Looking back now to being a little kid, and knowing what anxiety is, I always struggled. I would give myself stomach aches and tight throats before going to school. I remember crying for my mom to not leave me alone when she dropped me off at dance class because I was making myself feel sick. I remember being worried on field trips and sleepovers, having to go home or leave. My mom would always tell me it was in my head and it took me until now to understand that it was.
Anxiety is living in your head, everyone has mental health in someway but it is learning how to control your own that makes all the difference.
My New Haven experience was second to none. I loved playing college soccer, and being a part of a team, but looking back now it was also anxiety free, or so I had thought. I just knew I felt happy! What I did not know is that my anxious feelings were only just hidden by my "positively" obsessive thoughts and the approval of others. OCD tricks your brain into feeling as though you are in control. You can bet my color coordinating skills were up to par and my lines were always impeccably straight, nothing wrong with any of that until it consumes you. Whenever my mind would start to race, and I didn’t feel good enough, I had immediate gratification from my coach (who was very good at coaching me) everyday who would tell me otherwise. I put my whole heart into that program because I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to feel important but I let it become too much of my identity. I, like many others, defined myself solely through the identity of being a student-athlete. My opinion of myself and my own happiness was just that. It relied on the need to know that I was good enough for others, that I was making other people's lives better and I needed a constant reassurance of it. That constant reassurance would put my anxiety at ease as I felt valued but I still lived life in black and white. I struggled to see any gray area in between; it was always one way or the other. I turned my obsessive thoughts into strategic eating and training; striving to be the fittest kid I could possibly be. That was masked by being a good thing because I was only just once again trying to be the best. When those few years were over I was hit on the head hard with figuring out how to control my own thoughts and how to love myself without the approval of who I used to be.
Here we are now five years later, I quit my full-time head coaching job: was in a full-blown depression for the five-months thereafter; rarely getting out of bed. I was back home but home was not home anymore. I went to New Haven everyday at “HOME”. I know I worried my parents and those around me even more. I felt I could not get another job and I was losing this battle.
Without putting much thought into it, I took an unpaid volunteer assistant position at the University of Richmond because that was what was put out in front of me. I packed my things and within two weeks moved to Virginia for a year. I lived with some extended family who I am so lucky to have. It was almost too good to be true, a huge coincidence. Virginia was the hardest move I ever made but that changed my life. I was put in an environment where I was not thinking about home or the people there because I was so far away. Being on my own in Virginia allowed me to completely pull myself out of a situation and immerse myself into a new life. It allowed me to work on understanding myself everyday because I stopped being so consumed in what everyone else at home was doing and what I was missing out on. I lived my new life.
At Richmond, I worked for someone who ran a program with the strongest, most positive culture I have ever seen. The emphasis on building character skills was discussed every single day. I learned about mindfulness, being in the present, and focusing your time and energy on only what you can control. The reality is you can not change the past so why obsess over it. IT IS DEFINITELY EASIER SAID THAN DONE, especially for an obsessive personality. I gained deeper knowledge about my personal responses and being disciplined versus acting off of my emotions. I was able to better understand myself as a person and now I understand my anxiety even more. I feel and know when it is happening, I know when it is bad, I know the physical symptoms when my heart and thoughts are racing. I know exactly what is going on and what my triggers are. I also know that I will always have it and that’s OK because I am in control. It is a conscious effort to be in control. I learned what it takes to not fixate on having to be the best but to focus simply on being the best version of myself everyday.
I am a college soccer coach, it is my job to teach life skills, talk about character, build people up, to be positive and resilient. It is my job to lead and empower others, to make an impact. People look to us as coaches to act in that way but some days coaches actually need coaches and that is OK too. This experience has changed my outlook as a coach. My vulnerability allows me to relate to others and make an impact because I am far from perfect, but I learned how to live life above a line that I don't ever want to fall below again. I never in my life thought I would be someone who battles their mental health but my experience put the reality of it into perspective and I know it is real. It is very real, not just for me but for almost everyone out there, especially student-athletes and especially those unfamiliar with it as we battle this COVID -19 crisis. The lack of control in our lives could be extremely overbearing. Everyone copes in a different way but the best thing you could do is support each other because even the people who are the happiest and look like they might have it all together are the people who need you the most. No one should ever do it alone.
IT IS OK TO NOT BE OK
IT IS OK TO TALK ABOUT IT
Be The Best Version Of You
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255