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MEntal Health Awareness "MY BATTLE WITH My MENTAL HEALTH AND LOVING WHO I am" - Nicole Pacapelli

I want to thank a former University of New Haven Student-Athlete peer of mine, Ivy Watts, for giving me the confidence and inspiring me to share my own personal story. A story I never thought I would have, never mind ever want to share.

Meeting Ivy Watts

Ivy and I did not cross paths much in college, she was a track star and I played on the soccer team, but I knew who she was because she was a great athlete. She was always training hard and smiling around the athletic facilities on North Campus. Ivy has made it a mission to be a mental health empowerment speaker and advocate; she wants others to know that it is OK to not be OK. This past summer, Ivy and I spoke on the phone for the first time, we shared an extremely resonating conversation and a deep understanding of what goes on in our mind day in and day out together as we battle our mental health.

#ChargerFamily

"To this day, that connection, that feeling of being understood exactly by another person who can relate to the same feeling has made a tremendous impact on me. My hope is that someone reads this and feels comfortable to reach out to me too and feel the same."

Here Is Ivy's Website and Story

MY BATTLE WITH MY MENTAL HEALTH AND LOVING WHO I AM

"The Act of Having it All Together; A Perfect Life" By Nicole Pacapelli, MBA

Former NCAA Student-Athlete, Current NCAA Soccer Coach

Watching our world get turned upside down, seeing the shutdown of everyday life and feeling the loneliness of isolation; mental health is a prominent concern. A concern that some people might have never even felt or had before, but the concern is very real.

I never thought I would want to write this all out for people to read but I think it is time to share my story in hopes to shed some light on someone else to relate to. Even the leaders in this world who people rely on to be strong and positive struggle, but we are are all here for you.

That picture right there is me, Nicole Pacapelli, a die hard "Westie" from West Haven, Connecticut. An extremely proud graduate of the University of New Haven with a Bachelors Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics and an M.B.A. concentrated in Sports Management as well as a former Captain of the Women's Soccer Team. You will usually find me with a smile like that so big, looking to make people happy, brighten everyone's day and "insecurely" laughing through life. I also have the most outstanding family. They are happy, healthy and full of love. They support me more than you could ever believe; it is like I have the perfect life.

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE WRONG?

I asked myself the same question everyday. What is wrong? Why is it so hard for me to be happy? I felt ungrateful, selfish, and embarrassed. It didn't make sense and I truly did not know the answer.

I tell you all of that because that is usually a common picture of what Mental Health struggles look like and that perfection was part of the problem.

There is no perfect life. There is only the exhaustion and constant disappointment of trying to be perfect, comparing yourself to the best of everything is harmful. It is paining to the heart and the brain; rather than always trying to be the best, I now strive to be the best version of myself. I am my only competition.

So Here We Are....

Four years ago in the Summer of 2016 I had the opportunity of a lifetime to be a Head Coach right out of being a graduate assistant in Queens, New York. As excited as I was to begin a career doing what I love for the rest of my life, change for me has always been mentally traumatic. As mentioned, I grew up a die hard West Haven Blue Devil. I attempted to go away to college but needless to say came back home to my comfort zone at the University of New Haven. I played soccer there for a coach whom I had played for growing up (another comfort) and took the six year plan. This bought me time for two extra years to get my Masters Degree as my coaches’ graduate assistant so I once again didn’t have to leave. Those extra two years flew by and I had to leave. This time I couldn’t shake it, I could not move on and I could not understand why. It is normal to be sad through change but this time it was not normal. Come later to realize, I was continuously chasing a result of happiness that wasn't real and it broke my heart.

I learned that happiness is enjoying the present moment, it is enjoying the process.

It Is NOT A Result of Success and Failure.

A few months into my new job I asked my coach, who I was lucky to have see me through this, if I can talk to her and I told her about how sad I was all the time. I felt that nothing could make me happy and I really did not know why. As I rambled on trying to decipher my feelings, none of which I was making any sense of but in my own head and in my own words, I idealized perfection. The thoughts of perfect scenarios and perfect situations all of with expectations so high that are all made up in my head and impossible to ever achieve because being the best is what I thought always made me happy. I was very wrong. With those thoughts I am left anxious and depressed. The feelings of never being satisfied, never feeling worthy and never feeling that I was good enough. At this point, this realization came once I was led in the right direction by my coach, speaking to professionals. This was me on the inside and on the outside I was a twenty-four year old kid, living in New York, running her own college soccer program. None of which I could do without living in my college teammate’s family house. I was high-functioning, well put together but also extremely obsessive over controlling all of these things out of my control and my mind would never stop thinking about them. I battled and believed the stories it told me; no one likes you, no one cares, overthinking a look, a text, a joke, an exclamation mark; the infamous line of "are you mad at me" could have been a daily question asked. I made myself crazy through my own insecurities and I eventually lost control. Your mind is so powerful and when you don't train it properly it can fill in the gaps of unanswered questions and uncertainty with negativity. I thought about things that I should not be thinking about. I ruined friendships and pushed some of the people I loved the most so far away.

Why Was This Happening?
What Is This?
Why Is It Starting Now?

Generalized Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

My Causes: Perfectionism, Fear Of Failure, Lack Of Control

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

Created By
Nicole Pacapelli
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