note?”
All these feelings that make me that one college athlete that suffers from anxiety and depression.
I knew that something was wrong when it became a big deal to get out of the bed. This became difficult because I knew that if I got up and left the house, I would be faced with responsibilities that I didn’t think I could handle.
When I would finally muster up the courage to leave, the house I would get a nervous and sad feeling that would overtake me, but I had no idea why I was feeling that way. I would be around so many people, but feel so alone.
I would cry, but nothing was wrong. I had a constant nervous feeling, about what, I had no idea. It was hard to smile and even harder to laugh and I knew that something was really wrong. My days were full of classes, workouts, tutors, and homework; but the depression and anxiety always found a way to work itself into my day.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7
I tried to hide these terrible and confusing feelings from everyone that I could, but what was going on inside of me began to show up on the outside. I wasn’t myself anymore. I couldn’t eat. I struggled to sleep. My grades were slipping. I was missing class and suicidal thoughts started to fill my head.
I couldn’t figure out what I did to deserve what I was going through. I had gotten to the point to where I was just tired of being tired. I was praying and it seemed like God wasn’t even listening.
I tried to remind myself that everything was going to be okay and that I was going to come out of this difficult situation that I was in a bigger and better person than I was, but I didn’t really believe the things that I was telling myself. When I began to have suicidal thoughts I knew that someone needed to know that I was going through so I began to throw hints about what was going on to my boyfriend.
I was praying that he would have the answer to what would make me feel better through this tough time. He finally convinced me to open up to my parents about the things that I was really going through.
I wasn’t sure how I could explain to my parents that I was going through so much without them knowing that anything was going on. I didn’t want them to feel like they weren’t doing an amazing job as parents because they were doing everything and more to make sure that I was well taken care of even while I was in school.
I knew that I wouldn’t be able to have this conversation face to face with my parents so I decided that I would send a text message to my mom to give her an idea of what was really going on behind all the I’m doing great text messages that I was sending every day.
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8
I decided that I needed the help of a professional and soon after, I began seeing a physiologist who has been such a major part of my recovery.
I decided that I would take a break from basketball to focus on my personal and mental health and just getting better as a whole. I spent time at home surrounded by amazing people like my family, my boyfriend, and my best friend, Makayla.
It made a huge difference. I was surrounded by so many prayers, and a lot of love, and I began to notice a change in my happiness. This time at home was great, but also hard. I was no longer worrying about school, basketball, and everything else that came with college, but my main focus was on having to face what was really going on in my life.
I’ve had some very amazing people that have stuck by my side through everything that has been going on and I’m so thankful for that. My family has understood me on my good days and my not so good days.
My boyfriend has stuck it out through the good, the bad, and the real ugly. My roommate, Victoria, has been more of a blessing than she will ever know. And lastly my amazing friend, Makayla, has been there through everything and she has listened to even the smallest complaints from over 300 miles away. Through everything that has been going on, God has still been doing some amazing things in my life and I am nothing but blessed, for this journey I know that better days are coming.
Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”
Someday I will.
If you had told me in the fall of 2005 that 10 years later I would have voluntarily run four half marathons and a marathon, my 13-year old self would have said “As if” and gone back to texting on her pink RAZR phone, not so silently judging you for suggesting such a ridiculous idea.
At the time, I hated running. I hated how it made me sweaty, hated the hills, and hated the fact that my parents would drag me through the streets of our neighborhood to run “for fun.” Running wasn’t fun.
It was a self-induced death march that I was unfortunate enough to have to endure in the name of family bonding. Well, that’s how I saw it as a moody teenage girl anyways. Which, was when my mom and brother suggested I run cross-country my freshman year of high school, I was skeptical. Why would I purposely want to run long distances multiple days a week? How is running a sport?
But, because I had decided not to cheer and lacrosse try-outs weren’t until the spring, I didn’t have many options for fall sports. So on August 1, 2006, I laced up my running shoes and reported for practice.
First off, running is hard. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect there to be such an exact, and often painful, science to running hills or timing splits. Second off, and most importantly, I had coaches who believed in me.
Over the next four years, Coaches Cathi Monk and Christine Dahlhauser would teach me to not only have a love for running, but to have a love for myself. These two incredible women pushed me harder than I had ever been pushed.
They didn’t expect greatness, but they did expect that I would put in my greatest effort to be better than I was the day before. Most days I would do my best, but there were definitely practices and races that I just wasn’t feeling it. Each had an incredibly distinct voice and more than once I heard “Madi Lake, what the heck are you doing? I know you can do better than that!” from across the course. At that moment, the very moment I thought I would rather keel over than run harder, I would close my eyes and dig deeper, somehow finding strength that I didn’t even know I had.
While most runners hate hills, hills Coach D reminded me, give you the opportunity to prove to yourself (and others) how strong you really are. There is nothing more satisfying than basking in the descent after conquering a particularly steep hill. They taught me that the last .1 is just as important as the first 100 meters. In cross -country, it is the scores of the top seven runners that makes up the team’s final score, with the lowest team score winning the entire meet.
Therefore, even though you were running your own race, you were really running for six other people. You need to finish your race just as strong as it started, no matter how tired, or downtrodden you might feel.
You must always finish the race. You must always fight the good fight.
Finally, they showed me what it was like to be something larger than myself. At the end of my freshman season, Coach Monk handed me a single chain link. “This link represents our team,” she said. “As the newest members, you are our newest links. Right now they are shiny, but with age, they will dull. This is like a team – it’s easy to be excited when things are “shiny” but much harder when they’re dull. We are only as strong as all of us together and although it might be hard, there isn’t anything that can break us.” Being a link can sometimes be hard, but it’s always worth it in the end.
Because of these women, I am a life long runner, and appreciate what running can do for the soul. It is because of Cathi Monk that I know I can push myself without breaking, and that I’m stronger than I think I am.
It is because of Coach D that I have learned the importance of never giving up and to always have faith, no matter the circumstances. It is because of these two women and their wisdom, grace, and strength that I am who I am today, and for that, I could not be more thankful.