Tuesday, October 10 was World Mental Health Day. With stigmas still surrounding the discussion of mental health, I was terrified to write something that was so personal and that would portray myself as anything other than the happy person a lot of people know me to be. But armed with the knowledge that there is beauty in telling your story, and the hope that one person will find faith and support in my story, I wanted to write a piece discussing my own mental health journey.
The summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college was the first time I admitted to someone that I was depressed.
I was in the parking lot of the J.C. Penney’s at the Rockaway Mall in suburban New Jersey when I told my grandma that I couldn’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have a heaviness in my chest and a pit in my stomach, that I felt hopeless, that I didn’t want to return to Buffalo for my sophomore year, that I don’t know what it meant to be truly happy.
That moment in the parking lot set off a chain of events. I started seeing a therapist. I transferred to Buffalo State College, a more diverse liberal arts school across town with smaller class sizes, and rushed a sorority full of strong and supportive women who were just like me. I learned about what was “wrong” with me. The dread any time I had to engage in a large-group social interaction, the heaviness, the tightness in my chest, the inability to focus and, then, the hyperfocusing, the irritability and mood swings; they were all related to Attention Hyperactivity Attention Disorder. I hadn’t been diagnosed as a child because I was a girl who got good grades and “smart girls can’t have ADHD.”
Since my diagnosis, I learned to manage my ADHD. I learned what it feels like when my cognitive fuel tank is too full; when I’ve done too much in a day and just need to veg. I know what to do when I’m unable to focus, when I feel the pit in the base of my stomach, when I feel the heaviness. I still dread being in a large group. At a party, I’m the person conversing intently with one or two people. Social events where I don’t know anyone scare the heck out of me.
So, how do I handle working in sports, a high-paced, high-stress job where I have to talk to so many people in any given day?
I listen to my body.
On the road, when I feel like I’m too amped up to sleep or when I’m feeling antsy or anxious at all, I work out. I shoot hoops, go on a walk, visit the hotel gym. When I’m home and not feeling up to snuff, I try to do the exact opposite of what I did that day. Did I talk to a lot of people? I become anti-social. Did I spend a lot of time at my desk? I go to the gym.
Self-care is all about daily check-ins with yourself. You need to know what works for you, what feels best and what sounds right. What works for me involves a lot of singing in my car, dancing, walking around and being alone. I found this out after many sleepless nights and times when I felt like I just had enough and couldn’t do it anymore.
If you’ve reached that point, it’s okay. You will be okay. You will get through this because you are stronger than you believe. Experiment with yourself. Close your eyes and say, “okay, self, what do I need to make myself feel better?” And then, just do it. As I’ve mentioned before, give yourself that pep talk and say, "you are strong and powerful and, dagnabbit, you got this.” Because you do.
And, as always, know that we are all here to support you.