April 21, 2022
BLOG POST #61
Making the decision to transfer schools has been the hardest one I have had to make in my 21 years of life. As young athletes, we dream of going to a Division 1 program, having the glory of the name of the school, and chasing that glamour of being seen as accomplished in where we commit to continue our education and athletic career. When you are sixteen, or seventeen years old, you aren’t thinking about your mental health or your overall happiness at your potential school; you are simply caught up in the beauty of the opportunity.
I started golf very late in comparison to the majority of girls I was competing against. Many of them had already verbally committed by the time I was beginning to even consider playing collegiate golf. Just a little behind the eight ball, offers were few and far between. So, naturally, when the opportunity presented itself for me to continue playing a game I loved, I jumped on it. It was a Division 1 program, how cool? Right?
To answer your question, no, it was not cool.
You don’t realize how much your mental health has an effect on your life until your mental health is affecting your life. I was a straight-A student in high school, quite accomplished in multiple sports, and very involved in my community. Suddenly that drive was gone, and I didn’t even know who I was when I looked in the mirror. The passion to be the best version of myself was nowhere to be found. The bubbly and outgoing Kay had disappeared. Simply put, I was unhappy and it showed in my athletic performance, grades, and personal life. I was no longer me.
As athletes, we tend to try to push our way through the hard times. I told myself, “I have dealt with worse things than this” or “they are giving you this opportunity, why aren’t you grateful” or even “this isn’t really a problem.” But it was a problem, and only after being at my lowest of lows did I truly acknowledge my situation for what it was- that was the hardest part.
You can only try to force a puzzle piece to fit so many times before realizing that they just aren’t meant to work.
I won’t get into the specifics of what made me truly decide to transfer, but I will say that my situation was not the experience the seventeen-year-old me was expecting when I signed my letter of intent. There are so many things that run through your mind when you are thinking about leaving a program. “What will my teammates say?” “Will they hate me?” “My coach is going to resent me forever.” And most prominently, “what if there are no other programs that want me?” I can tell you for certain after playing pretty atrocious golf and getting sub-par grades, that the last question was the most difficult for me to come to terms with.
Well, obviously I did make the decision to transfer and I am so glad that I did. Did I lose those friendships? Yes. Does my old coach resent me? I am not so sure, but honestly, none of that really matters to me anymore. I am happy where I am, I am growing where I am, and I am finally the Kay I used to be.
My final words of advice in this long monologue are that at the end of the day, no matter how selfish it seems, the only person whose opinion on your actions matters is your own. Make your own happiness and mental health your main priority, because you can’t be the best student, the best athlete, the best teammate, or the best person you can be if you don’t.
~ Kay Zubkus
April 12, 2022
BLOG POST #60
Grand Valley has been my home away from home for the past four years. Being ten hours away from my family is difficult, but everyone at GVSU has made that distance a little bit easier for me. As I think back to when I first moved on campus in August 2018, I was a scared but excited Freshman. I was in a new environment where I knew almost no one and they didn’t know me. I also had no idea of what the future had in store for me, Now, here I am a senior, finding it hard to say goodbye. I want to thank the GVSU community for making my years here the best years.
All students go through their “ups and downs” during their four years at college. Student-athletes, however, face different challenges altogether and I was no different. From coaching changes to Covid-19, these past seasons have definitely had their share of just such challenges. Now that my four years here are almost over, it seems like one big blur and I am not quite ready to leave it behind.
There is absolutely no way for me to thank the GVSU staff enough. Everyone from coaches and professors to the career center staff and academic advisors plays a huge role in helping all student-athletes find a balance between school, life, and sports. All of these people have played a major role in shaping me as a person both in the classroom and on the field. I have received nothing but positive support and great advice from everyone that I have ever come in contact with here at Grand Valley, and I feel so lucky to have been able to become a member of the GVSU family. All of these experiences will no doubt help guide me toward a great future after college.
During my time here I have been fortunate to meet an incredible group of girls who have become my best friends. From the beginning, we have pushed one another to be better at everything from school to lacrosse to community leaders. We challenged ourselves to step out of our comfort zones, experience new things, and become better people. Most of all, we became Lakers TOGETHER. I wish I could express how much I appreciate each of them for their unconditional friendship, support, and their ability to make me laugh and cry.
Most importantly, I am grateful for my family. They are my rock and have always been my biggest fans. My siblings have made many sacrifices while growing up to support my commitment to lacrosse and I have missed many of my brother and sister’s big moments, but they have always understood. My parents raised me to be an independent woman and without their guidance, I would be nowhere near the person I am today. It took a lot for them, especially my mom, to send me off to GVSU, but every time they visit, they tell me that my coming to GVSU was the best decision I ever made. I couldn’t agree more.
Finally, I am grateful for the sport of lacrosse. It is difficult for me to express just how much the sport means to me. Without it, I would not have even considered GVSU and would not have had the incredible experiences that lacrosse has presented. Lacrosse has taught me discipline, teamwork, communication and so many other things that I use every day. I have been very lucky to have been a part of one of the best teams in the nation and to compete with some of the greatest young women I will ever have a chance to meet.
Grand Valley was absolutely the perfect fit for me and I will cherish my experiences here for the rest of my life.
- Caitlin Burnett
March 15, 2022
BLOG POST #59
As a senior approaching my undergraduate graduation in April, I have lots of memories and lessons to reflect on as my time as a Laker over the last four years. Each year has presented different struggles overcoming doubt, building confidence, and dealing with pressure seem to be constant battles that every student has to deal with. I’ve learned that dealing with external pressures is not a skill that once you master it all pressures become easy to deal with. It is a skill that needs constant maintenance to be able to advance through the external pressures.
The end of this has presented me with large decisions that will impact where I am for a whole year. I have an extra year of eligibility that I could use for a fifth year. I didn’t want to make this decision too early, knowing how much I would beat myself up if I regretted what I chose. I decided that It would be in my best interest to stay another year. I would get to play and start my MBA with some financial help.
I am glad I decided to come back for another year. I know that I am not be ready to leave the sport, and the school yet. Even though my body sometimes disagrees, I’m sure that my knees will feel the effects of another year. The additional year will give me more practice on building my confidence skill, overcoming doubt skill, and dealing with pressures skills. These skills that I have been forced to learn might be the greatest gifts that college sports have given me.
- Jack Dausman
March 8, 2022
BLOG POST #58
Injuries/Setbacks and the Effects on Your Sport
Like all high school seniors moving on to collegiate athletics, I had high aspirations for myself. I ended my high school running career with 2 PR’s at my state meet and my best track season to date. This kept the ball rolling for summer training, and I was excited to begin my collegiate running career. My progression was first stunted in October of my freshman year, not even two months in. What I thought was just a sore/tight hip turned out to be a femoral stress fracture in the upper neck of my right femur. I could not comprehend how my season was over before it even began. Fast forward through months of cross training sessions to the last meet of the indoor track season, I finally got to race. I was set up for a short outdoor season, but I was just happy to be racing with my teammates again. My freshman year of running cross country and track did not go as planned but I was motivated for summer training and excited for what the future held in store.
I had minor set-backs in the Fall of 2019 that once again cancelled my cross country season, but I was focused on the upcoming indoor track season. I managed to stay healthy and make the GLIAC conference lineup in the 800 and DMR, as well as the national lineup for the DMR in Alabama. Then COVID hit and the national championship was cancelled. I felt so defeated after staying healthy through the track season and finally proving that I was capable of competing at a higher level, only for it to get canceled at the last minute. Like everyone else dealing with the effects of a canceled season and isolation, I tried to stay positive and motivated for the next one. What else could I do?
After a hard summer of training and coming into the fall season in great shape, I was faced with achilles issues that turned into a stress fracture after months of unsuccessful rehab and attempts to keep running through it. This again forced me to take a step back from running and reflect on what I was doing wrong. I went to the training room every day; I did my rehab exercises and cross trained harder than ever before. I could not understand why I got so unlucky to miss another track season. Being on the sidelines with injury yet again and isolated due to COVID restrictions, I found my mental state in the gutter. I had never felt so alone and frustrated. The sport I loved so much was causing me some of the worst pain I had ever experienced. After self-reflection about why I ran and how important my teammates were to me, I again put my head down and began the grind that is recovering from injury. The progress was slow but each week I was closer to working out and racing with my teammates again. I remained hopeful that I could return to where I once was.
My 2021 outdoor track season ended after two races that I considered some of my worst performances to date. I had yet another stress injury. I blamed it on rushing into training and playing catch up after missing the indoor season and being desperate to line up with my teammates again. Maybe I should have taken easy runs easier or cross trained more. The list of ‘maybe I should have’s” was endless. I decided that this time around I would baby myself during the comeback. I would have to hold myself back and force myself to take my time while increasing training, even though that is the last thing I wanted to do. I had to remind myself that it was okay to be behind in training. All that mattered was being able to train healthy again with the team.
I was able to remain healthy throughout fall training and the indoor season, and just competed in my last indoor collegiate track race at the GLIAC Conference Championship. I am sad knowing I won’t line up with my teammates in the Kelly ever again but look forward to my last track season as a Laker this spring.
The road to this point has been long and difficult, and without the support of my family, friends, and teammates, I would not be here. They believed in me and showed me support when I needed it the most. Throughout this journey I have found the importance in enjoying the little things at practice and trying not to stress about results. You have to trust in the process and believe that in the end, it will work out. I may not be as fast as I used to, but I am healthy and more motivated than ever. Enjoy your time as a Laker and don’t be too hard on yourself. You only get to be a collegiate athlete once, make it count.
February 14, 2022
BLOG POST #57
Go With the Flow
I am a huge component of everything happens for a reason and to go with the flow. There is a reason I am swimming, reason I picked Grand Valley, reason I got cancer at 18. Every event that happens in your life guides you in some way and makes you stronger. You can’t necessarily change everything in your life so why not let it go its course. I am not saying to give up! But to go with the flow of life. Which can mean different things to different people, for me it is like a stream flowing down a hill. Constant motion, with a couple rocks and branches in your path, but you will either flow over them or around them. Getting around obstacles can take time but eventually you will and can move on with your own power or with the helping hand of someone else getting those rocks and branches out of the way. Your stream will forever be in motion and could end up in a river down a mountain moving incredibly fast or in the ocean flowing at a constant pace.
Life can change at an instance or over a course of a time, for me it was all of freshman year. Started off with the college experience of basically knowing no one, to a bad roommate who hurt a friend, finally to a melanoma skin cancer diagnosis. Grouped over time these things felt like they blocked my stream, to the point where I searched for assistance. I talked to multiple people to help me get through my blockage and everyone I talked to I talked to for a reason, getting more involved into the team, Athletes Intervarsity and Lakers Listen.
You do not show weakness while looking for help, you show strength because you are trying to get around these obstacles yourself already, people around you are here to look at things from a different perspective and possibly move that obstacle just a little bit to let you continue flowing on with your life.
~ Owen Ganzer
February 10, 2022
BLOG POST #56
Goal Setting Highs and Lows
Being in a position to succeed and win is the embodiment of the dreams, aspirations, time, and effort we put into the sports we love to do as student-athletes. Making it to any given competition requires a bedrock of solid practice coupled with the knowledge that what you are going to do will be difficult. The training we begin when our season begins, and even before that, going back to the summer and off-season will determine, in part, how we will compete and perform during our season.
At the start of the summer or a new season comes the choice to reset, reflect, and make the important decisions that will influence how you act and perform in the season and competitions to come. Setting our goals and what we will strive to accomplish during our season is important for having a place to direct our energy toward. Starting from the end of the season and working backward, thinking about how you will get there, what you need to do is a good starting point. Setting up long-term and short-term goals will help you to maintain motivation during the day-to-day grind practices may begin to feel like.
A long-term goal is something that will take time to accomplish. You should identify what both your personal and team long-term goals are for the season. For Cross Country, this would look like a time or place goal for specific races and winning the conference, regional, and national meets.
Short-term goals are the building blocks that lead to your long-term goals. They are the small actions, behaviors, and habits you choose to engage in on a daily basis. Together, adding up everything you do to improve yourself can make you 1% better. When you start stacking up momentum by taking the time and holding yourself accountable to be the best version of yourself, you will inevitably improve. I like to ask myself each morning how I will get better today, but I still need to work out the specific at times. Each day is a new challenge, a challenge against time, what you want to do, what you need to do, and what you choose to do.
I recommend that you write down your goals and also add why you want to achieve your goal. List the reasons you’re working toward your goals and the people who have or are helping you to achieve them. Speaking aloud your goals, sharing them with your teammates can help you to maintain the habits and behaviors which will enable you to reach them. Visualizing yourself competing over and over again in different scenarios and achieving your goal will, in a sense, bring it closer to reality. If your goal is something you deeply desire to accomplish, put a sticky note on your phone so you have to read it before doing anything else in the morning. You could also try setting an alarm to go off at a certain time every day for you to think about with effortful intent.
Each of us has our own personal goals we want to accomplish at a given time, in sports, academics, and life as well as team goals we work toward with our teammates. For the last three years, since starting college at GV, I have had the long-term career goal to become a high school English and Psychology teacher as well as a Cross Country and track and field coach. This goal of mine has driven my academics and learning in ways I didn’t initially expect. More recently, I have looked into learning more about how coaching works by observing my coaches, both discreetly and overtly. I have also learned how teaching and coaching are intertwined, to be a great coach, you need to be a teacher and learner. I have added onto this long-term goal of mine to become a sports psychologist, and maybe one day a college coach and professor. To someday achieve this goal, I know I need to continue to work on continuing to learn in my classes and eventually graduate.
My more immediate goals fall into keeping up with my classes and continuing to progress in my training. I have long-term goals for each of my seasons, Cross Country in the fall, indoor track in the winter, and outdoor track in the winter and spring. With running, it’s simpler in track to race for a time goal than it necessarily is for Cross Country because tracks are standardized and each Cross Country course is unique.
My short-term goals range from eating healthy every day to finishing my homework early. I like to start off my day by doing some push-ups and speaking aloud to myself a mantra I have on a sticky note nearby. This is what I tell myself when I wake up, “I believe that I’m feeling good. I am alive and full of energy. I will seize the day and enjoy the run. I am becoming better. I am better!” I follow this up by reading: “live in the moment. Today is all you have, make the most of it. Make today worth remembering!” I also go over my long-term goals and read off some of the people who believe in me. Creating a mantra you can tell yourself that will shift your thoughts to what you want to be focusing on and doing can make what you are doing more meaningful.
At times you may find you aren’t motivated to do what you set out to do. This can be for a variety of reasons ranging from bodily desires such as food and rest, or feeling as though you have too much to do. Creating habits, which can take about a month to form, can be difficult. That’s why it’s important to remind yourself of your goals, set specific times during the day to do certain things, and hold yourself accountable. A friend or roommate could also help you to stay accountable for maintaining your short-term goals every day. Creating habits is easiest to immediately when you get up in the morning and before you do anything else. Focus on the moment and don’t allow yourself to become distracted by everything you will be doing during the day.
Often, the challenge we pursue in our sports is to win, but more often than not, you may not consider what comes next, after you reach the pinnacle of performance and achieve the highest goal you sought. As athletes, we have learned how to come back and become better after a defeat or subpar performance. When we feel we didn’t compete to our potential, as athletes do, we can become hard on ourselves and use our “failure” as fuel for the fire.
Competing at the NCAA Championship this past fall, 2021 was the culmination of months and years of hard work and dedication. Just making it to the starting line was an accomplishment in and of itself after dodging covid and completing my teacher assisting apprenticeship. The support and encouragement we received from our teammates, friends, family, and everyone at GVSU was awesome. Coming home with the National Championship title was a goal our team sought from the beginning of the season. After everything was over and run, I would like to say I felt amazing, well I did a little, but I mainly felt tired. All of the stress and pressure that I had been pushing off to focus in on the moment came crashing down making me lose motivation in my classes for a week. Reaching the highest possible high you can achieve as a team is amazing, but I had only read about and not experienced what some professional athletes sometimes feel after winning.
I didn’t have a new goal that was powerful enough to fill the void left open by our victory. I was working and focused so intently on helping my team reach and compete well at Nationals that my motivation in classes began waning. I still had motivation for running and practicing but didn’t know I needed to address this part of me that had moved from a goal to an accomplishment.
It’s important to take the time to enjoy the experience you’re living and revel in the chance to make history. You also need to practice introspection to learn about yourself, how you may be reacting to a win or a loss without initially realizing you are. I find writing to be a useful tool that helps me express my thoughts and what I’m feeling. Writing may help you record what’s going on inside of you too or you might find talking to a friend more straightforward. Whichever method works best for you, it’s important to find ways to grow by looking at your athletic performances, academics, and life so you can ultimately better understand yourself.
February 8, 2022
BLOG POST #55
Decision-making has always been a struggle for me. How are we supposed to know what choice is right? How can we make a decision that seems so far in advance? Circumstances change and people change, and it has been difficult to know, for sure, what was right for me and my future.
With the extra year of eligibility, I was offered the opportunity to play one more year of lacrosse and get my Master’s degree. This option came up my junior year, so deciding something one and a half years in advance seemed out of reach for me.
I went back and forth multiple times, talking with my family, teammates, coaches and many others. How was I to know that I would still love the game just as much at that point? Would I be burnt out? Do I really want to stay in school for another year? Would I miss out on career opportunities? Many thoughts went through my mind, thinking that I needed to make the perfect decision. I have now realized there is no perfect decision.
A quick word of advice, every decision you make impacts your life, but it's how you act on those decisions - making them the best situation possible, putting yourself in the best position to be successful - is how they become “perfect”.
I have already shared part of my story about the impact of a chronic injury in athletics, but it definitely played a role in the firmness of my decision. I have restrictions and am required to make modifications when it comes to how much I can run, lift, practice, etc. This can take a toll on any athlete with the feeling that your role on the team might not be as important or your contribution not as significant as it once had been.
While making this decision, I thought long and hard about my injury … if I wanted to go through that process AGAIN after 4 years of already feeling like I’m 65 years old with a broken back.
There is this feeling that every rep is so important (because of my limitations) where if I mess up, it’s a waste - that was one of my only chances to practice and get it right. Injury adds pressure to perform when you CAN because there are a lot of moments when you can’t.
While in the decision-making process, I had to think of my physical and mental health, but, thankfully, with the support of my teammates and coaches, I feel confident in my decision to continue for a final year, even with the modifications.
In some ways I think I’m lucky with this injury, even though it sounds crazy, but it puts a challenge on me to push my limits in every single rep that I get, and not take it for granted. It's given me the opportunity to set the bar even higher for myself.
Something that started off as a difficult choice for me grew into small moments of realizing that every decision can be altered to how you want it to turn out.
I want to go out with a bang this season, take every rep like it might be my last- so that’s what I’m gonna do.
~ Sophia Conroy, Women's Lacrosse
February 4, 20222
BLOG POST #54
Expectations student-athletes face
Being a college student in your late teens/early twenties can be stressful, confusing and both emotionally and physically draining. Now, try being a student-athlete where the hardships are magnified, and pressure is an everyday occurrence. Of course, there is a lot of variations between sports and the experiences are unique so I can only speak for myself and my teammates. There are a lot of ups and downs that we face on and off the court and learning how to deal with it is a skill that most of us acquire over time. I am an international student-athlete currently in my senior year, which gives me a perfect opportunity to share my turbulent experience.
When I first came to GVSU as an 18-year-old, I had no idea what to expect but I knew that I had to meet certain expectations and that I would be held to a certain standard. I knew that I had to perform well enough on court and in the classroom because I am on a scholarship. First of all, I want to make it clear that I am forever grateful for the opportunity to play the sport I love and further my education at the same time. There is nothing that can describe the feeling of overcoming your struggles and seeing your hard work pay off, therefore, expectations are not necessarily a bad thing. Learning how to deal with the pressure is what can make it very difficult, especially if you do not have the right resources or the support system. Luckily, I have an amazing team and we care for each other very much. It helps when you have a community that knows exactly what you are going through because it can be hard to relate to other students who are not athletes. Every day, you need to come to practice ready to give your 100%, go to class, do your homework, eat right, get enough sleep and repeat. There is not much room for socialization, or you are usually too tired to even think about going out. This can feel alienating, and it often leads to a burn out, which I experienced firsthand. To be honest, I struggled a lot with mental health my first few years here and it is still an ongoing journey. When you try to meet the expectations of your coaches, professors, parents, etc., you tend to forget to take care of yourself. At the end of the day, it does not matter how high your GPA is or how many matches you won if you do not feel happy. One of the biggest issues in sports is hyper focusing on reaching goals and getting stronger, while ignoring the amount of stress athletes are under. Lakers Listen program is trying to tackle this issue by giving voice to athletes, which has been incredibly helpful and mental health is not a taboo topic anymore. My best advice is to be kind to yourself, talk to people you trust and embrace failure instead of being scared of it.
~ Marija Leko, Tennis
February 2, 2022
BLOG POST #53
As a senior, approaching graduation in April, I have been reflecting a lot on where I started out mentally and athletically my freshman year. My goals as a freshman were simple: get good grades and survive the 2-3 hours of practice each day.
I had been struggling with my passion for lacrosse since my senior year of high school. The commitment to playing at the collegiate level went from being extremely exciting to absolutely terrifying. When I arrived on campus, I could confirm- I was terrified. My confidence dipped lower than it ever had been athletically. My first practice I actually got bull-dozed over by one of our best attackers (shoutout Gail O’Neal). My college career didn’t start out exactly how I was hoping. I was small, which I always knew being under 5ft would be a challenge. I was nervous, to the point where I couldn’t catch the ball. And I was miserable, my love for the game was almost entirely gone. I even had a plan of when I was going to quit- after my sophomore season if I had been accepted into the nursing program that would be it.
Well, surprise, I’m still here. In a way, it breaks my heart to think that it took a pandemic for me to realize how much lacrosse actually meant to me. For the first time in my life, I wanted to play lacrosse for ME. I felt robbed and cheated of so much when it was ripped away. I used to be the kind of player who stayed in it for my teammates. That’s what I had to do to continue playing at the time. After the shut-down I was able to reflect and realize, why the hell didn’t I want that for myself?
Wanting it for myself did not come instantly, but I decided I couldn’t and wouldn’t quit. I knew if I was going to continue playing, I had to embark on the scary journey to get my passion back.
The confidence came very slowly and not all at once. To be honest, I ended junior year as a completely changed player and it’s hard to pinpoint what internally changed. I started to feel like a little kid while I played, not focusing on messing up or praying no one passed me the ball. I began to just play. I know how hard it is to show up everyday resenting a sport you used to love, letting the anxiety of simple things at practice consume your entire day. It’s a long process to gaining the love back even after a wakeup call like I had.
To any athletes on a journey to loving their sport again, hang in there, be patient with yourself and do it for YOU.
January 31, 2022
BLOG POST #52
Physical symptoms of mental health
Athletes know the most powerful tool is their mindset. If you believe it, you can achieve it, but when mental health triggers the brain to believe something is wrong, the body reacts accordingly in a physical way. This past year I have learned that the term “mental health’ can be a misleading title because it implies that a person’s distress is only experienced mentally, however, without going into the science of it all, the constant stress of mental health issues and/ or mental illness can manifest physiologically.
The 2020-2021 COVID-19 pandemic had me and undoubtably many others experiencing issues with mental health. For me personally, overtime I had physical symptoms such as dizzy spells, hot flashes, excessive tiredness, and heart palpitations, just to name a few. I could not explain or manage these symptoms at first. Even at my calmest and happiest moments I found myself coping with sudden fever like symptoms, but when I checked my temperature, I was surprised to be at a normal temperature.
I was able to acknowledge the anxiety I had been experiencing; however, it took me a long time to acknowledge my physical symptoms as real and valid. I thought I needed a medical doctor when I needed to learn coping skills to improve my mental health.
Even though I am pleased to share that I have started 2022 happy and without any of my past symptoms, I look back at 2020-2021 with a heavy heart. I was in the best shape of my life, made it to the NCAA championship and broke a school record in the 50 free, but the whole time I felt terrible, tired, and I couldn’t even find the enthusiasm to enjoy my own success. Because of that, I wish I put more effort into my wellbeing and made my mental health a priority by seeking professional help.
I am not exactly sure why I didn’t do something about my symptoms sooner, but what I have taken away from my struggles is that you must make yourself a priority. I had to learn that is not a selfish thing to do, because recognizing and dealing with symptoms is not just important for sports performance, it's important for your own confidence and wellbeing. If you experience anything you feel is a physical sign of ongoing stress, anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue please reach out and find the professional help you need. You are never alone.
January 12, 2022
BLOG POST #51
The Impact of COVID on my mental health
Last time I was in season was Spring of 2021. Although it was the first season back after the dumpster fire of 2020, when our season was cut short, it was a time that brought me great stress. I refer to that period in my life as the season of the “bubble”. Never once did I think the word “bubble” would bring so much stress and anxiety in my life.
The bubble period was a time in my life that I never want to go back to. Unless you lived in the bubble you didn’t understand the effects and the restricting feeling that the bubble brought. The bubble season in my life was a very lonely time and a time that I would much rather not talk about. As athletes we have to sacrifice so much where often times people do not understand the ramifications of what we give up. Because of COVID our team decided that it would be the safest and best option to limit our activity with the people around us. This meant that we were not allowed to see our parents, friends, and people who we love unless it was outside and socially distant.
We agreed to these precautions for the love of the game. We knew that one positive test could potentially wipe out our whole team and cost us the freedom of doing what we love and that was playing lacrosse, traveling, and making memories together on the lacrosse field. Everything in my life was not normal except playing lacrosse. On the lacrosse field, we were able to escape, only for a few hours, all of the pain caused by COVID.
When I reflect back to last season I immediately try to stop as it stirs up this feeling of being confined and quarantined (which I was on three different occasions). It is a lonely and stressful feeling that I try to forget.
Fast forward to this upcoming season. I did not anticipate that this season would look like last season when it came to the “bubble”. I thought the bubble had popped. Especially it seems to me like the fall sports had a more normal feel and season. Although COVID was still around it did not seem as much of a prominent threat. With COVID cases spiking my anxiety followed because I don’t want a repeat of what happened last year.
Thinking about how lonely the bubble phase was makes me not want to ever have to go through that again. With the beginning of the semester starting it is important for everyone to give themselves grace. It is ok to feel like you are not ok. But it is important to not let the stress take over your life.
The bubble taught me that being in the presence of people is important for my mental health. COVID taught me that many things affect my mental health. This whole situation has also brought to light the importance of doing life with people. I now fully understand the value of being supported by people who love you and who can make it possible for you to get through the impossible.
In anticipation of this next season, I am not excited about the potential that COVID has to mess with my goals and team goals. I am excited for the new knowledge and understanding I have gained. I am grateful that everyday I have the opportunity to do life with people face to face. I appreciate the lessons I have learned, the people in my life, and the opportunity to play the sport I love for GV. Mental health matters. Being grateful matters. People matter.
~ Maggie Hammer
December 13, 2021
BLOG POST #50
- Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
- Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.
My time at Grand Valley as a student-athlete has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride, and if I’m being honest, it has been a struggle. For those who don’t know me, I am currently a 6th year on the track and field team studying mechanical engineering, and I struggle with faith.
The first step in making progress is acknowledging that you need help. For me, this didn’t happen until this past summer, and I’ve needed help since my sophomore year. I suppressed the idea of mentally struggling, I didn’t want to look weak.
The first event I can remember that was an indication of losing faith in myself was after I failed my first engineering class, which wouldn’t be the last time I would fail. I’ve retaken six engineering classes. Constant struggling and coming short of my goals academically put me in a dark place. I lost faith in myself academically, athletically, socially, and religiously. It got to the point where I had premediated assumption of failure, it didn’t matter what for, I just assumed no matter what it was it wasn’t going to turn out the way I wanted.
I began to physically struggle as well, always being tired and lacking quality sleep. This was a vicious cycle as I would get stressed, sleep poorly, perform poorly in school and track, get more stressed, repeat. I started to question my religious faith. If God existed, why would he let me suffer like this?
The final blow was during the fall of my 5th year, where I had to stop coming to practice all together because of how bad I was struggling in probably the most difficult semester I’ve ever had. I failed thermodynamics and was ineligible to compete the rest of the year. I was alone, I had lost all faith.
It wasn’t until this past summer that I acknowledged I needed help, and I dug out my necklace of a Christian cross that I had long since abandoned. Inscribed on the necklace is Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I started wearing this necklace again as a reminder in times of self-doubt to have faith. Since wearing this necklace I found ways to pass my summer classes, to train for track, to improve my social life, and maintain my relationship with God.
Remember, it is OKAY to struggle.
Forgive yourself for past failures and focus on what you can control in the present to maintain YOUR FAITH.
~ Matt (The Moose) McLaughlin
December 8, 2021
BLOG POST #49
Disclaimer: I want to first start off by saying some of this information is very sensitive and hard for me to talk about, but I want you all to understand I am open to sharing because I want others to know they are not alone in this. I am simply here to share my experiences. If you are in a similar situation, I have listed supportive resources at the bottom of my blog.
You may be asking yourself what that stands for; it stands for “adult child of an alcoholic.”
Being an ACOA is not the easiest thing to grasp, especially when I didn’t want to believe it for the longest time.
Juggling academics, athletics, and a parent who suffers from alcoholism is hard, to say the least. I have struggled with my academic and athletic performances because I am always worried about what my parent may be doing back at home.
The questions I always seem to ask myself are “Why are they not getting help?” and “What can I do to help?”
The answer to the first question is quite difficult to answer; however, the answer to the second question is, well, nothing, but you can try.
I have two sisters, and we have tried confronting our parent about their drinking habits. We thought if their three daughters came forward and expressed concern, something would change or hopefully flip a switch in their brain. We were wrong.
As someone on the outside of this disease, I am unable to help. It took me a long time to understand this and know I cannot help, at least in my situation. The person suffering must identify they have a problem and help themselves before anyone else steps in. This is the hardest thing I have had to overcome because I am a helper. I like helping people, and I like making people feel better. One would think if they express concern about a problem to someone, that person should be able to recognize it.
It’s not that simple, though.
Being an athlete and an ACOA has been a rollercoaster ride.
Softball, my alcoholic parent, and I have a special bond. I’ve played the sport since I could walk, and my parent has been there through it all.
When I play and I see them drinking, it’s a trigger point. I automatically think to myself, “They’re just here to drink. They’re not even here to watch.”
I went 0-9 one day at the plate because I was so angry and mentally not present in the game because I saw my parent drinking. Honestly, I was embarrassed, especially when I’ve expressed, I don’t appreciate them drinking at my games. Yet, they still do it because it’s an addiction, and they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong.
That is the problem with addiction; addicts don’t think they have a problem because they are so used to doing such behaviors that they think it’s normal.
Well, let me tell you what is normal: to have and feel emotions, to talk about emotions, and to let your emotions out.
I let my parent know how I was feeling at the time, hoping it would flip that switch, but things never changed.
Even after this incident, I had to come to terms again and know they won’t change unless they recognize they have a problem.
As an ACOA, I’m here to be an advocate for others who may have similar situations going on at home while away at school or in general.
Not every ACOA story is the same, but I thought I’d share some insight as to how it has impacted me and my mental health.
It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to have emotions and let people know how you are feeling. It’s okay to be vulnerable.
~ Joanna Cirrincione
- Adult Child of Alcoholic (ACOA) group counseling at the university counseling center (call 331-3266 for more information or check out the website for a list of meeting times).
- Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families (ACA) recovery meeting through the GVSU Alcohol and Other Drug Office (call 331 for more information or check out the website for a list of meeting times).
- Grand Rapids Alano Club – offers a variety of programs for those who have been impacted by someone’s addiction to alcohol. Check out their website for a list of free meetings.
November 30, 2021
BLOG POST #48
Coming into Grand Valley my biggest goal was to make it to the DII Diving (and swimming) National Championship meet, and in order to do that you have to make it past the qualifying day the day before the championships start (it is referred in the diving world as Black Tuesday). My freshman year I made it to the qualifying meet but fell short of making it in mostly due to inexperience. My sophomore year, I felt on top of my game the entire year, consistently being one of the top 2 divers on the team at each meet. Unfortunately, the few days prior to the qualification meet I became sick with the stomach flu and again fell short of making it into the championship meet due to competing off of little sleep and a stomach bug. Junior year came with its own struggles due to the whole covid year messing everything up and a concussion that took me out for 1.5 months. However, when we went to the qualification meet that year, I was determined to make it in more than ever; and I did. I finally made it into the D2 Diving National Championship meet. As the competition went on my performance fell short of what I thought I was capable of and my 3 teammates placed in the top 4, including one of them becoming a national champion (and I am so proud of each one of them!). It was hard for me to feel like my 14th and 16th place finishes were good enough. I had achieved my goal of making it into the national championship meet and becoming an All-American, but in the moment I had felt like that wasn’t good enough to my teammates, to my coaches, and to myself.
It took some time away from the sport for me to realize what I was actually able to accomplish that year and to be proud of myself for it. Only a little over 7% (1 in 13 athletes) of high school athletes go on to play varsity college sports; and only the top 16 divers/athletes in the nation become All-Americans. Those numbers prove how hard it is to become a college athlete and show just how far I’ve been able to come.
I still struggle with the feeling of not being enough all the time, but every day I try to find something to be proud of whether it's small (like making a correction in practice or staying on top of my school work) or something big (like getting a national qualifying score or a good exam grade). On days when I am feeling down or like I am not enough, I also try to go outside and walk to music or motivational videos just to get out of my head and enjoy the fresh air.
If you’re ever feeling like you aren’t enough because you messed up in practice or a game or didn’t get the grade you wanted in class, just remember how far you’ve come as an athlete and as a person; and remember everyone's journey in life and athletics is unique to them so OWN your journey and enjoy it while it lasts (it goes quick)!
November 22, 2021
BLOG POST #47
If you just met someone here and they asked about you, you probably would tell them that you play on a sports team at Grand Valley. Since I’m 6’11, most people ask me if I’m on the basketball team, and of course I say yes, but if they didn’t, I still like to tell them. It’s a point of pride to be an athlete, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I find that the rest of the conversation focuses on my being an athlete, and not much else. Once again, not a bad thing, but when the conversation switches focus to a NARP (Non-Athlete Regular Person), they talk about their studies, but also what they enjoy doing outside of school. It’s something that I envy sometimes, the freedom and time they have to explore and immerse themselves in things that I don’t feel I have the time to do. Being a student-athlete is such a huge part of our life. But that doesn’t have to be all of who we are as people.
I find the title of “student-athlete” to be misleading. Although it’s an accurate description of what our job at GVSU is, this label sometimes makes us feel like we need to be either a student or an athlete at any given time. Not a single one of us are just students and athletes. We hold so many different titles and responsibilities in life. We are brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, friends, musicians, gamers, amongst many other things. In spite of this, having the full time job of being a student-athlete can sometimes be overwhelming. You may not talk with your brother for a while. You might not pick up your guitar. You might miss out on a fun night with your friends. It is so important to find the right balance between being a student-athlete and what makes you, well you.
Almost every fellow athlete I talk to either tells me they’re tired with their words, or exudes exhaustion with their tone and body language. Hell, I am too. It is so easy to become bored and burnt out, especially during this time of year. The days turn into weeks and the next thing you know, a month goes by. You look forward to your day off but it ends up becoming filled with everything you need to catch up on, whether it be sleep, homework, or recovery. Sometimes, it feels like we really are only students and athletes. When I find myself drifting into this routine, I like to remind myself that life has so much more to offer other than dribbling a ball and using quizlet for homework answers. Maybe I’ll go on a drive, write a song, or call my parents. I’ll go hang out with the friends I haven’t seen in a couple weeks. All of these things remind me that I am so much more than just a student-athlete.
At the end of the day, being a student-athlete is what we do, it doesn’t define who we are. It’s obviously a huge part of our lives right now, but when it’s all said and done, in a few years, none of us will be student-athletes anymore. At that point, we’ll probably find out who we really are, but for now, don’t be scared to try and figure out who you are outside of sports. It can be a difficult thing to try and do, especially during season or exam week. But if I can find time to do a moon review on TikTok every now and then, I’m sure you can find just a little bit of time to escape your responsibilities, even if it’s just for a few minutes. So pick up that guitar, call your parents, play video games with your friends. Remind yourself of who you are outside of sports and school, because there’s so much more to you than just being a student-athlete.
Designate time to escape life and it’s responsibilities. That’s gotta be the most cliche sentence I’ve ever written, but hey, I’m writing this blog instead of watching film. Instead of studying the inner workings of the human body for my exam coming up. Instead of practicing putting balls in baskets. I’m escaping my responsibilities. I would encourage you to do the same every once in a while.
November 16, 2021
BLOG POST #46
I recently saw a Facebook post by Tara Lierman that says, “Nothing can prepare you for the identity crisis you go through post college athletics….”
For those that don’t know Tara, she’s one of the greatest soccer players to ever play at Grand Valley and quite possibly one of the greatest athletes in GV athletics history. She’s someone who fully embodies what being a Laker is – a “Laker Legend” some would say.
I had seen this post weeks ago and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. As I get ready to transition into the post-athletics world and leave my sport behind, I’m not entirely sure what to expect. Like Tara said, I don’t think there’s anything that can prepare me for it. We dedicate our lives to our sports and make endless sacrifices to do what we love. We spend countless hours preparing for training, preparing for competition, preparing for opponents, preparing for championships. But we never prepare for the moment that it’s all gone. I’d be lying if I said a part of me isn’t freaking out right now, considering I have 4 guaranteed games of college soccer left as I’m writing this. But at the same time, I’ve never appreciated the game more than I do right now.
One thing I have often thought about since the start of the fall season are my “lasts”. My last preseason, my last fitness test, my last media day, my last trip to the U.P., my last gear reveal, my last practice, my last time pulling the GV soccer jersey over my head. And eventually, the last whistle. I might not be fully prepared for that moment, but I believe the best thing I can do is embrace the moment I’m in now, fully appreciate my “lasts” as they present themselves, and be intentional in everything I do as my time as an athlete winds down.
The reality is that we’ll all wake up one morning (perhaps without an alarm) and we’ll have all this time in front of us. All of this free time to do whatever we want. No training to wake up for, no competition to get ready for, no film to watch, no team meetings to attend. We won’t have our normal strict routines anymore. To some, including myself, this could be an extremely overwhelming reality. Maybe even scary or nerve-wracking. For others, maybe you’ve been looking forward to this new free time. Regardless of where you stand, I hope you have no regrets. I hope you don’t have “what if” moments. I hope you feel like you have given everything you had to give. I hope you realize and appreciate all the gifts athletics brought to your life. And I hope you find comfort in knowing that yes, while athletics is a huge part of your life and who you are, it is not all that you are.
And when it comes time to step away from your sport, my ultimate hope is that you do all the things you couldn’t do while being a college athlete. I hope you start to get 8 hours of sleep every night. I hope you’re able to make-up for all the missed family gatherings and holidays while you were in season. I hope you savor and enjoy all the junk food you wish. I hope you pick up all the hobbies you never used to have time for. I hope you get to travel to all the places you’ve wanted to go. I hope you get the job you’ve always dreamed of. I hope you invest more into your relationship with yourself and your loved ones. Most importantly, I hope you take care of yourself and your mental health during this transition and change in your life.
Whatever you choose to do and wherever the post-athletics world takes you, this is just one last reminder that you’ll be great, just like you’ve always been.
GVSU Soccer #25
April 27, 2020
BLOG POST #45
Miles run since coming to GVSU: 2,894.2
Hours spent cross training since coming to GVSU: 357
First, I want to clarify that this isn’t written to be a pity party or a sob story, but rather, I want it to be a real account of how much mental and physical effort student athletes put into their sport.
Running almost 3,000 miles may seem like a lot, but keep in mind this is over the course of almost three years. For those of you who don’t know running, a normal female on the GVSU cross country team runs somewhere around 55 miles a week. Therefore, given consistent training, no injuries, and including normal down-time, they would run somewhere around 2,500 miles PER YEAR. By comparison, 2,894.2 after three years is nothing to be proud of.
Since coming to Grand Valley, I have had one hip surgery for a labral tear, four confirmed stress reactions (one in each tibia, and two in my femur) as well as three additional stress injuries that, although they don’t qualify as a proper stress reactions, were enough to keep me from running. The total number of cross trained hours is calculated from the start of 2017 when I was a freshman first starting the GVSU training program. The 357 hours consists of biking, swimming, and ellipticalling. We all know that being a student athlete is like having a full-time job. So, let’s take the total number of hours and divide by 8 hours (a typical 9-5 job). This leaves us with a total of 44.625 work days spent cross training.
During my time at Grand Valley, I haven’t been able to put together a solid string of training for any amount of time. It seems that as soon as I get healthy, something flares up that pulls me away from the team, into the pool, or onto the bike, forcing me into isolation. I know some of you reading this may be thinking to yourself, “she must be doing something wrong to deserve this… maybe she isn’t trying hard enough, maybe she doesn’t care, maybe she doesn’t lift, or stretch, or do all of the little things.” And I want more than anything to tell you how inaccurate that is. I do understand how easy it is to think like that, as I entered colligate athletics with a similar mindset. It’s easy to think that someone who keeps getting injured just doesn’t care enough to make it work. What I realize now is that maintaining a healthy relationship with your sport is not a reflection of your passion or commitment, but reaches much further into how you are genetically built, what kind of training your specific body needs, and acts as a reflection of your overall mental and physical environment. Nobody competing at this level, and I would argue at any level, wants to be injured and left out.
The separation of being injured, to me, if far more painful than the inability to compete. Feeling isolated as you spend hours bent over the bike, or swimming countless laps in the pool can have a serious negative impact on your mental health. Over the summer, after hip surgery, I found myself at the lowest I have ever been. A place, that even now, is scary to let myself think about. I consider myself an independent individual, preferring to work through things by myself without asking for help. I had a great support system at the time, from athletic trainers, to friends and family, but I was unable to let myself ask for help. I thought it would make me look weak, something I so desperately didn’t want to feel. As a result of this, teammates would congratulate me for being so strong, often times reaching out saying that I had inspired them in some way. I appreciated all of their words, but inside it made me feel even worse. My happy, positive persona was this fake mask that I had made so I wouldn’t have to confront my real feelings. How could they look up to someone who wasn’t even real?
I spent a lot of time trying to prove to my teammates and coaches that I was strong and that with enough time and hard work I would eventually put together an impressive season. I would force every cross-train session to be harder than the last, telling myself it was the only way I could get back to running. I would spend an additional upwards of an hour each day in the training room, rolling, stretching and doing various rehab. This sounds great and all, but when you’re going through an injury, it becomes all you think about. Once practice is over, it doesn’t mean you get to leave it all behind. I would find myself missing out on lecture because I was consumed by thoughts and fears about what was to come of my season. And for similar reasons, I began to have trouble sleeping at night. All of these things piled together, and a horrible loop began to form. When my cross-training workouts would go poorly, I thought about them more, and by spending so much time thinking about them and neglecting other aspects of my life, they would in turn go even more horribly. I developed an overall negative self-view. I realized it was a serious problem when the beginning-of-the-year physicals rolled around and I had to fill out one of the mental health sheets. I realized I was lying when I said I wasn’t having suicidal thoughts and that I was circling “rarely” when I should have been choosing “almost every day.” I felt embarrassed because I obviously needed help.
As the school year continued, I built up walls, isolating myself from those who really could have helped. I preferred to be alone just so I didn’t have to be fake. My friends would ask how I was and it bothered me to know that they saw I was struggling. I eventually made an appointment at the counseling center but was unable to make myself go. Later in the year, I tried to go again, but still couldn’t force myself to show up.
I wish I could say that I am doing better now, and that eventually I was able to get help, but that’s not the case. After having worked back from surgery over the summer, I began to allow myself to feel excited as it looked like I might have chance at having an outdoor season. However, a few weeks before everything fell apart with the coronavirus, I was told that I had three stress related injuries in my tibias, two in the left and one in the right, and that I would be out for the rest of the year. The hope of racing, once again, ripped away. When our seasons were cancelled due to the virus, I felt horribly for all of my teammates and the rest of student athletes. But, in a very real and honest way, and I feel absolutely disgusted to admit, I almost felt some sort of satisfaction in the fact that maybe everyone else would finally be able to feel how I had felt so many times before. This virus has cancelled everyone’s season, you didn’t ask for it and you don’t know how to handle it. This is how an injury feels. Unable to practice, you are separated from the team, left out on all the inside jokes, forced to spend countless hours cross training alone. I am sure a large part of why we’re all here, as student athletes, is because we love our teammates and the community that it provides. With an injury, you lose this. With the coronavirus, you have lost this. I realize this sense of satisfaction is entirely selfish and terrible thing to feel, and I am sorry if you’re reading this and feeling offended.
If I have learned anything from all of this is that injuries do not mean a lack of passion, you should work to improve yourself rather than prove yourself, mental health isn’t as simple as going and asking for help, and that it’s okay to feel angry and resentful.
I hope that maybe by the end of next year, I will be able to write another reflective piece saying that I have found happiness, stayed injury free, and was finally able to compete, but there’s no way I can promise such a thing. The only thing I can offer is that it doesn’t really matter what you do right now. Find something that makes you happy and that you enjoy, and do that. You have time until next season so don’t take everything so seriously. Run because you love to run, not because you have to. If you’re running because you have to, don’t. Take a break and step back. Find a way to understand why you are doing whatever it is you’re doing. I can say with complete certainty that I’ve spent far more time on a bike in college, than I have running, which, as a runner, has made me mad for a long time. However, I have begun to realize that I actually really do enjoy cycling. If I appreciate it for what it is, and not for something that I am forced to do, it can be kind of nice.
Even though we are warned not to, we all identify with our sport and as an athlete, so I challenge you to take this time and have an identity crisis.
~ Lilah Parker
April 20, 2020
BLOG POST #44
Procrastinating is something I do very well. Being exam week and in quarantine, this fact has never been truer. Normally, having a busy schedule that keeps structure and the need to plan out my studying prevents this. In quarantine though, there is no schedule to plan around. I have been sitting around stressing about all that I have to do from projects to exams. Things that I have had the last couple weeks to start on and study for but haven’t. Instead, I have waited till the last minute to watch lectures, take notes, and study properly. This is why I need a set schedule.
This halt in our lives is a blessing in disguise. It provides time to take a deep breath, catch up on school and life, and focus on our weak spots. For me this means less procrastinating, not only on school work but replying to emails, catching up with friends and family, running earlier in the day and everything else I put off on a day to day basis. Reflecting on the last couple weeks and with a summer of possible lockdown, now is the best time to set a schedule for ourselves. Set time to study properly and practice at a decent time of day. It’s also a great time to catch up on sleep (at a normal hour) and pick up relaxing activities that normally there’s no time for.
Once things get going again, we never know when there will be time to sit down and take a deep breath. Don’t go stir crazy and reach out to teammates to see how they are doing.
April 13, 2020
BLOG POST #43
Today we find ourselves under stay at home orders, faced with such uncertainty. This situation will make history. We will remember it for the rest of our lives. There has been undeniable heartbreak associated with all that has been cancelled due to this pandemic, but I hope too that with the extra time you are discovering in your heart and mind what truly brings you the most happiness.
Before this all started, I have to admit, life was chaos. Being a student-athlete, volunteering, being a member of different clubs and organizations while having a job on top of it was getting to me. I was merely going through the motions. I wasn’t content. It seemed that every hour of every day was preoccupied by something and there weren't enough hours in the day. I was taking for granted the thrill and joy of being busy.
But now that the busyness of our lives has been put on hold, we have time. Precious time to find peace within ourselves. Personally I have been able to reflect on my year thus far, recognizing what brings most joy into my life and also the things that I shouldn’t continue. My mind has slowed down and I’m cherishing these current moments rather than always reaching for more and more in hopes of finding contentment. Instead, more books have been read, more board games have been played, and more sunsets have been admired.
I’m content. I believe that our perspective on things is what drives contentment. Perhaps this sudden halt to our busy reality will forever change our perspective on all that we involve ourselves with. We won’t take such busyness for granted. Perhaps we will be better because of this.
All in all, Mother Teresa says it best:
“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”
I’ve found inner peace despite this pandemic, and I hope you will too.
April 6, 2020
BLOG POST #42
I’m starting to get used to this abrupt change that has rearranged my life. Each day it feels more and more normal to not see my friends, and practice with my teammates. Although that does not change how much I miss them or replace the opportunity that a college athletic season entails. I know that I am not alone in my regret and that there are many who long for life to go back to normal. I feel for the seniors on my team and on all the teams that were not able to finish their season due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Those who dedicated major parts of their lives to a sport and did not get to have their last hurrah. Those who didn’t get to have their final chance, or a proper send off. While being in a lockdown I have had plenty of time to think about my lost sophomore season. I’ve come to the realization that what I truly miss Isn’t the competition, but the many people I had the pleasure of getting close to. When I think about them, I have a hard time feeling sorry for myself. I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity to have relationships and build bonds with so many great people. Stay safe, stay positive, and Go Lakers!
March 30, 2020
BLOG POST #41
In the midst of an unprecedented situation, I am somewhat thankful for the literal forcing of Americans to take a second and slow down. If you’re like me, you deal with whatever comes your way 100% internally. It’s always been important to me that I keep in mind the people that aren’t as fortunate as those of us able to study at universities, let alone play sports in addition to that. I always compared my daily problems to people who didn’t know when their next meal was. With that being said, I learned that it is essential to embrace certain problems and be mindful of whatever personal struggles you are enduring, no matter how big or small they are.
July of 2018 and April of 2019 brought losing two of the most full of life people I have ever known in two separate unrelated tragedies, who were only 19 and 20 years old. I dealt will all the aftermath of loss by confining it in myself and letting the confusion grow. You are supposed to see all the people you grew up with at high school reunions, not funerals. I never fully realized how my mechanism of coping weighed on me and affected almost every aspect of my life. Through all of it I stress how important it is for everyone to be attentive to your own well-being. You may have convinced yourself that you’re being strong by internalizing everything, but this can add up to a point where you find yourself carrying a burden that has been silenced for too long.
What my college years have so far taught me was how strong each person really is. We all have our battles. Certain people in my life are doing things I would never in a million years be able to do, and vice versa. But the value in that is how it doesn’t stop us from asking each other how we are. Taking a second out of your day, a pause in your battles to make sure someone else is doing okay in theirs, is the most important thing I have gained from my experience as an athlete at GVSU.
Stay home, and safe everyone.
March 27, 2020
BLOG POST #40
COVID-19, more often referred to as the novel coronavirus, has recently been the main topic of conversation worldwide. This virus has affected multiple people in many different ways. Throughout this pandemic, it has affected me, my fellow classmates and student athletes, in a way where athletics has been taken away. We are no longer able to practice or play the sport we love. For the spring and winter sport seniors, this situation, unfortunately, affected them the hardest. Some of these athletes were unable to participate in championship tournaments, and others were just beginning their seasons. All of their hard work and commitment to each other couldn’t be shown the way they wanted and wished for. But, I was able to see teams band together and celebrate all accomplishments during this difficult time. The friendships made will last a lifetime. Through this time of uncertainty, I believe it has made all athletes appreciate the time we get to play the game we love and play with the people we love.
~ Damon Wesley
As part of BLOG POST #40 we wanted to give our senior Anchors one last chance to reflect on this past year and their current situation. One last opportunity to share the impact COVID-19 has had on them, provide some insight into their "new normal" or share a piece of advice to those underclassman who get another year to play.
To our senior Anchor class you have been a shining example of steward leadership within our athletics community. You have given of your time for a worthy cause. You care about your teammates and the people they are outside of their sport. You have used the Lakers Listen platform as a way to have your voice heard and to be the voice for those around you. You have spoken up in the name of mental wellness and your impact on GVSU Athletics will forever be felt. We often say that when it comes to gauging the success of our program it isn't the quantity that counts, but rather the quality. Even if we only reached one person through our efforts it was worth it. I hope you each walk away from this experience knowing you made a difference.
Wherever you land professionally after this semester I hope you continue to use your voice and let your actions, your kindness and your empathy be the things that carry you.
To our graduating Anchors you will be missed, but you will never be forgotten!
~ Gretchen Goodman, Athletics Health Care Administrator
"With our senior season being cut extremely short, it was a painful process to have to grieve. All of the last moments we were promised never happened and we all played our last games without even knowing. The regret still eats away at me for all of the things my team and I could have accomplished this year and will not have a chance to. However, with all of the bad I can still find the positive. Being an athlete means you have an automatic athletic family within your school. Thinking about all of the other senior athletes going through the same thing makes me realize the athletic community is more than just our school. We might not know everyone but we know how they feel because we are feeling it too. No one is alone in this, everyone is going through the same or similar things. The only advice I have to younger athletes is to play your hardest no matter what. A second opportunity is not always promised and you don't want to leave the sport you love with regret that can never be fixed."
~ Ashley Albright
"Keep trying to build your village! Having people around us that we can lean on is really important right now."
~ Cassidy Boensch
"As far as the situation we’re in right now goes, what has helped me day to day is I’ve been trying to keep somewhat of a schedule so that my days are still structured in some way. Also, getting outside as much as possible! Even just a walk makes me feel more energized and happier. I’ve also just been thinking of this time as an opportunity to relax and recharge so I’m ready for whatever happens in my life when this is all over. Trying to think of it as an opportunity rather than a burden has helped me cope with the situation a bit better."
~ Mikayla Karasek
"With these crazy times I would recommend ways to ground yourself. Whether it be connecting with friends or exploring hobbies. With all the changes that are going to happen it is crucial to stay with the friends always with you."
~ Jon Loshinskie
"This virus outbreak and the cancellation of my senior lacrosse season has really shed some light on the things that truly matter in a sport. Yes, winning games is important and the victories and losses will always have a spot in my mind, but I think the most important part is the memories that will always have a spot in my heart. Long bus rides, team dinners, team activities, and making memories with my best friends will always be in my heart. I wish I didn’t take those moments for granted because as much as I wish I could play a lacrosse game again, I would much rather just be able to be in the same room with all my teammates one more time."
~ Abbi O'Neal
"It’s unfortunate the semester was cut short and for the seniors I know it’s been tough coming to terms with your careers being ending prematurely. But don’t let this stop you from you being proud of yourself for reaching this amazing milestone in your life. Use this time to reflect on your experiences and appreciate the growth you’ve made during your time at Grand Valley."
~ De’Aundre Simpkins
March 26, 2020
BLOG POST #39
Coming into freshman year of college, I knew that joining a sports team wasn’t going to be easy. First, because of the long season. Second, because along with diving one 1 meter, I had to compete on 3 meter, which I had never done before. And third, I had never thought I would ever have the chance to dive in college, let alone a D2 school. So yes, coming into freshman year, being nervous was a bit of an understatement.
Still, I was excited to learn new dives. Throughout the first half of the season, I was learning a new dive off of 3 meter every other week, as well as improving the ones I already had on 1 meter. The goal was to have an 11-dive list on 3 meter by the time of our mid-season meet in early December.
Unfortunately for me, that’s when fear decided to rear its ugly head. While fear is something I’ve always had when diving, I could always overcome it. Now, I couldn’t seem to get my fear under control.
Fast forward to this season, and things took a turn for the worst. Suddenly I couldn’t do dives that I had done a thousand times. I was so scared and full of self-doubt that I was convincing myself that I couldn’t do the dives. I convinced myself that I wasn’t good enough. It got to a point where I was so down on myself that I felt that I didn’t deserve to be on the team, because I felt like I wasn’t contributing to the team. It got to the point where I thought to myself…
“What if I just quit?”
“Everyone would be better off without me.”
“I don’t know why I’m even doing this.”
I feel like these self-destructing thoughts were making me spiral down more. They were making me really upset, because I never thought of myself as a quitter before. But everyday, I was finding it harder and harder to remember why I love diving. Why I chose to do it. Every athlete had good and bad practices, but every practice felt like a bad day. And when my parents called to ask me about my day and how practice was, I’d tell them that everything was fine, that I was doing fine.
“Yes, school is going alright.”
“Yes, diving is fine. I’m having fun.”
I was not in a good place, mentally. I was bottling everything up.
My coach suggested that I see a sports psychologist, when I mentioned what was going on.
I was against the idea at first. Admitting that I needed that kind of professional help seemed really embarrassing, and my confidence was already in the drain. Admitting that I needed help made me feel like something was wrong with me.
Like I wasn’t strong enough to handle it on my own.
But then someone mentioned to me that a lot of athletes I knew also went to see sports psychologists.
It made me realize that I wasn’t the only one who ever felt this way. Lots of athletes deal with fear. Self-doubt. A lack of confidence. Anxiety. It made me feel better, knowing that if athletes can bounce back from this sort of thing, then I can, too.
Seeing a sports psychologist is probably one of the best things that has happened to me this year. It was hard at first, because I don’t like to talk about my feelings.
Working through these feelings with someone, made me realize that everyone struggles. And it’s okay to ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t make you seem weak. It makes you stronger.
I’m in a better place than I was at the beginning of this season. I’m starting to remember why I love diving so much. There’s still a long road ahead of me, but I’ve learned that I can’t let all these negative qualities of mine control me. It’s not healthy, for me or for those around me. I’ve learned to take everything one small step at a time and to view myself and the world with a more positive attitude. Not just in diving, but throughout my life as well.
~ Sarah Horowitz
March 25, 2020
BLOG POST #38
Find your passions
Retirement is a funny thing to think about when you are 21 years old. My earliest memories of myself have been swimming. For 16 years I have been identifying myself as a swimmer first and anything else fell through the cracks. Reasons behind actions would always carry the thought of how this will affect my practice tomorrow or my results at the end of seasons.
I loved swimming in my early years, it was my passion. However, with moving to different levels, swimming quickly went from a passion to a chore. Teams went from having a focus on personal growth, to winning at all cost.
Quickly I was the person who would rarely have a smile on the deck in season. I had told others that I was tired, or I was sore. Due to telling others this, it quickly became my truth as well. I was mentally exhausted with the constant work and never getting a break because of the goal to win at all costs.
Winning at all costs is a saying I heard all the time while swimming. I used to believe that the cost was a sore back, not being able to walk right, or giving it everything while competing. The cost is different for everyone, for me, it was my enjoyment.
The sport I once loved to do every day was quickly a chore. I was waiting for each season to end so I could get those sweet two mandatory weeks of break before I was forced to come back to train again to win. The cost of winning had drained me mentally.
I only took one summer off from training in my competitive years. The summer prior to my senior year was the only reason I kept going till the end. I wouldn’t go more than a day without seeing my friends, I discovered that I actually didn’t hate running because finally I wasn’t doing it because of swimming, I biked, I climbed every week, I went to pools to have fun, I ate different foods, I relaxed, I finally enjoyed my life. I took back control of my life.
I found my passion, with good friends.
I want this to reach people who have been in the same situation as me. I want those people to know that it is okay to want to take a break when you can. Use this break to do new things, find your passions. Take time for yourself. Know that you have meaning beyond your sport and there is so much more to do in life with your friends than train to win.
Find your passion, you are more than your sport and the expectations that are set upon you.
~ Jon Loshinskie
March 24, 2020
*This blog was written on March 16th
BLOG POST #37
At some point in most of our lives we will go through a traumatic event that brings us to a place we never imagined we could go to. For me, I thought that point came and went my senior year of high school but little did I know that it wouldn’t hit me until this past week.
For anyone who knows me well, I am someone who loves to be happy and always really cares about people even when they may have done me wrong in some way. Some people say I am too nice and let people take advantage of me but I always push that to the side and continue to care because that is who I am.
My senior year of high school I met someone who was coming out of a troubled relationship and being me, I reached out and tried to help this person find their happiness. The two of us began to talk more and more and slowly we entered a relationship of our own. Little did I know that the emotional turmoil of this relationship would leave me broken and depressed for over 2 years. At this time in my life I had never experienced this type of pain and with that came the lowest point of my life that I never thought I would come back from. Many therapy sessions and tears later I was able to stitch my heart and self, back together enough to hide the pain I endured every day.
The baggage I have carried with me since then seemingly disappeared as I came into GV and settled into my new home. Being from New Hampshire, I was able to start a new life and in doing so, slowly forgot my past pain. It wasn’t until about a month ago my life began a downward spiral that has ended me in a new place, a place lower than I have ever been before.
I recently began to talk to someone who I had gotten to know over the past semester and feelings for them began to grow. As I began to open up I realized I was over my head from the start but when you like someone like that, rational thinking is nearly impossible. My emotions gripped the relationship and all that baggage that I thought was behind me, fell on me like a ton of bricks. It wasn’t until this past Monday that I could no longer hold back the ever-growing wave of anxiety and depression that I tried to hide.
The entire foundation that I had worked to rebuild over the last 2.5 years was destroyed in a matter of days. Over the last week I have been on a roller coaster of emotions, from pain to happiness, excitement to depression, life to death. I try to tell people what is going on but never get the response that I want, the response that I need. I think about everything that could help ease this pain from drugs/alcohol to suicide but I know none of that will give me the peace I am looking for. Throughout this week I have lost friends, disappointed many others, but most importantly, I have lost my purpose, I have lost me.
While most people think it is as simple as “being happy” to help get past it all, it isn’t that easy. Anxiety clouds your judgement, makes you overthink every situation and how it could all go wrong. Anxiety leaves you tight chested and with little to no hope you will ever be happy again. Anxiety prevents you from doing what needs to be done like school or practice. This past week I skipped practice because I couldn’t fathom the idea of doing anything but being sad. I let my mind and emotions take what was so important to my well-being away from me and in doing so became worse off.
I can’t say that I am any better today and I also can’t say I’ll be better any time soon. The only thing I do know is that life goes on whether you want it to or not. Every single day you have a choice to do something about the situation you are in or let it consume you like I have. It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to open up to family or friends because at the end of the day, no one wants to see you leave.
The only advice I can give is keep fighting. Fight knowing that you do have a purpose. Fight knowing that you are bigger than yourself. Fight knowing that you are capable of so much.
I may be beaten, I may be bruised, but I will continue to fight these demons until I can’t anymore. Maybe one day, hopefully one day, I will find my purpose. Maybe one day I will find my peace once again.
~ Evan Tanguay
March 23, 2020
BLOG POST #36
Therapy is GOOD. Therapy is OKAY.
Depression is ugly, real, and very raw. The emptiness that I would experience left me in bed all day with no motivation to do anything. Being a student-athlete, my whole life is based on motivation. I have to be motivated to do well in my classes. I have to be motivated to do well in my sport and work hard. I have to be motivated to get up and try every day.
For me, my depression was centered around my weaknesses. I let my weaknesses eat away at me, run me down, and leave me desperate. Desperate for help. I felt so helpless and weak. I didn’t want to feel that way anymore; I couldn’t. I wanted to end my life. I had so many responsibilities and felt like I wasn’t living up to the expectations.
I knew I needed to take a step to help myself. I told myself that I was worth fighting for; my life was worth it. A little over a year ago, I took the first step in my long healing process. I saw a therapist. My first experience wasn’t the best. I saw a man who was not understanding what I was going through and wasn’t sure what I needed. He signed me up to go to a group therapy meeting for self-image even after I had told him I do not like group settings. I did not want to do that, and I didn’t go to the meeting. I had called my mom crying because I didn’t know what to do after that experience. She told me to try again, not to quit, and to keep looking for someone who could help me. That is the most important lesson to me: don’t quit, keep looking for help. There is always going to be someone wanting and more than willing to help.
I went online and googled therapists in my area. That’s when I found her; my therapist. She listened to me, didn’t judge me, and was there for me. She made me feel normal and not crazy, and I knew right then, that I would be okay. She introduced me to my psychiatrist. I call her my happy doctor. I see a therapist and that is okay. I take medications to help me feel better and that is okay. I feel 1000x better and that my life is worth living and that is amazing.
Being a student-athlete is a stressful, intense life for anyone doing it. I was struggling with my sport and my therapist helped me to find joy in the sport again. If you are reading this and feel the same way, even in the slightest, try to see a therapist or even just talk to your friend. You are not alone, and you have a whole team to support you and care for you. Do not be afraid to reach out. It can never hurt to talk to somebody, it can only help and may even save your life. Therapy is normal and should be celebrated. I am happier, healthier, and stronger now than I was a year ago.
Therapy is good. Therapy is okay. Therapy saved my life.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) - 24/7, Free, Confidential
- Crisis Text Line: Text “Start” to 741-741
- GVSU Counseling Center https://www.gvsu.edu/counsel/
- I am always willing to talk to you if you want to.
- email: [email protected]
Your mental health is important, please do your best to take care of it.
February 17, 2020
BLOG POST #35
Throughout my whole life, one thing I have always wanted is to be happy. I have found that my mental health has been a key contributor to my level of happiness. I have always craved something that would keep my body and mind at ease. A lot of different things work for different people. But growing up in a Christian family, I was taught that my faith would be my key to happiness.
I was in high school, and college was right around the corner. As college grew closer my love for Jesus and my happiness did not. I started to have this perception that I could do everything on my own. I began to let my faith slip as well as my mental health. I stopped feeling fulfilled and happy. I blamed my unhappiness on external factors and daily habits that never brought me joy.
Nobody knew how I was feeling. Each day that college drew closer, I started to slip into one of the worst places emotionally that I have ever been in. That is when I learned that I wouldn’t be able to do everything on my own. I felt extremely unhappy but I was too prideful to ask for help. I hid my pain because I didn’t want anyone to know what I was struggling with mentally and emotionally.
Luckily, I was signed up to go on a trip with my church called Senior Sneak. It was a trip where Seniors in high school spent a week together growing closer to God and transitioning to the new stage of our life that was coming quickly upon us. We went to the Passion conference that was held in Atlanta Georgia. Thousands of Christians from all around the country get together and worship and hear top Pastors and speakers for a few days.
In those few days, my life forever changed. I opened up and told one of the pastors how I was feeling and instantly I felt this weight lifted off of my shoulders. It wasn’t the fact that all of a sudden I was happy again, it was the fact that I put my real self out there and asked for help. I swallowed the stigma that I didn’t need help and that I could do it on my own. And at that moment I learned the power of talking to someone, being known by someone else on a deep level. There was no judgment. Just to be listened to and understood was amazing.
By no means am I saying that I am permanently happy and that I don’t struggle anymore. But I learned where I get my source of happiness from. And whenever I am happy or sad or just living my life I know what calms me and gives me happiness. It is my faith: in knowing I am fully loved, and also fully known. I have also learned that getting help is ok and it is so useful.
Asking for help is something that no longer scares me. I have sought out tutors, reached out to coaches, academic advisors, teammates, as well as counselors. If people don’t know you’re struggling, they don’t know how to help you. I have learned much from those around me.
Since my first Passion conference, I have gone on it another 2 years. I have accepted the fact that in order to be in the best place mentally I have to lean on the one thing that gives me the happiness I long for, and that is my faith.
I am not writing this to try and convert anyone to be a Christian. What I am saying is that reaching out will never hurt you. Don’t be ashamed if you are not ok. I was not ok. If you are not real with yourself, it will only get worse.
When I come across dark days, I journal and work through negative emotions. I then look back to my good days when I was happy. I have to reframe and acknowledge my feelings but also look at the goals that I set for my life.
If you don’t know what you want out of life you will live your life searching and never being content. I recommend spending time on getting clear about what you really want from life. I’ve learned that happiness is not found just on top of the mountain. It can be found in every step of the way.
~ Maggie Hammer
February 10, 2020
BLOG POST #34
You wouldn’t expect a 20 year old college student to have the back of a 70 year old woman, but I do.
I struggle with a chronic back injury that will never get fixed. I got this injury my freshman year and have dealt with it day to day. Sometimes it makes me not want to be active, sometimes it puts me in a bad mood, but some days are better than others so i just have to hope for the best.
I was not able to play in the fall of my sophomore year and I think that distanced me from the team. Not being apart of tough workouts, long runs, hard lifts, etc. were all things that I felt like I was missing out on, no matter how hard they were.
I let this injury get the best of my relationships my sophomore year. I wanted my close friends to know that I was upset that I couldn’t play and that this injury was tough on me, but I never wanted to admit that I was feeling this way because I wanted to seem strong and didn’t want the attention in a ‘negative’ way.
I pulled myself away from those relationships and depended on myself to just automatically get better without talking about anything.
When I was getting back into regular season, I got a cortisone shot and started to play again. I had so many high expectations for myself because I thought that since I had a cortisone shot, I would be able to get right back into it and be the same player. I figured out the hard way that it was going to take some time, and I got frustrated with myself day by day if I wasn't executing or playing up to my standards.
Again, I held these feelings in because I didn't want to seem weak. I wanted everything to seem perfect in my world, but internally it was not.
I have learned that sports are not the only things that matter in our lives. I thought it was going to be the end of the world if I didn’t play well in a game. In reality, we are so much more than the sport we play. We connect our failures from athletics to our personal failures. This is a natural thing, but not being ‘perfect’ all the time is normal also.
I always thought that my close friends on the team wouldn’t understand because they weren’t injured, but now I know they would have been there for me if I was open to discussing how I really felt.
February 3, 2020
BLOG POST #33
This is my last year being a student athlete, and with graduation right around the corner I have found myself thinking about how I am going to define myself when I am no longer an athlete. I’m sure many of my fellow student athletes can relate when I say that I always introduce myself as my sport. When we have to share a fun fact about ourselves on the first day of class I almost always say I am a diver. Even during an interview I had the other day, when prompted to tell them about myself I started with the fact that I am on the swim and dive team at Grand Valley. Although as athletes we all work hard to accomplish what we have in our prospective sports, that’s not all that defines us. Even though on a resume “student-athlete” looks great, we are more than our sport.
As you go through the transition into the “real world”, I think it’s important to find something you are passionate about outside of being an athlete. Maybe it’s your future career, or a hobby that you enjoy. Personally, I love to paint and to spend time outdoors. Although I don’t have much time to enjoy those things right now, mostly due to being an athlete, I plan to devote more time to these things that make me happy once I am done with college athletics. I encourage everyone to find that thing that you love to do outside of your sport that you can take with you once you are retired because I think it can make the transition much easier. Personally, as I get closer to the end of my last season, it is a bittersweet feeling since one chapter of my life is closing, but at the same time there is another one opening full of new opportunities and experiences, and I feel excited about this new chapter in my life.
Remember, you are a person who has hopes, dreams, hobbies, and passions that might not necessarily have to do with the sport you do in college. Being an athlete may have influenced the person you have become, but it doesn’t have to define who you’re going to be in the future. Even though the transition might be hard at first, I’m here to tell you that you have meaning, you matter beyond your sport, and you’re going to do great things in the future!
January 27, 2020
BLOG POST #32
**Disclaimer: Not everyone goes through the same process and not everyone has the same experience with everything. In no way do I have everything figured with how to deal with stress and anxiety but through different resources, have figured out what I like and helps me best. **
Dear freshman year me,
We have finally made it to senior year!! It has been a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, but we made it and have grown as a person along the way. I am writing a letter to you because I wish I knew then what I know now. Everyone deals with stress and anxiety in different ways, but for us it was all about keeping things inside. The disbelieve that we were stressed about assignments, lacrosse or our personal life. Working ourselves up emotionally to the state where anxiety had started to creep in. But freshman year was just the beginning of all the stress and anxiety we would endure throughout our college career.
Since I can remember we would always keep our emotions locked inside of us with a lock and key on it. We wouldn’t talk to anyone about how we were really feeling, and forget crying because that was never a thing that we did. Or we would work ourselves up for such a long time until there was no other way to let the pain out then to involuntarily cry. We were so stuck in our way, overanalyzing how we were feeling and the decision of keeping every little feeling inside was easier then to try and explain to someone how we truly felt and why. This way of dealing with stress and anxiety came with us to college and is still how we deal with it to this day.
The issue with holding everything inside however, got harder to do in the beginning of sophomore year. That summer before, I had been diagnosed with an Inflammatory Bowel Disease called Ulcerative Colitis. This disease is lifelong and effects your colon with ulcers and much more. But I would come to find out that the two things that trigger symptoms would be stress and anxiety. And boy did I really find that out the hard way. Classes and lacrosse started up again and the stress and anxiety of having to juggle everything was getting to me again. And on top of that the stress of having a disease that physically and emotionally affects you was hard to deal with. But the two went hand in hand and it was a vicious cycle of stressing over life which affected how I felt and then that made me stress and anxious even more and it would just continue. Fatigue and pain were the worst symptoms that came from the vicious cycle and on top of that, the disease is invisible. No one truly knew how I felt, I looked fine on the outside so why wasn’t I fine? I felt like people didn’t believe me, that I was always lying about how I felt. But those people weren’t the ones at the doctor’s appointment and getting the blood work results that clearly showed something not right was going on. So, I continued to keep things inside and deal with the stress and anxiety how we knew best.
After physically and mentally not feeling well for over a year I finally decided to stop talking about what I was going to do to get better and finally did it. So, junior year I headed to the counseling center and went to counseling every other week for the whole first semester. It was helpful in the way that I finally got to the bottom of where all the anxiety that I have comes from. However, it was a hard process for me to deal with because I did not like diving deep into myself to pull out painful memories or realizations from my youth that still affect me to this day. So, after the semester was up I stopped going to counseling, which meant I had to figure out other alternatives to help with managing stress and anxiety.
Fast forward to senior year and I have learned to not let assignments and classes get to me. I learned to do assignments earlier instead of waiting, timing out my days for when to work on things and went crazy with color coding my classes and my calendar with dates for when assignments are due. I realized that lacrosse practices should be used as escapes from the real world and a way to destress. And I also learned that my health is more important than worrying and being stressed all the time. So, the less stress and anxious I get the better I feel. Though this is harder to be done then said, it is something to continue working on. The last thing that I learned is that it is okay to open up to people that are close to you about how you are feeling. I still struggle with this today but, the more I practice it and the more I get off my chest, the better I feel.
I wrote this letter to freshman year me because I wish I used the resources that were in front of me sooner. That it didn’t have to take me getting diagnosed with something and struggling for a while to actually go get help. And that having something invisible does not mean that it has to be stressful, it just means you are a lot stronger than people realize. I wish I knew then what I know now, but I am glad that I learned these things along the way.
Over winter break I had a couple anxiety attacks and did not know how to get through them other than writing what I was feeling on my phone. Here is how I felt:
When I get really anxious, I feel like someone is strangling me. My throat hurts and I feel like there is a sharp rock in it. My head starts to fill with pressure around my eyes like the flood gates are going to start flowing any second. I refuse to cry. I refuse to let the water flow. The pain goes away, for a few seconds. But It all happens so fast, it comes and goes so many times and then before I know it there’s no more pain, but the flood gates have opened. I’m crying and I don’t know why.
Why are there tears?
How did this happen?
Why is there no pain?
Then I realize I’m crying and snap back into it and realize my throat still hurts and there’s still pressure. It didn’t go away, but something was added and something is different. My chest is where this new pain is and it hurts badly. And it continues to hurt way after the flood gates have closed. Like someone is standing on my chest and no matter what I do I just can’t push them off. I try not to think about the pain but it’s there. And the less I think at all the less it hurts and then it’s gone.
Until the next moment, I have another episode.
But the stream the tears made are still there and I’m just left wondering what made this happen?
Why did the pain for tears help make the other pain go away?
~ Ashley Albright
January 20, 2020
BLOG POST #31
Sometimes, I am asked the age-old question of queerness, “When did you know you were gay?” and the answer always varies. Sometimes I can pinpoint an exact moment and, more often than not, I think that I have always known. It has always been something at the back of my mind. Like a shadow that lurked behind me.
As a kid and well into high school, I was afraid of what being queer meant and what it would mean for me. I stayed in the closet because I thought that being gay was going to change everything in my life, and I didn’t want that to happen. I didn’t want people to view me differently, and I didn’t want to view myself as different.
After coming out and going through the experience, there are some things that I wish someone had told me years ago. This is advice I know now that I wish I had gotten back then.
Everyone’s journey is different.
I will dole out advice for coming out, but in reality, everyone’s experiences are different. I know that I was lucky enough to find support when and where I came out, but this is not always the reality. I cannot provide advice without acknowledge the privilege I had and have as a cis white woman. I cannot give a how-to guide, but I can give advice I wish I’d had. I would also like to acknowledge that while I stress being free and open about who you are, I know that this is not always a safe option for every person. I would advise finding a community or safe place where you feel comfortable coming out.
I would also like to stress that not being out does not make you any less of a queer person.
Treating it as secret is worse.
As any secret can be stressful, hiding this part of yourself with people you love is worse. As a teen, the years between when I came to the absolute conclusion that I was a lesbian and when I came out to the world were the most stressful and confining years of my life.
Holding it in became unhealthy in a way that I would feel incredibly guilty every time I would talk to the people I love. I felt as though I was betraying them by hiding this part of me. It was like a shadow that would trail behind me everywhere I went and I was terrified of what would happen if someone saw.
It was the people I was most worried about that welcomed that part of me with happiness and acceptance. I was lucky to have these people supporting me.
Labels aren’t important.
Lots of people think that you have to define your sexuality. That you need to be either straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual. This is not the case. Sexuality is a broad spectrum, and you don’t need to label yourself as one thing. Your sexuality can pull and change and you can exist without giving yourself one label and feeling the need to stick to it.
That’s not to say I have regrets about embracing the term ‘lesbian’, I have just realized that things don’t have to be so set in stone. Figuring it all out is difficult enough, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation. As long as you can be true to yourself, that is the only thing that really matters.
There is no one way to be gay.
I think this is a difficult one for a lot of people – including myself. Representation in mainstream media for the LGBTQ+ community is slim enough, and mainly provides one view of gay or queer.
I thought that when I came out, I needed to be exactly what people expected, maybe I’d have to shave my head and start wearing flannels or something. However, as I grow and learn I come to realize that there is no proper way to being gay.
Being gay is not a coat that you wear, it’s a part of who you are. You don’t have to be a certain way to be gay. I don’t have to be anything then myself.
You are still you.
This is one that I think I struggled with the most.
I had a hard time accepting that nothing would change after I came out as lesbian. I thought that everything would be different. I thought that people would treat me different, not even necessarily that they would treat me poorly, just that things would change.
Coming out was one of the most liberating moments of my life. It felt as though a weight lifted off my shoulders and I could finally breathe.
I came out at the beginning of my Freshman year of college, in a meeting with my lacrosse team. I remember being terrified of what would happen – the people I was telling would have to be my family for the next four years. I remember feeling scared that they would not accept who I am and that I might have to stop playing my sport because of it.
My experience changed my life and I cannot picture who I would be without it. I realized that I was still the same person as before, but now everyone knew me. My team has been accepting and has never treated me any different. Coming out to my lacrosse team gave me the confidence to tell my family and the world.
I could finally be me.
January 16, 2020
BLOG POST #30
Wake Up Call
I was a student athlete.
I used to introduce myself as a student athlete because I was proud of that title and what it took for me to earn it.
I am still proud to have carried that title. I am even more proud of the characteristics and lessons that it has taught me, and how those things translate to who I am as a person.
I am no longer a student athlete. I gave up that title and the praise and perks that come with it because I believe that I have grown into someone who has even greater power outside of the pitch.
I am writing this to say that it is okay to want to be more. It is okay to want more time for academic and personal growth. That is what college is for. When our sport is done, we will all be professionals at something, but for most of us the word “athlete” will not follow our professional title.
So, respecting that fact.
I asked myself what am I doing today to make myself a better life professional?
Face it those days are coming.
Am I ready?
Am I making the kinds of decisions that will prepare me for my future?
If not, when will I start?
Am I using the fact that I am an athlete as an excuse?
I used it as an excuse for 16.5 years of my life and am endlessly grateful for the experiences and relationships those years gave me. Then I woke up, grew up, and realized now is my time to be a professional. Not a professional athlete, but a health-care professional who changes people’s lives.
I asked myself if not now, then when?
When will I start doing the things that will make me successful in my career, not just in my sport?
When will I start advocating for my future?
These are questions we all must eventually ask ourselves.
When I gave honest thought to how I portioned the time in my day between my sport, my professional development, and my personal development, I was not satisfied with where my ratio lied.
So, I advocated for myself. I stopped passively letting the time in my day float by using soccer as an excuse for inaction in my professional and personal life and I started doing.
Be an advocate for yourself and your time. They are both precious.
~ Olivia Trombley
January 6, 2020
BLOG POST #29
With the new year and new semester comes new goals, resolutions and hopes. I’ve noticed that usually people make these goals concrete, such as workout regularly or keep a certain GPA. These are great goals to have, but I feel that at the root of these specific and tangible goals is mental health. I’ve always been the type of person to set super high standards for myself and place intense pressure on myself. This year in 2020, my goal is to take a step back and focus on what makes my body and mind feel the best. I tend to overwork and exhaust myself to the point where the stress makes me physically sick and affects my performance academically and athletically. With this as a new goal of mine, I’m not exactly sure what will work yet, and that is okay. Here are some thoughts I’ve had that have either helped me in the past, or small changes I’ll make to put to myself first this year.
- When scheduling your day, plan time for just YOU! Often times, I tend to easily become too consumed in whatever I am working on, and find it difficult to take a step back. I tend to feel guilty if I’m not accomplishing something and just hanging out. I’ve found that putting “me time” on a to-do list or a schedule helps get rid of that guilt and reminds me I can’t function at my best if I don’t feel my best. For me, this time looks like lighting candles in a clean room while relaxing on my phone watching videos or napping. For you this could be taking a long hot shower or bath, making a playlist of new music, going for a walk or run, or whatever else makes you feel recharged.
- Be able to identify what people in your life keep you grounded and help you feel positive even when your mind is flooded with negative thoughts. This may be harder than it sounds. I’ve experienced times where I go to someone for advice or support and left the conversation feeling worse. You could have a really close friend who you do everything with, but has no idea how to comfort your stress, anxiety or depression. Although, this may be your best friend, they may not be the person you should rely on to seek guidance, which is a hard lesson I have had to learn. It may take time to be able to know who these one or more people who are able promote positive thoughts within yourself.
- Reframe your thoughts. This takes a lot of self-reflection before you can even get to unraveling the negative thoughts you have. For me, I have found my negatives thoughts stem from selfishness. For example, if I’m having a bad practice and my confidence begins to plummet. My thoughts tend to sound like this, “I can’t drop this pass because I don’t want to look bad.” It’s taken me a full year to understand that I perform the best when my motivation is not selfish and self-consumed. As freshman year ended, I recognized that when I play my best I am playing for my team. My thoughts sound more like, “I’m going to stop this attacker for my goalie who has made 5 saves in a row keeping us in the game.” Or, “I’m going to perform well for my injured teammate who cheers the entire game despite her own situation.” While this is how my thoughts affect me, maybe you play too much for others instead of seeking to please yourself.
These are small changes to my routine, or thought process that I plan to keep my mind and body feeling its best, but everyone’s mental health journey is different. I feel that 2019 was a lot of reflection, learning and questioning that has now led me to become committed to making changes. I think it is important to remember that mental health does not need to be improved because you are weak, but in order to feel your best. It is an ongoing process that needs constant reinforcement or repetition to be successful. As an athlete, we practice the same skills day after day without thinking about it, and if we treat our mental health with the same respect it can only impact us positively.
~ Leigha Johnson
December 9, 2019
ANCHOR BLOG #28
ITS OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP
For someone who struggles with mental health it is hard to ask for help. You feel like you are admitting defeat, you will be judged, and you will seem weak for not being able to deal with a “small thing” like mental health. But like the common phrase “ Its okay not to be okay”; Its okay to ask for help. Below are ways are combat the feelings of weakness.
- Finding an Anchor.
An anchor is someone you trust and who you feel confident in sharing things that you might not traditionally share with a coach or someone you barely know. An anchor can be a friend, classmate, or teammate.
Click here for a list of the 2019-20 Anchor Team
- Taking advantage of resources available on campus.
The counseling center is a great avenue to talk to someone outside of your sport. It provides an unbiased perspective coming from a counselor. And it is led by you, you can talk about anything. From something like test anxiety and how to cope with it to how to cope with anxiety and depression. It is located in the Student Services Building on the second floor. You can schedule appointments over the phone or in person. Coming from a person who uses it as a resource it is truly a great avenue
University Counseling Center Phone: (616) 331-3266
- Finding resources off campus.
There are many resources off campus. One great resource off campus is Pine Rest Psychiatric Urgent Care Facility. They see a range of people, starting at age 18 to 65 and those who are experiencing a range of symptoms; depression, anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, trouble managing daily activities. Outpatient therapy is also available for those just looking for counseling. There is a location in Downtown Grand Rapids, Grandville, and Caledonia.
More information on the Pine Rest Psychiatric Urgent Care Facility
Mentioned above are the few ways you can get help both on and off campus. Let’s reverse the stigma of asking for help and make it acceptable.
~ Callie Rich
December 2, 2019
ANCHOR BLOG #27
I have played basketball ever since I can remember. My dad is a women’s basketball coach at the collegiate level and so I was always in the gym playing or watching. Lots of kids have dreams of being an astronaut or a doctor when they grow up, but mine was to play basketball in college.
Whether or not this was because I wanted my dad to be proud of me, or to prove to myself that I could do it, it became my goal for all of my years growing up. I thought I had it all figured out in high school when things were going smoothly, and mentally and physically I felt ahead of the game. I was doing well, so I thought that was all that mattered.
My dad always told me that basketball was about the team and the game was more than basketball. He told me it was about getting up, fighting every day, and putting your teammates ahead of you. I thought I was doing this every day, but I hadn’t been tested yet.
When I got to college, I thought I would come in and put into practice all of these things I had learned my whole life and it would come naturally. But I soon figured out I had a lot of growing to do. I learned that being a leader means serving your team on and off the court whether you are first off the bench or last off the bench. I learned loving your team means cheering absolutely as hard as you can even if you do not get in the game. I learned taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health. I am far from having it all figured out, but I learned if I put my teammates before myself, I have the first step done.
~ Emma Wright
November 25, 2019
BLOG POST #26
It’s About More Than the Game
I have played soccer since I was 5. It wasn’t until high school that I was seen as a soccer player, I was just a little girl thinking about what she wanted to be when she grew up.
In high school I was always at soccer. I travel around the country with my team and play a sport that we loved. However, I was seen as a soccer player not that little girl and now that girl had people waiting on to commit to a University. Almost everything I did was based off of soccer. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that, I was still in school, trying to figure out what career I might want. I was still in student council organizing events in the community but that didn't matter much as long as it wasn’t hindering soccer. I graduated high school early, leaving behind my team that I had played with for 4 years, coaches that helped and continue to help me reach goals and memories that I would do anything to relive. But it was time for a new chapter.
At GV the culture for all athletes is to WIN. It is expected of just about every team to win, win games, win conference, make post season and hopefully win the Natty. It is easy to get caught up in that and base everything on if you won that game or scored that goal, made that tackle, scored that basket or ran fast enough. But what many including myself fail to realize is that, that game 15 years from now really won’t matter to much but that teammate that became like a sister because she was always there to encourage you will .That teammate that will be the best man at your wedding because he was there for you when you were struggling will matter. The support that your parents or your teammates parents gave when yours couldn’t make it to insure you felt at home will. The struggles that you work through to shape you into the person that you are becoming matters. Most athletes have had some of their biggest success or greatest heartaches through their sport and the things learned from those matters. I love the game but the lessons and relationships I have gained from it, is something I love far more.
I am Chelsea Graves, a woman, daughter, sister, friend
I am NOT just a soccer player.
November 18, 2019
BLOG POST #25
“the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”
Being a student athlete gives us a wonderful opportunity to learn and develop emotional intelligence. We are a group of people that share a common trait of competitiveness and a common goal of wanting to win. Each game, practice, workout is charged with many different emotions such as frustration, happiness, anger, and regret etc. Every Interaction we have with our teammates, coaches, fans, families, and friends are also filled with emotion. It is key to have control over our emotions in any one of those situations. Once we realize that is we can only control our reaction to adverse situations is when emotional Intelligence kicks in. Instead of using frustration or anger to make us get out of character and make irrational decisions, we should use it as fuel and let that emotion charge our completive greatness.
At times I struggled with this myself. Early on in my career I fell victim to letting things get me out of character that I had no control over. I would sit in my bed late at night and be ashamed of how I handled situations. It was not until I had to take a step back and a look in the mirror at myself. What I can do differently in order to help me grow not only as an athlete but as a person? It was Emotional Intelligence. Once I realized I can only control what I can control my attitude and overall outlook on life changed completely for the better.
Remember emotional Intelligence is not suppressing your emotions but being in full control of them. Having the ability to express yourself how you want while using emotions as an asset instead of a liability.
November 11, 2019
ANCHOR BLOG #24
At just 14 years old, college soccer recruitment had already started and I was in the process of discovering where I’d want to spend my college years. While it’s not that I didn’t want to continue my playing career, there were expectations that I would play soccer beyond high school. Expectations from my family, parents, friends, coaches, teammates, and so on. Expectations to make a decision that would possibly dictate the rest of my life at such a naïve age. Expectations to play for a Division I program. Expectations to receive a scholarship. Expectations to thrive in such a stressful environment. Expectations to never give up. Expectations to perform well and fear failure. The list can go on, but as most athletes may know, society places unwritten standards and expectations on who we’re supposed to be.
I committed to Xavier University at 15 years old, an age where I had been overruled by expectations from other people. I stuck to that commitment through November of my freshman year there. As I was still trying to navigate through my first semester at college, I knew something didn’t feel right. I wasn’t thriving in my new environment and struggled to perform to my greatest potential. The expectations and pressure to be great began to take a toll on my mentality, emotions, and performance. I eventually thought I didn’t even want to play soccer anymore. I often kept to myself about these feelings, fearful of letting down the people who had such high expectations of me. But at the end of my freshman fall season, I had a conversation with my Xavier coaches and was told that they’ve noticed a difference in my personality and character, and I wasn’t the same person they once knew. I told them they were right; I didn’t feel like the same person anymore, I was unhappy with where I was at and I needed to make a change. I remember being so scared to tell my parents I wanted to leave Xavier. Again, afraid to let them down. Afraid to let down every single expectation other people had of me. What were people going to think when I let go of a full-ride scholarship at a Division I program and “gave up” on what I thought was going to be the next four years of my life? Contrary to what I believed, I had the greatest support system filled with people who wanted me to be happy and successful – my parents, teammates, former coaches, and the Xavier coaches.
Within the next week, I decided to transfer to Grand Valley State University for the upcoming winter semester. The transition was a breeze, I blended well with the new program, and I felt a lot more comfortable with my new home. I knew I was definitely beginning to feel like myself again. However, following my sophomore year at GVSU, playing soccer began to feel like a chore and an obligation, rather than a joyful stress-escape it once was. I felt like I was defined by the sport, and I was just a college soccer player. I felt like I had lost my identity outside of soccer, and often questioned my purpose beyond the game. I really didn’t know what made me, me. I struggled to find additional hobbies, interests, and passions because of how time-consuming soccer was. Everyday felt repetitive – soccer, class, homework, studying, sleep, repeat. My motivation to do anything really began to lack and I wasn’t properly preparing myself for my junior season. My head coach, Jeff, had a huge impact on helping me discover who I was beyond soccer. Reaching out to him for advice and guidance helped get me through these struggles. I really had to step back and realize what things or activities brought me joy, and what brought out the best version of myself. Through GVSU soccer’s summer ID camps, I found great interest in coaching, and teaching in general for that matter. Coaching young players brought me so much fulfilment, as I knew I was helping and encouraging them to develop into the best players they could be. Similarly, I had a growing interest in microbiology after taking the course over the summer. I expressed to my professor how much I loved the subject and would enjoy possibly being a teacher someday. I realized that I found such joy in sharing my knowledge with others to help them succeed. Jeff offered me to assist him in coaching with a local soccer club called Michigan Fire, while my microbiology professor offered me a teaching assistant position for the next semester. Because I reached out for help and expressed my interests, things just seemed to fall into place right when I needed them to.
Now, beyond playing college soccer, I have a greater sense of what my purpose is aside from my athletic abilities – I get to mentor and inspire young girls through coaching and use my passion for teaching to help college students better understand microbiology. As for coaching, it’s been the greatest privilege to see my little superstars develop and grow each day at practice and in games. They listen to what I have to say and really concentrate on what I teach them. They excitedly scream “Coach Caitie!” when I arrive at practices and games, and always swarm me with hugs and smiles. It’s truly rewarding to see their passion for the sport blossom, partly due to the impact I’ve had on them just by being their coach. What they don’t know is the impact they’ve had on me. I always look forward to seeing their shining smiles and hearing their goofy 8-year-old jokes after a long day of my own schoolwork, a tough day of classes, or a strenuous practice. They make things so simple. They even came to one of my soccer games with decorated posters that I now keep in my locker. These little girls have supported and impacted me just as much as I have them. They’ve all given me a greater sense of what my purpose is. And as for teaching, my students confidently rely on me to ask questions and seek more knowledge. They challenge me to be a better learner, student, and teacher. They’ve strengthened my passion for teaching even more by being appreciative and giving thanks when I can help them be successful – which has impacted me the most.
Through all these experiences, I gained interest in the Lakers Listen Anchor Team program and wanted to support other athletes who may be struggling to find an identity or purpose outside of their sport, and bring awareness to the expectations and pressures many student-athletes may face before and during college. It’s important to remember a few things. One, you have a greater purpose beyond playing your college sport. Sports do not define you as a human. You are more than an athlete. Our purpose is based on who we are, not what we do. It’s important to share your experiences and purpose with others so they can find their purpose too. Second, your sport is only a small part of you. Chances are, after 4 years of playing your collegiate sport, you are moving into the real world. Finding additional hobbies, interests, and passions will help carry you beyond college. Next, it’s difficult to find happiness doing things other people want us to do or to be someone they want us to be. Set your own expectations for yourself, and don’t let other people set them for you. And most importantly, know that you are surrounded by a network of people who support your success outside of athletics. People who want to help shape and build your purpose and meaning in this world. So, ask for help. Branch out and find activities or passions that bring out the best side of you.
November 5, 2019
BLOG POST #23
“It’s one of them things that no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we’re all human at the end of the day, We all got feelings . . . all of that. Sometimes . . . it gets the best of you, there times everything in the whole world’s on top of you.”
Those are the words of San Antonio Spurs’ star Demar DeRozan. DeRozan is just one of many athletes who are starting the conversation about mental wellness. The conversation that we’ve been trying to start but have been too scared to, has been started. Mental health and wellness is not just an athlete thing, but it is something that we especially struggle with talking about. There are times when we think about everything we have to do and become so overwhelmed and end up sitting there for hours doing nothing. The feeling that the world is on top of you is not something unique to Demar, we all experience it and in one way or another we all carry on and get through it.
I’ve learned in my four years in college, the most important thing is your relationships and those you surround yourself with. The people you keep close to you are people that care and are willing to listen and help you organize your thoughts when you can’t do it yourself. Showing up to practice and competition everyday with a game face on is difficult. When there are other things on your mind, top tier performance is almost impossible. So, the only way to clear your mind and refocus is to deal with it directly. I know, easier said than done, but it can be done. Sometimes we just need to talk it out, or take a mental break. The hardest thing to do is recognize you need it and to take action.
I hope we as athletes can inspire each other to end the stigma around mental health and realize its okay not to be okay!
The conversation has been started, now you just have to join in!!
~ Abbey Clasen
October 28, 2019
BLOG POST #22
3 THINGS I WISH EVERYONE UNDERSTOOD...
1. It’s okay not to be okay. If you are suffering, you are not alone...
- Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
- Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.
- Internationally, depression is one of the most debilitating conditions on the world, with severe depression rated in the same disability category as terminal stage cancer.
2. It’s okay to see a therapist. There is a stigma that seeing a therapist is a sign of weakness. Some people think that the only reason people see a therapist is because they don’t have enough friends to talk to, or that no one cares enough about their problems to listen. The fact is, it is recommended that everyone see a therapist. Seeing a psychologist can help you handle your emotions or stressors, even if there isn’t a life altering event. Talking to someone can help you find your passions and your purpose, and it can also help you problem solve better than you would be able to on your own.
3. If medicine is what you need, that is okay too. This was the hardest for me to understand. As someone who has had an ongoing struggle with depression and anxiety, I liked to believe that if I practiced self-care and took time for myself, that I could feel better on my own. But I learned the hard way that this isn’t the case for everyone. Researchers believe that depression is affected by brain chemicals, nerve cell connections, nerve cell growth, and the functioning of nerve circuits in the brain. Because of this, antidepressants can help a lot of people begin to feel back to normal. For example, the medication that I am on works by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitter’s serotonin and norepinephrine, which help regulate my mood and may block pain signals traveling through my brain. This was hard for me to realize and accept, until I talked with my parents about it and they made the comparison to heart medication. My dad consistently runs every morning, sees a personal trainer each week, and eats a healthy diet. Yet because of his genetics, he is still prone to high blood pressure and heart disease. He is doing everything in his control to minimize some of the health problems he could face, but has also taken medication for over the past 10 years because some of it is simply out of his control. Just like my dad, I can practice self-care and talk to a therapist, but medication is still necessary for me. I wish that everyone, including myself, would stop viewing this as a weakness, but more as a normality. Mental illness is an illness like any other.
~ Abbey Pierce
October 21, 2019
BLOG POST #21
'The persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own effort or skill.'
I read about this in a tweet this summer and immediately realized that this is often how I feel when it comes to sports.
People back home were so proud when I committed to college. When I finally took off for Grand Valley people made sure to tell me how good I was going to do. I would start of course. Average a double double easily. Be an All American obviously.
The reality was that when I played against actual college athletes, I couldn’t compete. Freshman year transition was tough. The expectations versus the reality left me feeling like a fraud. I didn’t even think I deserved the chance to be a college athlete.
While this may be pretty common for freshmen, this tweet really stuck with me this summer because I realized I was feeling this way again.
Going into senior year I thought I had it all figured out (ya right). Parents were talking about how excited they were to see us play and I couldn’t agree more. Our team had put in the work during the summer to get better and it was showing. But suddenly, I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there again. If I had a bad workout. If I didn’t go get in an extra lift. If I only did 30 minutes of cardio instead of 45. I felt like my freshman self again and I doubted my ability to make an impact on our team this year.
Finally, we had our first Lakers Listen meeting of the year. Anthony decided to talk to us about finding our purpose outside of athletics. To find meaning in life beyond dribbling a basketball, scoring a goal, or out swimming our opponent (I’ll let him explain in his own words). And it hit me that I had started to lose focus again.
I was measuring the wrong things and trying to find meaning in the wrong places. My coach always gives these two pieces of advice (well he gives a lot of advice but these two have really stuck).
Don’t listen to outside noise. As well intentioned as they may be, most people do not understand the dynamics of college athletics. You can’t let people redirect your focus.
Work while you wait. You can’t control the amount of playing time you get or how good the people around you are. But you can control how much effort you put in everyday and the attitude you bring to the table.
This advice made a huge impact on me early in my career and it turns out I needed it just as much three years later. I felt like an imposter because I had begun to define myself solely as a basketball player. I tied my own self worth to whether or not I made a layup.
Feelings of inadequacy and lapses in confidence aren’t a direct reflection of our abilities. The sport you play does not define who you are as a person. The impact you make is far from limited by the player you become.
I love basketball because of the lifelong bond I will share with my teammates and the opportunity I have to make a positive impact on them. I’m thankful for the endless people in the community who have supported us, cooked for us (!), and opened up their lives to us. I am grateful for all of the unique opportunities that basketball has provided me and the memories it has given me. I am humbled to be part of a program so much bigger than anything I could ever do alone.
~ Cassidy Boensch
October 17, 2019
ANCHOR BLOG #20
THE VERSATILITY OF SELF-CARE
Self care has become something that is constantly stressed to college students. Like many of my teammates, I struggle with what self care looks like for me. Is it napping, doing a face mask, watching Netflix, or anything in between? We often look at self care as something that needs to be accomplished or checked off of a to do list. But self care looks different for every person and isn’t one size fits all. Some self care is more involved, maybe going out to dinner, getting your nails done, or maybe going to see a movie. While others want to lay in bed and sleep or watch Netflix to unwind.
As someone who has yet to find what my form of self care is, trial and error is important. Trying out as many types of self care that you can is vital in developing your form of self care. I am a high stress person and I tend to compartmentalize my stress or even my feelings. When I don’t deal with my stressors I tend to break down when it all gets to be too much. I’m still trying to find a form of self care that can help me de-stress in a healthy way.
Find time this long weekend to discover your form of self care!
~ Rhys Green
October 7, 2019
ANCHOR BLOG #19
What does self-worth mean to you?
To me, self-worth is knowing where you stand in any sort of relationship and setting standards on how YOU should be treated. For me, that is feeling valued as a person, learning to love yourself, and knowing I am capable of any opportunity given (its different for everyone). There are days where I am confident as can be and know why I am here today but other days it’s hard to find that place I fit into. The hardest part of self-worth is getting there. If coming from a bad relationship (with coaches, teams, schools, etc) or toxic friendships, or any situation where you are shoved to the ground, to build yourself back up again feels like climbing the steepest mountain. You feel lost and don’t know where to go from there but even when you are lost you keep walking. And with every step you learn something new. You learn how you want to be treated by others, you learn how to treat others too, you learn how to take time out of your day and do what makes YOU happy.
Coming from an athlete point of view, self-worth isn’t determined by the goal you missed, the ball you dropped, the moment you didn’t match or beat a time, or the skill you’ve been working on for months and still messed it up in the meet. Its neither defined by the number of awards or achievements throughout your career. We believe that if don’t meet those times or skills that we won’t be liked, and sadly its sometimes true. Self-worth isn’t a competition and you don’t need to prove it to anyone.
I know I do this a lot, but I sabotage my own self-worth when I compare myself to others on social media. Its already difficult when you feel like you’re never good enough and something can be so hard in your daily life then you look down at your phone and see people on top of the world looking like there isn’t a problem in the world. It’s hard not to socially compare yourself when that’s all you are surrounded by. But what we see on the face of that screen is just the surface of who we are. We are so much more than a post or picture and so much more going on behind that.
The first step is becoming aware of why you think you deserve this self-worth. These are little tips that you could try….
- Keep a journal. Write down anything that comes to mind. And for all the negatives come up with a positive whether a quote, something you can do, anything YOU need to put yourself in the right mindset again.
- Surround yourself by others who compliment your growth. Quality over quantity.
- Recognize that social media isn't its all cracked up to be
- Set standards on how you feel like you should be treated
- Focus on gratitude. Take time out of your day counting what you have and what you are capable of doing. My favorite quote is “talk about your blessings, not your problems”
- Self-care days = BEST DAYS
- Forgive. Forgive yourself for wrongdoings and move on. Don’t dwell on the little things that don’t deserve your time. That goes with people in your life as well.
- Most importantly GIVE THE CREDIT TO YOURSELF THAT YOU DESERVE. Notice all the good things you have done and all the accomplishments you have gone through because I know for sure that wasn’t easy.
I could probably go on and on so I'll end it here. If you are feeling like you are struggling with this then try something different. Maybe take some of these ideas into consideration and see if it makes a difference. May not work for everyone but you never know if you don’t try. Change is scary shit but it’s the first step to realizing who you are. One skill at a time, one blessing at a time, one moment at a time. Deep breathes and YOU can do this.
Also two great articles if you want to read more!!!
September 30, 2019
BLOG POST #18
There are a couple of things as I enter my senior year, I look back on and wish I knew sooner. I feel like everyone who reaches this same point in their life looks back and has at least one or two major regrets. These past four years at Grand Valley have been nothing but amazing, I have developed the most amazing friendships, met people who have inspired me to reach for nothing but greatness once I graduate, and I have been able to play/succeed in the one sport I truly love. With all of this said, there are still parts of me that wish I could go back and do it all over again. There are so many amazing things I could have done if I just applied myself a little bit more, and that is why I have decided to write this blog. I hope that this will just reach one underclassman and will inspire them to be better than me. I only have two major regrets that I want to stress:
#1 Not reaching out for help early
#2 Hanging onto the little things for way too long
Number one, not reaching out for help early. This is one of those regrets that I can look back on and wish I knew in high school. I am not going to sit here and bash my teenage years because I did not have it that bad. I had an amazing family with two loving parents and great siblings, I didn’t do too bad in school, and I was friends with some pretty awesome people. With this being said, I wish I knew that reaching out for help was not a weakness – but a strength. I wish I knew because when I got to college, I needed help but struggled to get it because I did not want to be seen as too emotional, too weak, or not good enough. After my dad died, I had no choice but to seek help, or I was going to explode. My mind was racing 1,000,000 miles per minute and I had zero control of my emotions. It was no longer something that could be ignored, my mind was pushed past the point of breaking, yet no one around me knew. I was so used to hiding emotions growing up that I did not even know that being vulnerable was an option. Once I finally hit the point of no return, I racked up the courage to tell someone “I need help”. I was so nervous and afraid of what might happen but still, I asked. I finally had this weight lifted off of my shoulders and it’s like I could breathe again. All of this because I reached out to one person, all of this because I was no longer afraid to do it. I was a junior in college when this realization finally occurred to me. I was 20 years old, wishing I could go back to my 14-year-old self and tell her that it’s okay to need help. Once I asked for help, it was like the resources were never-ending. I started realizing more and more about myself and started feeling like I was going to be okay. And again, all of this because I asked just one person for help.
Number two, hanging onto the little things for way too long. I feel like there are a million different Tumblr quotes about letting the little things in life go, but in reality, I think a majority of people just put those as their screen savers and still yell at the person who cut them off on the road. In my opinion, the little things do not seem like little things until they all add up into one big disaster. If I were to have opened my eyes and known to separate the little from the big, I would have been a lot happier and had a lot less conflict. These little things I am talking about do not just include someone cutting you off on the road but include things like someone not responding to your texts or calls, a friend eating a bigger bite of your food then you would have liked or missing a 5-point assignment when the two lowest grades get dropped. These little things happen in my life almost daily, but once I took a step back and realized it was affecting my mood 10x more than it ever should have, I was able to flip a switch and begin letting things go.
Like I said, my time in college has been nothing short of memorable and exciting. I have grown so much as a person and have become someone I am proud to be. 16 years I have had the pleasure to play the sport of lacrosse, and this season coming up in the spring will be my 17th and final year. I have done everything I could to be successful on the field, but as my years of playing sports come to an end, I look back and wish I took my life off the field just as serious. Ever since I can remember I have had a lacrosse stick in my hand and a coach telling me what to do with it. Flash forward to now, I am about to start my senior season at the age of 21. I have finally reached a point in time where if I do not succeed - there is no next year. There is no “I will get’em next time”, there is no “next year will be different”, there is just this one last year, so I must begin seeing my life in a new light.
May 20, 2019
BLOG POST #17
Basketball has been a staple in my life since, well, forever. My earliest memory was when I was about 5 and my brother was coaching me through dribbling drills in the kitchen (obviously my parents weren’t home). Then in the 4th grade my mom started coaching me and a group of my friends and continued to do so up through high school. Even my dad spent an entire night constructing a wooden hand so that he could mimic how it would feel to play against taller players. Ever since 6th grade my goal was to play college basketball and my family could not have been a more supportive group of people to have by my side. Growing up my parents always taught me, mostly by example, to work hard at everything. They never put pressure on me to be the best but had an amazing way of teaching me what it took to be my best. All of their support and those extra workouts worked, I committed to Grand Valley State University the summer after my sophomore year of high school. I was young but I knew what I wanted and GV was it, I thought I was ready.
August 23, 2016. The day I moved into Laker Village. A day filled with excitement about college and dread about college basketball. The kid that was full of hope no longer existed. I was full of anxiety about performing as an athlete and stress about building a medical school application. But the last thing I did was talk about it. Who was I supposed to tell? Displaying vulnerability to a teammate was not an option. I do remember trying to talk to the pre-med advisors only to feel more defeated that I would never be a competitive applicant. Finally, my parents, I never wanted to turn to them because I knew how hard they were already working. I had always avoided adding to their stress. That used to mean doing my homework without objection, however, with age it had turned into this feeling that I needed to deal with all of my problems on my own. I wanted to be independent and I thought that was what it took.
After all those years of working together towards college basketball how was I supposed to tell them I didn’t know if I even wanted to play?
So instead, I spent my freshman year of college repeating those three little words with a smile on my face.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
And I convinced people, sometimes maybe even myself, that I truly was. The problem was my anxiety, my grief, all of my feelings, never left my head. I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t eat, and I certainly didn’t perform well. I was surviving but I was not thriving and I truly didn’t know why. I couldn’t understand why no one else seemed to be struggling. I remember thinking that everyone was just waiting for me too fail and it felt like I was all alone.
The next part is why it took me so long to write this post.
I remember about half way through the summer after my freshman year of college I was in the gym at 7 am with my teammates and it dawned on me, I was enjoying basketball again. I don’t remember when it changed. There wasn’t something that made me love basketball again overnight. It was slow, so very slow. I don’t have this huge revelation to give you. But I do know that I started talking more, to my mom, to my roommates, even to my brothers. Sometimes I didn’t even say what was bugging me, just that I had a rough day. What I found out was that most people, especially college athletes, have felt the same way at some point in their lives. I’ve been searching for something that didn’t sound so cliche but honestly “letting it all out” was revolutionary for me. It's important to note that this may not have the same effect for everyone but no one has to go through anything alone.
To wrap it up here are some arbitrary thoughts that I think are important.
- It takes a village. Surround yourself with people that bring out the best in you and support you when you’re not your best. Quality really is better than quantity.
- Success is simple, not easy. This one is courtesy of my coach. For example, talking to someone and being vulnerable about how you’re feeling is a simple step to take but it’s far from easy. So when you fail after five attempts don’t stop, it might take ten.
- Look for joy in what you’re doing. Not everyday is rainbows and butterflies and that’s okay but try to look for the good. And hey, sometimes making a bad day just mediocre is good enough.
- You can’t move mountains overnight. If you are searching for great things don’t expect to find them right away. Appreciate the process. Have someone who knows your goals and can help put your process into perspective.
- Try new things.You’re in college what better time than now? IMO: Who cares if it's lame to wear crocs to the club. It’s also super comfortable.
I would encourage anyone that hasn’t been feeling like themselves lately to reach out to a friend. Talk to them, let them know what’s been going on. Remember that there is always someone willing to listen.
May 6, 2019
BLOG POST #16
You Can’t Pour from an Empty Cup
A couple years I was having a conversation with a coach/mentor and he gave me this metaphor that has stuck with me through my career as student-athlete here at GVSU. It goes like this…
There is this bamboo called Giant Timber Bamboo. Farmer’s will plant this tiny little seed and begin to water it. After a year of watering, do you know what they see? Dirt, no growth. They continue for year two and three of watering this little seed and still no growth. It is not until after four full years of watering that this little seed will sprout. And once it reaches the surface, it will grow 90 feet in 60 days. Enormous growth - 90 feet in 60 days.
I have used this metaphor and applied it to all aspects of life - both being a student and being a collegiate runner. I think it is easy for us as athletes to focus solely on results. We want that enormous growth, but it doesn’t come without patience and faith in the process. This process is what can lead to burnout as we hit many bumps in the road on our path to success. As athletes, though, we tend to put our athletic progress above these struggles as we are by nature competitive, determined, and persistent - so we keep on watering our bamboo no matter what struggles life throws our way.
But you can’t pour from an empty cup. What I mean by that is you cannot give your all to any aspect of life if you don’t first and foremost take care of yourself. As athletes we are trained to “put the team before ourselves” and while that model may stand on the court or field or track, it should not when it comes to your mental wellness. Self-care is not selfish. It is the mind & body’s way of recharging in order to try and try again. Wouldn’t it be something if we recharged ourselves as much as we do our phones?
I believe the greatest feature of self-care is that each and every person can benefit from it. Whether you feel you are struggling mentally/emotionally or not, self-care is a great way to recharge your mental wellness. The same mentor that shared the bamboo metaphor with me also shared that in life we should always have one thing we consistently do solely because it makes us happy. Whether that be reading, journaling, photography, cooking, going for a walk, etc. we should aim to do these things as a break from our responsibilities of the real world. Just a few minutes each day to escape the pressures of the world and do something that makes us happy.
I encourage each and every one of you as we head into the summer (and especially the wonderful month of May which just so happens to be Mental Health Awareness Month) to find something that makes you happy and make it a habit to do it a couple times a week or even every day. Find a way to continuously refill your cup so that you may keep up with watering your bamboo.
Special Thanks: I also just wanted to take a second a express my gratitude for the ANCHOR team, LakersListen, Anthony Adams and especially Gretchen Goodman for pushing the Mental Wellness and Self-Love initiative on our campus. Thank you all for your help on my senior project. The Civic Engagement award goes to you all as it would have been impossible without your support. This was the first year and we have learned so much. I am so excited to see what this group will continue to do and the impact they will make on both GVSU and the world.
April 29, 2019
BLOG POST #15
Hi, my name is Alex Mandeville and I am on the baseball team here at Grand Valley State University. I am a senior, however I transferred from Kankakee Community College in Illinois. I chose to be a part of Lakers Listen because I wanted to try to help out athletes in any way to make their athletic journey a successful, but more importantly a healthy one. As athletes we overcome triumphs every day. Our bodies are constantly working day in and day out to perfect this craft we have spent our whole lives on. What we sometimes forget, especially me personally is how our mind is just important as our body in this process. Athletes are always put on this pedestal of how we have it all, we get to play a college sport, maybe a scholarship and sometimes even make money from it if we go pro. However, we are still young adults that have struggles too.
I first realized this when a person very close to me in my life was playing basketball at a top program in the country. I will not share the name and details because of privacy, but he was one of the best freshmen in the country at an SEC school. He played a year and his mental health was poor. He decided to transfer to Wichita State to play, but he realized that his mental health still was not any better. He eventually took a year off and now is playing ball again. The one thing he wanted me to share was with all of the stuff going on and off the field to make sure you surround yourself with the right people. People who are going to challenge you, but be there for you through it all. That’s why I wanted to be an anchor because if someone feels like they are alone and can’t do it, they have us. People who probably share similar experiences who can help one another
I myself have gone through struggles, just like any other athlete. I’ve been at points where I felt like I’m on top of the world and I have felt like I wanted to quit and never pick up a glove or bat again. As I got older I started to realize I needed to take a healthier approach because all I was doing was deteriorating my mind. So my advice to any other athletes out there if they think they are going to break down would be to just take a step back.... look at all the amazing things your sport has brought to you. The people you have met, the relationships you have created, the places it has taken you, the memories you have made and then take a deep breath and go enjoy your craft because in 5 years that frustration from that bad game, meet or even one bad practice won’t even matter. It is not an easy thing to do, but we are athletes, we all know ya can’t just be a champion on day one. Just like our minds and mental health aren’t going to be better in one day. We are blessed to be in the spot that we are in.
April 22, 2019
BLOG POST #14
Everyone always says, “College is the best four years of your life.” Well, after committing to play tennis at Grand Valley as a senior in high school, the care-free, outgoing, happy, and goofy girl I was, was extremely eager to get to Grand Valley and let these four years begin. However, as I reﬂect on my past 4 years of college, I cannot help but think about how these years were not what I expected at all.
About half-way into my ﬁrst semester of college I realized I was not performing athletically or academically how I usually do or expect myself to, and with that I started to really struggle with knowing who I was and seeing my self-worth. I began struggling with intense anxiety attacks that I had never experienced before. My sense of self and conﬁdence was so far gone and I did not know if I would ever ﬁnd it again. I was so uncomfortable in my own skin I really was not interested in living in it, I was just going through the motions and trying to get by.
Since my freshman year I have struggled with anxiety and sadness, which led me to also develop disordered eating habits that gained complete control over me. When I think about my sophomore and junior year, what comes in mind is how my eating disorder completely controlled my thoughts, actions, and happiness. There was not a day that went by that I did not agonize over food and exercise; I tried countless diﬀerent work out routines, purging, weight loss pills, restricting, anything and everything to ﬁght what I was feeling. I was a prisoner of my own thoughts and it caused me to ruin relationships, miss out on a lot of diﬀerent things, and ultimately pretty much isolate myself from a lot of the things that brought me the most joy.
One of the most diﬃcult things I battled with over the past few years was the guilt I felt for letting myself get so down from the struggles I had when other people have it so much worse. I am so blessed and I knew that, so why was I so sad all time? I was so ashamed that I was letting these “stupid little things” completely control myself and my college experience. This guilt and shame also caused me to keep almost everything I was feeling to myself because I didn’t want to be a burden on the people around me and I was scared people would think diﬀerently of me.
Each year as I worked through my struggles, things did improve. I was performing the way I wanted to in tennis and school, and I started to learn how to deal with what I was facing. At the end of my junior year I ﬁnally felt like I was beginning to get through this rough time and was feeling the happiness that I hadn’t felt in so long. I ended the year with a successful tennis season with my team, good grades, and my dream internship.
I then spent the summer living alone during the week, working from 9-5, exercising twice a day, and trying to limit myself to 1,000 calories a day at the most. I was so married to the rules I had set for myself and I thought I was ﬁnally in control of my body and mind. It was not until I got back to Grand Valley in the fall when some red ﬂags were waved at my athletic physical that I realized I was not in control at all.
I was under complete control of my disordered eating thinking and it completely ruled every decision I made. Unfortunately, my obsessive behavior with food and exercise was not only just eﬀecting my mental health anymore, but also my physical. At the beginning of this school year I began working with the athletic trainers, a nutritionist, and a therapist to help me get back on track. At ﬁrst, I was so angry I had to do this because “I was ﬁne”, and I didn’t need help because I thought I was ﬁnally happy again. However, they helped me realize that the way I was living was no way to live.
As student athletes, I think we take on a lot of pressure to always be strong mentally and physically and to take care of our problems on our own. However, that is just not realistic. As I began to get help battling my struggles, I learned a few important things that I think can be helpful to keep in mind for anyone going through a tough time.
1. No one is perfect, and everyone struggles. Everyone seems to have everything all ﬁgured out on the outside, but it is just not true. You aren’t alone
2. Whether your struggle seems “big” or “small”, does not matter. Every single person is given a diﬀerent battle to face for a diﬀerent reason. Your struggle/mental health is extremely important and it is never something to feel guilty about.
3. People care about you! It is easy to think that people aren’t there or don’t want to be bothered, but that is not true. After I began to open up to my trainer/nutritionist/therapist, friends, and family I saw how much everyone around me wanted to help. The love and care I receive continues to amaze me.
4. Remember to take care of yourself. Do not ignore what your body/mind is telling you. While it is hard to acknowledge what you’re facing sometimes, I believe you have to go through it, to get through it. It can be diﬃcult in the moment, but life-changing in the long run.
5. Cut yourself some slack. I can honestly say I am in the best place mentally and physically that I have ever been in, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t still have bad days when my anxiety seems to have complete control over my entire being. Try not to get discouraged on these days and remember how far you have come.
Thank so much to my Grand Valley family for giving me the strength to face my struggles and helping me share my story! Despite the hard times I wouldn’t change a thing. Anchor up!
April 15, 2019
BLOG POST #13
My name is Mary Hecksel. I am a 4th year athlete on the Women’s Track and Field team. I’m going to talk about a difficult subject for me and probably a difficult subject for others to read about.
I remember how truly excited I was to start my sophomore year of college here at Grand Valley. My freshman year was probably one of the toughest years of my life. Different environments, new people, and big changes were not something that I was accustomed to. With hard work and new, amazing friends I was able to get through it and it only pushed me to want to enjoy this upcoming year for everything I knew it could be. My new roommates for the year were 3 guys that I had known growing up, and for that, I was so excited to be living with people I knew.
Flash forward to the first week of classes starting my sophomore year, I was in the library and got a notification from Tinder. Ah, yes, tinder, the very popular “dating” website where people go to find other mutuals who may be looking for a date, a good time, etc., it’s hard to know everyone’s intentions without meeting them in person. Anyways, I opened the notification and saw that someone had messaged me. I continued talking with the guy, and he eventually asked for my number. The asking for my number eventually turned into him asking me on a date. Not having really been on a date before, I was ecstatic at the invitation and we continued to work out details. We made plans to grab coffee on Thursday afternoon, and I couldn’t wait. I had my friend from a couple apartments down come over and help me pick out an outfit and do my make-up. He offered to pick me up, but I had preferred to meet at the coffee shop. However, he insisted he pick me up which I thought was kind of weird, but I was too excited, so I brushed it off. Turns out I shouldn’t have brushed it off.
I was assaulted. I’m thankful that the situation wasn’t as severe as it could have been. Either way, sexual assault is sexual assault.
After this, I had no idea what to do. The next morning one of my friends took me to the Women’s Center on campus. That’s where I met Sharelle Arnold. We talked, and I came to terms with what happened. It hurt. I felt like I lost a little bit of my dignity, and part of myself that day. I didn’t feel as whole. Sharelle went over what my options were and gave me a couple “survivor” pamphlets. After expressing that I didn’t know what I wanted to do, Sharelle suggested that I go talk to my coach and tell him what was going on. I think that was the second hardest conversation I’ve ever had in my life. Obviously in tears, and feeling like I was 2 feet tall, I mustered up the courage to explain to my coach what happened. I think I saw literal steam come out of my coach’s ears when I told him. He was so angry. He dragged me to campus safety with no time for me to interject. I’m so glad he did.
Once we got to campus safety, my coach, Sean, did all the talking. He told the people at the desk we needed to speak with an officer and didn’t quit until we were taken back to speak with someone. Sean gave me privacy while I talked to the officer because I think he saw the shame and pain on my face when I had to tell him. After talking to the officer, I had to go to a clinic. The clinic was a whole rollercoaster of emotion. I felt so dirty, ashamed, and violated for even being there. I kept thinking in my head,
“I shouldn’t be here, you should have done more, etc.”
but that’s what these kinds of things do to you. They make you try to minimize the situation and blame yourself for what happened.
It was Labor Day that upcoming weekend, so I went home for the couple days we had off. The hardest conversation I’ve ever had was telling my parents. I told my mom first, and she didn’t say anything. I could see the hurt in her eyes. I asked her if we should tell my dad, and she said it was up to me. I decided I should, it wasn’t fair to ask her to keep a secret like that and he had every right to know. I think it hurt the most to see the pain in his eyes. They felt so helpless knowing they couldn’t protect me from this.
The rollercoaster of emotion continued for the rest of the year. Since I decided to report it, I had to follow through with attorney calls, case reports, and court appearances. There were times where I felt fine, like it had never happened. There were also times where it seemed like just yesterday that it happened. As a friend once told me though, grief and trauma affect us in different ways. For a long time, I suffered from PTSD. I had nightmares, I locked my bedroom door every night and I would keep my blinds shut all day. I thought he would come back to hurt me. The weird thing is, fear is not a rational mindset for me. If you ask a majority of the people I know, they’ll tell you that I’m the one who shrugs things off, I’m the protector, I don’t get hurt. Being in this situation crushed me, I hated feeling vulnerable and I didn’t want anyone to know I was hurting.
Something that really bugged me was seeing the word “survivor” on the pamphlets I received. I hated that word. In my head, survivor meant you survived something crazy, critical or a life or death situation. I see now that I am a survivor because some people really don’t survive these situations, some people don’t come back from this.
I started the rest of the year off strong. I got a job, continued to do track and finished fall semester with a 3.5 GPA, and then all hell broke loose. Once I got back from winter break, things started to change for me, I broke down, and I was not in the mental state that I should have been. My nightmares came back, and my grades started slipping. I started to hate track and I was getting injured.
I didn’t get help.
I didn’t need help.
I could make it through.
My situation got worse and worse. I slipped back into major depression (something I hadn’t seen since my time in high school, but something I’m also medicated for). I lost desire to do just about anything. I wasn’t performing how I wanted to and decided I didn’t need track. I think I sat outside my coach’s door 4 different times without him even knowing…each time ready to quit the team. I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Part of me couldn’t do it though. I continued on with no help. I just kept burying it because I just couldn’t muster up the courage to deal with it. I can’t tell you how unhealthy that was now that I have time to really look back and reflect. That’s the thing about buried pain, it won’t go away, it just stays buried. Eventually, you have to face it.
It wasn’t until late March that I actually sat down and talked about what really happened. It wasn’t with a professional or anything though. Just with my best friend. I went through everything that happened, all the little details, everything.
I finally let it out.
I can’t say that made everything better, but I can say that the more I talked about it, the more it made me feel better.
It hurt, but every time the story left my lips it hurt a little less.
That same year, I came out and had, according to my head coach, one of the most unbelievable performances in NCAA championship history. I came into the meet ranked 21stout of 23 women and placed 3rdin the country, just an arm’s length away from the NCAA title. I was able to persevere and overcome my pain to win my first All-American title.
Healing from something like this is a whole process. It wasn’t until the following year that I finally got professional help. Unfortunately, I didn’t seek that help until I slipped back into my depression. The thing a lot of people don’t understand is that you don’t have to wait until the pain is unbearable to get help.
I had a counseling session every other week for a couple months. We talked about everything. I told her how I was feeling, I told her everything I remember about that day, all the fine little details, and that I was ready to move past it. I wanted to move on with my life, I wanted to reach my next chapter. I didn’t want this to hurt me anymore. It was then that I was able to finally let it go.
My mental health during this time was up and down. Highs and lows, or as my coach says, peaks and valleys. It was how I decided to deal with it that got me through. As I said, I didn’t talk to anyone until a year later. Although I should have done it sooner, it helped me more than I could imagine. It helped me heal, it helped me to move on. It helped me let go.
This isn’t something that will ever leave me, but it’s not something I think about everyday anymore.
Your mental health won’t be consistent, and that goes for anyone. What helped me was getting help. There is never anything wrong with getting help.
The hardest thing about talking about this is was that I was afraid people were going to think I was broken, or they were going to think less of me. That’s so incredibly untrue.
This doesn’t define me.
In a way this whole experience made me so much stronger. It made me the person I am today.
I thought about it like this, my coach encouraged me to do everything in my power not to think about it, “letting your mind wander to things beyond your reach will only exhaust you, enjoy the time you have with friends, teammates ,family ,etc.. thinking about it when you have no control is just letting him win, and you can’t let him win.” After everything he had already taken from me, I refused to let him win.
I encourage anyone who has ever experienced this or knows someone who has, please reach out. Reach out to me, or the incredible resources on campus. Please don’t keep quiet though. Talk to someone.
There seems to be a stigma around sexual violence. It’s either not talked about a lot, or some people are just blatantly blind to the fact it happens all around us. A lot of people don’t want to talk about it, but it’s something that needs to be shared. I understand people are scared to open up, but it’s ok to talk about it. Talking about it is the way you heal, it’s also a way to spread awareness. I think because it’s not talked about, many people don’t think about it being a real issue and that’s not the case. Just because people don’t talk about it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
Anyone struggling with something like this please always remember, you didn’t ask for this, you didn’t deserve this, there’s nothing different you could have done, and no always means no.
It is not your fault.
You are a survivor.
This doesn’t define you.
Please don’t ever be afraid to reach out for help.
You are stronger than this.
Side Note: I can’t thank my coach, Sean, enough for taking me to campus safety. It was emotional but so worth it. He showed me love and support in ways I couldn’t have even imagined. I truly believe I wouldn’t have gotten through this situation without him by my side. He was there through the whole thing, from start to finish. He showed me numerous times that he believed in me, even if I didn’t believe in myself. He was the main reason that I was able to use this situation to become the person I am today, instead of letting it break me, and for that I am eternally grateful. Also, shout-out to Sharelle Arnold for being the perfect victim advocate.
The case finally closed in April 2018, and I was able to put that chapter behind me and move on to win my 2ndAll-American award that May.
April 8, 2019
BLOG POST #12
Disclaimer: everyone handles struggles with mental health differently and I don’t want to generalize the struggle of everyone to my experience with a friend dealing with mental health issues.
I had a friend growing up who I was really close with. We did everything together, we had so much in common, she was like a sister to me and I would have done anything for her. Our friend group was like a second family. Towards the end of high school, she started struggling with mental health, I was there by her side through thick and thin. I tried to be as supportive as possible, but it was hard. She didn’t want to take care of herself, so I tried to take care of her. I didn’t take self-care seriously and it started to show. We went to college and talked every day. Things got harder with lacrosse picking up and school getting busier, we started talking less but made it a point to try to talk a couple times a week. Summer came around and I thought everything would go back to normal. Everything was going well until she started to pull away. She lashed out and when things didn’t go well, she blamed me for her problems. She turned on all of our other friends. She used her mental health issues as an excuse to treat the people around her like they didn’t matter. She used her mental health issues to minimize how I felt in arguments and wasn’t there for me when I needed her the most. I could not take it anymore. I finally broke down and told her how I was feeling, and she didn’t respect what I had to say. It was in my best interest to stop talking to her with hopes that we could possibly reconnect, but I don’t see that happening.
We don’t talk anymore, we don’t even follow each other on social media. I still care about her and want the best for her, but I can’t be a part of her life. I’m much happier now but I miss her sometimes. Toxic friendships are difficult to spot especially when you’re in them. Don’t minimize your feelings even if you think that what you are feeling isn’t worth saying. Just because someone is going through something that seems more valid than what you’re going through doesn’t mean that you should take their abuse. Listen to the people around you because they might see it before you do. I have learned a lot through this experience now knowing that I did everything I could have with what I knew. The way that people with mental health issues interact with friends is different from person to person and my experience is not universal. I lost someone extremely close to me because of how her mental health issues affected her. But caring too much about someone else can leave you vulnerable. I let my feelings and my pain be overshadowed by hers. But I’m better now.
I’m incredibly lucky with the friends I have now, both at GV and at home. They are my rock and support system.
April 1, 2019
BLOG POST #11
This One Is For The Boys...
Mental health is something that I do not often talk about. Come to think of it, unfortunately, mental health is not something that most men in general talk about. I think that that is something that needs to change. Men need to take a stand and help other men. I think that starts with men standing up and not being afraid to be vulnerable. So, bear with me as I try to do just that. My hope is that this is something that motivates other men to do the same and we all become better for it.
“Be a man”; a phrase that we have heard and heard again throughout our lives. It’s a phrase that our friends, coaches, and sometimes even our parents use at times. What does it mean? In my life it has meant so many different things. Anything from picking myself up and dusting myself off when I fall down and skin my knee to making sure that I don’t shed a tear talking about insecurities around my friends. Being a “man” has become something that I think a lot of men, including myself, struggle with. Maybe “being a man” shouldn’t mean that we forget about our struggles, insecurities, and problems. I think that men need to do a better job of getting vulnerable and caring for other men. We live in a society that does not put as much stock into mental health as I think it should and that needs to change.
I reached out to a few other guys on my track team to see what their thoughts were on this very topic and how we can work to change the stigma that we see when I comes to mental health especially when it comes to men. I asked why it is that guys are so unlikely to get vulnerable and talk with each other and if there is anything that we can do to fix it. Here are a few of the responses that I received:
“I think that a lot of guys have this perception that they always have to be tough, and mental illness is still seen as a weakness. I think a lot of people don’t fully understand what it’s like to deal with these issues, so that coupled with this always, “macho and masculine” attitude makes a lot of men keep their issues to themselves. It’s really hard to talk about these issues with people who don’t understand how they work, and I think that more men lack this understanding than women. No one likes to feel vulnerable, but for men this vulnerability takes a direct hit on masculinity. I think once more men start publicly addressing these issues, it’ll be easier for other men to talk about their own bouts with mental illness.”
“I think men are usually more afraid to be vulnerable because it’s what we were taught growing up. We’ve been taught to hide our feelings because it seems having feelings makes us look weak. As kids, if you ever showed emotion, other guys would tell you to “toughen up” or call you names. That sort of mentality over the years doesn’t allow us to ever work on opening up and talking about our feelings. So, I think it becomes common to keep our emotions to ourselves. Holding in your emotions isn’t healthy and can eat away at you mentally while no one else even knows you’re struggling. I think we can help other guys to open up by showing them that everyone has issues that they struggle with and opening up about them to someone you trust can often relieve a lot of pressure mentally.”
“I think mental health is very crucial in becoming the best versions of ourselves. I believe that the mental comes before the physical. With that being said it is important for us men to be a little vulnerable sometimes it only builds you up to be stronger! Guys are afraid of being vulnerable by default just because we were brought up to be macho and tough and it is in male nature to be. So, I understand why we aren’t as a whole. Also, society frowns upon men showing feelings. I think if more of us men simply come together to let one other know that its ok to be vulnerable and verbally speak out about certain situations with no judgement we will start progressing a little more!”
- Tommy Capers
“It's a cultural thing. It's commonplace for men to think it isn't right for them to cry, that it is a man's job to be there for his family in times of stress. I myself have seen my Dad cry twice, only twice in 20 years. Men don't want to get vulnerable and let out their emotions because it is seen as a weakness, and more than not, at least in my experience, I don't want to burden others with personal issues. I think the only way you get a man to open up is by changing the culture, where crying and being emotional isn't seen as weak but as a sign of commitment, passion, and love. In my current situation, I trust 6 individuals with my most personal information. These are people that I have known for a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 20. I feel that men will only get vulnerable around people they trust will not judge them or spread discontent outside of say a Laker's Listen meeting. Men have this predisposed ideal image of themselves. They are never wrong and, in most cases, are not willing to admit they aren't okay. Truthfully, I have no idea how to fix that, but to say that emotion is often the sign of a stronger man than that of a weaker one. A few things have helped me, however, I still struggle with letting people in. Like I said, only 5 people in my life know what truly goes on in my head. But when I talk about my biggest fears and my deepest insecurities with those people, a huge amount of the burden is lifted off me. I can only hope that Lakers Listen can become that safety net. The issue becomes letting go of cultural norms and not caring about what others think, no matter how hard that may be.”
“For me I feel like most guys avoid showing vulnerability because for the fear that doing so will compromise their sense of "masculinity" or "manliness". The only thing I can think of that causes this is growing up with the wrong group of friends. From a young age we are automatically assigned nicknames from our actions. Nicknames such as: sissies, wimps, and soft. Most guys while growing up aren't able to express their vulnerable side due to being scared of these nicknames. They might also not know how to properly show their emotions. Not breaking down in public is something that the society has given to us as a character of masculinity. Some ways to help is just becoming more supportive and trustworthy. Trustworthy is the biggest thing that a vulnerable person would be looking for.”
To be honest I wasn’t too surprised by the responses. They were all pretty similar. I think a lot of guys do want to get vulnerable and help each other. What seems to be stopping them is this notion that it is “uncool” to do just that. That is what we, as men, need to change. That starts by getting men to see that it is not a bad thing to get vulnerable and have a bit of a “softer” side. I hate to use that word “soft”. That is part of the issue. Words like vulnerable and soft are used to describe weakness. When we use these words to describe weakness it causes men to be afraid to admit when they are not okay, and that is not okay.
In the past when I have not been okay I have tried to bottle it all up inside and not let it show. This has not ended well as it has just led to more anger and sadness. It never allowed me to feel better. The sadness or anger would just grow and grow until it became too much to handle. This year I have become a lot better at reaching out when I need help and I believe a big part of that is the fact that I joined a group that is dedicated to getting vulnerable and helping each other when we are not okay. Honestly, before becoming a part of Lakers Listen I thought bottling it up was the best or only way to cope with not being okay. I have become a lot more comfortable opening up and not being afraid of what others will think about my vulnerability. I am very thankful for Lakers Listen and think that it is the beginning of something really special. I think it can be used to help fight the stigma that comes along with the words mental health. As athletes especially, we need to make sure that we are in great shape not only physically but also mentally. Whether I think I am struggling or not I have always walked out of our Lakers Listen discussions feeling a lot better than when I walk in.
Since I have been a part of Lakers Listen, I have become much better at not only reaching out for help when I am not okay, but I have also learned to notice and reach out when someone else seems to not be okay. Lakers Listen has taught me a lot. One thing, however, has stood out to me: It is okay to need help and even better to ask for it.
So, find people in your life that you trust (this could be your teams’ anchor) and just talk with them. Talk about anything and everything and don’t be afraid to get vulnerable. The more we can get vulnerable with each other the easier it becomes to fight the “be a man” stigma and the more we can do that, the more happy and healthy people we are going to see in the world.
One last thing. And this is for everyone that are reading this. Come to Lakers Listen. Just one time. Try it. I was skeptical at first too, but I promise you that you will feel better on your way home from than you did on your way to the discussion.
Next Lakers Listen Discussion is on April 18th at 9 p.m. in Fieldhouse Classroom 16. I really hope to see you all there!
March 25, 2019
BLOG POST #10
Summer before my freshman year at Grand Valley, I thought I had my whole life planned out. I had a boyfriend of almost three years and I was about to go to a university to be a member of their swim & dive team. Coming from a small town I couldn’t wait to get the heck out of dodge.
Right before entering my first Fall semester (I’m talking 3 weeks before move-in) I broke up with my boyfriend. I found out he cheated on me with countless other girls. That’s another story, but ultimately, it wrecked me.
Once I actually moved in to GV, I was having the time of my life. I made friends that I already knew I would keep for the rest of my life. I was on an incredibly beautiful campus and I didn’t have a care in the world. I had four years ahead of me and I thought they would be nothing but fun-- full of sunshine and rainbows. I wouldn’t change my time at Grand Valley for anything in the world. I have made more relationships with people here than ever before while getting a stellar education, but I was incredibly unaware and naive to the amount of stress I would be put under.
Within the first few months of my freshman year, I received countless calls and texts from my ex, leaving me voicemails until I would pick up. When I finally decided to answer…
He threatened me constantly talking about how he didn’t mean anything that he did.
He would take it all back and change it if he could.
He loved me.
He didn’t know what he was going to do without me.
He didn’t know if he wanted to live without me.
That he might as well end it all if I wasn’t going to be in his life anymore.
This wasn’t my first time that mental health has made itself a prominent subject in my life. When I was in the seventh grade, I had a acquaintance, who was in the sixth grade commit suicide. I didn’t understand the capacity of it back then. Nothing about mental health truly impacted my life until one day when I was in the eighth grade. One of my older sister’s best friends in the whole world, Niketa, decided to take his own life. Niketa was like an older brother I never had. He had the best hugs.
When I found out the news, I was on my way to swim practice. That was the first practice I ever had where my head just wasn’t in it. I couldn’t stop crying, so I kept my goggles on and my head down. Being as loud and obnoxious as I usually am, my coaches noticed my quietness, and tried joking with me to cheer me up, but they didn’t know the capacity of what had happened.
The funeral for Niketa was beautiful and celebrated his life well...just as he deserved.
Kayla, Niketa’s mom, has since started a movement in my hometown and has proven herself to be the strongest woman I’ve ever met. She has put endless hours into spreading the word about mental health awareness, being an incredible role model for me the entire way.
Back to freshman year, since I had learned so much from Kayla and the resources she constantly brought to the table I knew that I had to first of all diffuse the situation with my ex and I also knew that I shouldn’t feel guilty about what was happening.
I knew I shouldn’t feel guilty...but I did.
He caught me. He had me in a trap and wrapped up in his world so that I would continue to be his friend, and continue to talk to him to make sure he was okay for weeks. It got to a point where I couldn’t handle it anymore. The pressure that surrounded the entire situation, the closure and clarity I never got, and the constant suicidal threats that I received from my ex continued to bury me every day. It got to a point where I knew I had to cut off communication or my mental health would only worsen further than it already had.
Overall, I moved on. It took a while, but I thought I had put everything behind me and left the relationship in the past. I was wrong again. I didn’t know how deep the problems with my past relationship had planted themselves inside of my brain.
I faced constant self-image issues, always thinking I wasn’t enough for anyone or anything. I started keeping a journal, which helped a lot. Looking back at the entries now I realize I’m in a better place. I often wonder how I got through this time without talking to anyone about anything.
My sophomore year of college was the roughest to get through, and the hardest part of all was sitting back and not being able to do anything about the sport that I loved so much. Swimming had become the main reason for all my stress.
During this year I would dread going to swim practice. Every single day, I had anxious thoughts about what the practice was going to be, how hard it was, and if I would be able to get through it or not. I cried at almost every single practice that year and I had to get constant reassurance from my teammates to even make it through a set. I started having panic attacks every day. I would cry, my brain would make me believe that I couldn’t breathe, and my body would tense up so much that I basically felt and probably looked like I was swimming through mud. I didn’t make any sets and I saw myself more as a nuisance to the team rather than a contributing athlete. I had panic attacks 3-4 times a week. One day close to christmas break, I couldn’t get through the attack I was having. Our assistant coach at the time was aware I was having trouble, so I got out and looked at him while I was bawling my eyes out and said, “I can’t do this.”
He brought me over and asked if I was having a panic attack, and told me to take a second, take a rep off of this set, go into the locker room, and just breathe. I listened to him, went into the locker room, and tried my hardest to a find a breath. Once I finally did, I got myself together, and walked back out on deck. Before I hopped back in the pool my coach said, “I want you to focus entirely on technique right now. Get a feel for the water again, I don’t care how fast you’re going. Just feel out your stroke.” So that’s what I did. I had a few more panicking thoughts that practice, but continuing to take my set stroke by stroke helped me get through the practice.
But there was still something stuck in my brain. How could the one thing that used to make me my happiest and help me get rid of all the stresses in my life for two hours, be the thing that was bringing me so much anxiety and pain? How could the sport I was obsessed with be the thing that was ruining me?
That Christmas break I went home and told my parents about what had been going on over the last few months and they were very supportive & reassuring. They said there was nothing wrong with what was happening and that seeking help was not something to be ashamed of. I knew I had to get some form of help before going on training trip because that would arguably be the hardest week of practice we would have all year. So I went to my doctor a few days before Christmas, explained what was happening and got put on some medication. My doctor let me know that what was happening to me was much more common than most people think, and that sometimes meds work for people, and sometimes they don’t. She assured me that either way, we would find a way to get through this together.
Getting put on medication is not something I ever thought I would need to do, and it wasn’t something I was super gung-ho about at first. Since I was such a mental health advocate I knew that medication didn’t define someone and that it wasn’t something to be ashamed of, but I also really just wanted to be strong enough to get through it on my own.
The medication helped me so so sooo much. I didn’t have any panic attacks over break or for the rest of the year. When I started having anxious thoughts during practice I was able to think to myself, “Everything is okay. You’re just at practice. You can take a breath. You’re not going to die.”
My performance my sophomore year ultimately reflected the setback I had, and I wasn’t very happy with how my season ended up, but I was mentally in a much better and less anxious place than I was earlier on in the school year.
Moving to my junior year, I thought I had everything handled again. I was taking my medication and had only 3 total attacks since being on medication so I thought that meant I was back to my happy-go-lucky self. Everything seemed fine on the outside, but internally, I was decaying. I had multiple nights where I would end up on the ground crying for hours until I fell asleep. My best friends had to help me multiple times. They sat with me just to make sure I was okay even though I wouldn’t talk to them. They would ask me what happened and I would say“I don’t know. Why am I not enough for anyone. I’m so sick of not being enough for anybody.”
They would reassure me and let me know how loved I was and what a bountiful support system I had, and it would make me feel okay for the night, but then the episode would happen all over again. I eventually started feeling like a burden to anyone who tried to help me, so I bottled everything up. I would make sure everyone was home and in bed before I would let go of everything and cry and I kept questioning what the hell was even wrong with me. I couldn’t figure it out.
I disregarded all these episodes, and put them to the side, not going to a counselor to talk to anyone about it, not telling my family, not telling my friends. I told myself the feelings and thoughts would go away eventually...just not now.
Flash forward to this past summer. I was much happier, I got off of my medication and everything was going well. I didn’t have anymore breakdowns and I genuinely felt like myself again. I was finally in a place where I was in control of my mind. Because of this clarity, I started meditating at night and sifting through old journal entries of places that my mind had taken me. I started putting pieces together and realized why I had been hurting all this time.
Early on in the year, all student athletes are required to attend a sexual assault informational meeting. Many people dread it; we could be studying or sleeping or watching Netflix or literally doing anything else other than hearing information that had been given to us the past 3 years already in the other sexual assault meetings.
For some reason this year, I didn’t dread it as much in years past. I wasn’t sure why, but I was actually looking forward to going to the meeting. It was separated by gender, and I was excited to have an empowering meeting with my strong fellow female athletes.
Attending that meeting saved me.
I paid full attention to all the information given, I took mental notes and I even took some physical notes on my phone. I took down resources and tried to remember the names of people who were leading the meeting.
When I got home, I decompressed, sat in bed and thought about everything that I took away from the meeting. And I realized something that I had been taught for the past 3 years, but never paid attention to:
Anyone can be a victim of rape or sexual assault no matter what their relationship status is. It is possible to be sexually assaulted by your significant other, your husband, your wife, your partner, etc.
This was the 4th year in a row I was being told this information, and the first time I was listening to it.
At this point, something clicked.
There were lights going off in my brain; they were blinking at me.
I cracked my own case.
Not only had I been cheated on by my ex-boyfriend with countless other women, but I had also faced years of manipulation, dependence, verbal abuse, and physical sexual abuse from him.
And I had only just figure this out. I knew it was something I had to face, but I didn’t know how. I knew I had to tell someone, but who? I didn’t think anyone would believe me or my story. I was unsure if it would even matter to anyone considering it was while I was in a relationship and it was so many years ago. But I reached out to my best friend from high school and she was the saving grace that put my mind to rest. She told me that she believed me. She told me my feelings were valid. (Thank you Tracilyn.)
There was a reason I was so torn up on the inside, there was a reason why I felt that I would never be enough for anyone, and there was a reason I didn’t believe in love anymore.
And I found it. And I was determined to no longer allow it to make me believe any of those things anymore.
I am independent. I am strong. I am worthy. I am dignified. I am beautiful. I am enough.
(Ladies and gentlemen, if you have never said any or all of these things to yourself, please do. Whether you write them down, say them out loud, or look at yourself in the mirror and say them to yourself. All of those statements are important. All of those statements are valid.)
This year has been the most clear one yet since attending college, and I feel that I have FINALLY sunken into who I am and I have found who I’m meant to be. I found my purpose and I have gained more mental strength than ever in my life. My best friend from high school was the first person I told about my story and although I wasn’t sure if I would ever share it with anyone else I have reached a point of comfort where I knew telling those who cared about me would bring me the most relief and calm my anxiety around the subject.
Getting so much support from the people I love and seeing how brave other Anchors have been in their blog posts this year gave me the confidence to share my full story. I know that someone somewhere might read it and find hope or clarity within it. I hope that my story helps someone find the strength to reach out and ask for help.
To anyone who has helped me get this far: thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’m not sure who I would be without you, and I’m not sure where I would be without you.
To anyone struggling with ANY form of mental/emotional health/wellness issue, please know you’re not alone in your fight. There are so many wonderful resources on campus, online, over the phone, and in your community that can help you. I promise you’re not the only one going through what you’re going through. You are not crazy. You are valid. Your feelings are also valid. Remember that. There’s so much love in the world, please spread it.
Spread kindness, and love, and hope.
Believe in yourself.
March 18, 2019
BLOG POST #9
My name is Heather Johnson. I am a fifth year student-athlete here at Grand Valley State University, and I take extreme pride in calling myself a member of our women’s Track and Field team! As some of you may know, a couple weekends ago was the 2019 NCAA D2 National Meet for Indoor Track and Field. Our men’s and women’s teams hit enough qualifying marks to take 40 Lakers in total down to the competition at Pittsburg State University in Kansas. Through an eventful and fun two days of competition, the women's team placed second in the nation while the men placed fourth. Our athletes had numerous personal bests, and broke multiple school records. 20 of us finished with All-American honors, and we crowned one National Champion in the Weight Throw! (Shout-out Bobbie Goodwin!) Personally, I was fortunate enough to qualify for the meet and race as part of both our 4x400 Meter Relay and Distance Medley Relay teams. In both of these races we came out third in the nation and received All-American awards!
Now… flashback to before this meet. I would like to take this opportunity to use the Lakers Listen platform to talk about my personal journey with athletics and mental health. With 2019 being my final year of athletic eligibility, I was absolutely ecstatic to qualify for this meet in not just one, but two events. This year I had finally done it! At long last I had earned the chance to fly down with the team and run in my first ever indoor nationals. It was an accomplishment I had been working towards my entire collegiate career, and it was not easy. Something I have come to learn is that when you practice everyday with as many talented, hard-working, and fast women as I do, sometimes your biggest competition comes from your own teammates. Despite my efforts in seasons prior to this one, I continuously fell short of earning a relay spot at nationals to the other girls. No matter how many times I ran on it in our preseason meets, or how many times I finished the open 400 meter dash with a new personal best that rivaled the times of others, I was never chosen to represent Grand Valley in the Championships or have the chance to compete for an All-American title. After working as hard as I felt I could towards my goal, I was picked over for the opportunity season after season and was left at home. I still remember how disappointed I was each time I learned that I did not make the cut, I felt that no matter what I accomplished I was never good enough.
As hard as this rejection was for me to come to terms with, each year I did my best to pull myself out of my frustration and envy. I would even drive hundreds of miles on my own time and with my own money to wherever the meet was going to be held to support the ones who were chosen as they raced on the big stage. But the feeling of falling short, of not being good enough, and of being left out would ultimately stick with me.
As a disclaimer, I knew long before I came to GVSU that being a student-athlete at this level would not come easy. I knew I would face adversity in many forms if I chose this lifestyle. I had anticipated the challenges of a busy schedule, constantly feeling pressed for time, and the exhaustion of difficult workouts, but this was different. This struggle of never making the cut for nationals felt like a dead end. It left me in this mixture of anger, sadness, and disappointment that made me feel defeated in every way.
What I was feeling was failure, but it was a unique kind. The adversity of failing to reach our goals is even more challenging because the adversity is coming from within. We cannot truly blame anyone but ourselves, and that is what I did. I hated myself because I felt I could only place the blame on my own shoulders. It was no one else’s fault, it was mine. I was not good enough. Why couldn’t I have been good enough?
Falling short of our goals can be especially detrimental for athletes, but anyone and everyone is susceptible to the heavy heart and brokenness that comes with failure. Our lives are full of pressures and situations that cause us to build up huge aspirations for ourselves, but even our biggest dreams will not always come true. Things like our academics, our relationships, our hobbies, and our careers are such pivotal parts of our lives that they entangle with our emotions, and will continuously control our feelings of joy, stress, or pain. At one time or another — and for myself, sometimes all at once — these areas of our lives can make us feel like failures when our expectations do not become reality. I think a lot of people, especially athletes, hold themselves to very high standards. I am no different. With myself, with my academics, with my relationships, and with my aspirations in my sport, I wrestle with feelings of falling short and letting myself down when I don't measure up.
It is ambitious and even healthy to set goals, but it is ultimately harmful and unhealthy to blame yourself for not being able to reach them.
When we are in that place of feeling so useless, it can be hard to recognize our value or have any sense of our own self worth whatsoever. Fortunately, it was the friends and family I had and the amazing teammates surrounding me that pulled me out of these times. They held me when I cried in the depths of my failures. They sat next to me in the stands at NCAAs and reassured me that I’d have my turn soon. They encouraged me at practice every day and reminded me of my goals when I forgot. They told me that I was good enough.
Remember, you are not defined by the goals you do not reach. You are defined by the effort you put in towards reaching that goal.
I know this now, but I still struggle a lot more than I’m often willing to admit with not feeling good enough in life. And to be completely transparent, it remains my greatest challenge. Something I have discovered however, is that helping and encouraging others is something everyone is good enough to do. It helps me rediscover my worth, as the process of helping others through tough times can have a way of helping us realize we ARE important. You could never not be good enough to help another person who is struggling. One single voice in a day full of disappointment or negativity can make a difference. That’s one reason why I am so thankful for the Lakers Listen program and the movement behind supporting mental health in the athletic community. Although we are “Anchors” that serve as mentors for others, we are not perfect and we have our own individual struggles. Everyone fails in life. Everyone has moments where they doubt their worth, but we can help others find their worth again through opening their eyes to the truth.
You are a hard worker!
I believe in you!
Your goals are just around the corner. Keep going, don’t stop now!
In life it so so easy to succumb to the pressures we place on ourselves, but the community we have around us can serve as our relief and our release. As you go about each day, whether it be good or bad, remember that through helping others we can help ourselves. We can feel self worth through being selfless.
4x NCAA D2 All-American
(cause I DID IT!)
March 11, 2019
BLOG POST #8
Since I have been little, all my life has been about school, family, and tennis. There was never a break period, never a time just for me, and never rest from sports. I grew up in a family that was surrounded by collegiate or high-level athletes, meaning you were always involved in your sport.
Something that I have used as my mantra my entire high school career was “Athletes gain success through sacrifice.” I always interpreted this to mean I give up a lot of things (free time, friends, and even a social life) just to push myself to be the best athlete that I could be. This started to push me to points of stress that I could have never imagined. My family sees athletics as a do or die situation, you play to the best you can and if you didn’t leave it all out on the courts you failed. This didn’t seem like anything out of the normal to me. All the athletes I looked up to as a young adult were the people who pushed themselves to the extreme. I tried to do the same and broke down in the process.
It was about the end of my Junior year to the beginning of my Senior year in high school when I started to have these terrible panic attack with my sport. Competitions began to get harder, my parents pushed me even more, the school was overwhelming and trying to make a decision as to where I was going to go to college kept piling on. I had a tournament one weekend where I had played the worst match of my life. I ended up breaking a racket on the post right by the umpire. My parents walked away from my court during the second set because of how embarrassing it was to watch. After that match, we rode home in silence, and I could feel the tension radiating off from my parents.
Pulling up to our house my parents sat me down and had a long discussion about where my tennis career was going. I understood how terrible that match was that day, but they didn’t know everything that was going on in my life and how much it had piled up. I will never forget this match. All I could think about in my mind was how much my college career was riding on this match, how much I needed to study for the ACT to get into college, how much my parents were counting on me to play well to get into school. So much riding on the shoulders of a 17-year-old girl.
As I talked to my parents all I could do was just start sobbing. I couldn’t tell you a single word they had said to me, but all I remember was I how hard it was to breathe and how much I wanted to walk right out our front door and run until I couldn’t run anymore. After my parent stopped talking to me, not once did I tell them how stressful it has been for me or how much I hated playing right now, all I did was walk out back find a corner to hide in a just cry until I couldn’t cry anymore.
Looking back on it now dealing with the stresses of tennis and school and even just life was too much for me. No one had taught me how to deal with stress, no one was there for me to talk to about anything I needed to get off my chest. I felt so alone and I thought that I was the only one going through this, no one knew what it was like to have such a competitive family or even what it meant to have so much stress in your life.
It wasn’t until I had come to college, my freshman year, and met my suite mate that I no longer felt so alone. We talked about the stresses of being home, how sports ran our lives, and even how we dealt with stress. I learned that year just how important stress can be in your life, but there also needs to be a way everyone can deal with it. I found my person I can just call up and talk to about stress, or life, or even just to hear a familiar voice.
I had felt so alone and empty for too long and found my way of coping with stress. I understand the importance of having sports in your life, and I know no even better that I am not the only one going through this. It was very important for me to join the Anchor team at GV not because I made me feel better, but I know that I can make someone else feel less lonely. If there is ever a way I can help someone from feeling the same way that I did I will try with all my heart to help them through this.
I looked up what an anchor meant and I found this; “An anchor is a device, normally made of metal, used to connect a vessel to the bed of a body of water to prevent the craft from drifting.” Being a part of this team means that I am the device people can use to help them from drifting to a point where there is no return.
March 4, 2019
BLOG POST #7
Looking back on high school, I remember it to be some of the best days of my life. At the beginning of my senior year I signed to play golf at Grand Valley and could not have been more excited to end the year and get off to college.
However, when senior spring break came around, prom, graduation, and even our family trip to Hawaii that summer, I wasn’t feeling like myself. Most days I struggled to fall asleep because my anxiety was so bad, and most days when I woke up, I struggled to get out of bed because I was so depressed. There were all of these milestone events taking place around me and I no longer could feel excitement or joy for them. I simply just did not feel like myself, and it was something that I struggled to admit.
After that summer I arrived on campus to start my first semester of college; I admit it was a rough start. I lacked a lot of motivation for both school and golf, and being away from home, with people I didn’t know made the transition even harder. However, I was encouraged to talk to my coach and teammates about what I was going through and once I was able to open up to them, I felt the biggest sense of relief. I realized that what I was going through was not something I had to hide or go through alone.
After openly discussing mental health with both my teammates and my coach, I felt comfortable applying for the Anchor position. I want my teammates and friends to know that mental health is something that anyone can experience and hopefully by sharing some of my experiences with them, it will open the conversation for others too. The biggest thing that helped me through my experience was being able to talk about it, have my friends there to listen, and know that the support I needed was always there. I hope that by sharing my story, other people will feel more comfortable to do the same, and can realize that even though there might not be a life changing or traumatic event that occurred, mental health issues can hit anyone at any time. It is not a battle that anyone has to fight alone, and as a Grand Valley State Laker, we can count on each other for the support that we all need.
February 25, 2019
BLOG POST #6
My name is Nicole Taormina. I am a sophomore here and a part of Grand Valley’s Swimming and Diving. I would say that I am a bright and positive teammate for those around me. I love seeing others do well and love being a smiling face for them, but sometimes I don’t always feel like that. I know I don’t struggle as much as others, but I do struggle.
It is hard to be on a sport and not compare yourself to others saying why can’t I look like that? What can’t I be as fast or good as they are?
How can they get such good grades and I’m struggling to pass?
You are surrounded by excellence and you strive to be like them. But how do they make it so effortless and not look worn down as much as I am feeling right now?
How can you not compare yourself to that?
Many don’t know the sport of diving and many probably think it isn’t even a sport, but the objective of each dive is to execute with perfect form for the highest score. In short terms you are being judged on what you look like as soon as you step onto that board.
For me joining Lakers Listen has been an eye opener and in the best way possible. I see how others struggle too and that I am NOT the only one. Some days one can feel so alone even being on a big team. Many days that is me. I struggle in finding acceptance for who I am. I am scared I will never be good enough for my team or anyone I meet. I constantly care what people think about me, whether it was someone I just passed in the hall or my best friend of 18 years. I also do a very good job at putting others first before dealing with my problems. I would rather take care of others than myself. It’s easy for me to scoot aside what I need and help those around me, but when I avoid what I am struggling with too long it all piles up and hits me at once. Those days become the hardest to overcome. Sometimes it will last a day or even sometime weeks.
The best thing to do in those situations is just take a step back. Figure out what works best for you. Each day I write out a list to do. Whether it is to re-read notes from lecture, do laundry today, or even say to put your phone down for 10 minutes at the end of the day and just breath. At the beginning of the semester I go through syllabus’s and write out the important test or due dates in my calendar, so I know what to expect. Little things to organize the thoughts in my head. Take a night or two in the week to relax and do something that makes you happy. A face mask, bubble bath, make a good dinner, grab some friends and go to your favorite restaurant, take a walk outside for some fresh air, or go to the POD and get your favorite pint of Ben and Jerry’s. On the tougher days I tell myself to slow down and just relax, things will get done and you don’t have to do them all at once. I remind myself that it is ok to not be perfect, it is ok to fail, and ok to be knocked down. Some days will be harder than others, but you can’t let those tough days get in the way of your moments that make it all worth it. It is also ok to be a little selfish at times. Being able to take care of yourself is the first step into helping others.
Like in any sport when you WILL have one, two, or a couple bad days, that is ok. But don’t let those days determine how much hard work and success you’ve had and will have. When you feel down, let the success of others motivate you to try again. Fear is my biggest competitor, but I will never let that get in my way of what is important. Keep your head up and remind yourself why you are there in the first place. Take a step back, watch or listen instead of doing. Take in advice from coaches, friends, or even trainers. Try not to strive for perfection but at the end of the day ask yourself if you put in the best effort that you could. I not only see struggle in myself but others too. I just want to say that it will be ok, and you are not alone.
February 18, 2019
BLOG POST #5
This handwriting, tattooed on my skin, is from my father’s suicide letter.
You’re probably thinking that’s kind of a morbid thing to have written on me forever, but about a year and a half after he passed, I worked up the courage to read the letter.
I was angry when I opened it because it was typed. I was reassured when “Love always, Greg”, was written in pen at the very bottom.
I wanted it to be handwritten so I could get a tattoo of something in his handwriting. I had thrown away anything and everything he had ever given me, previous to him leaving us.
Every birthday card, letter, little gift, thrown out. Almost every picture we took deleted. I don’t have any pictures of us from about 10 years old to 17 years old.
Because that’s when things were ugly.
When I was about 10, I realized he had been cheating on my mother.
My first months in our new house in Columbus, Ohio were filled with looking over his shoulder every chance I got to try to figure out who this lady was that he was always texting.
For a former Secret Service agent, he wasn’t very good at concealing his phone, and with that, his affair.
Every new piece of information, a little bee sting.
It didn’t take long for even my little brain to figure out.
It was about this time that he started being meaner to my mother, and then to me.
Name calling, controlling, belittling. Every one another little bee sting.
The only way I could find to fight back, was to be as stubborn as possible.
I shut him out. I shut everyone out. I shut everything out.
And there was no budging. I found comfort and power in my resilience to resist.
So, when he passed, it seemed easy, because I had already blocked it out. I was already numb.
Little did I know, this was just the beginning of a very large battle I was about to begin.
Yes, there was a rough period.
Dysthymia, confusion, rebellion, the beginnings of an eating disorder, drinking, lost relationships, and other stuff we don't need to get into.
But like I said, I was numb.
Too many bee stings.
It wasn't until I got to Grand Valley that I started to come out of my self-induced coma.
I slowly realized that my happy, my smile, my everything, was fake. I had been faking it for so long that I convinced myself that I was happy.
I spent a lot of time alone, and I learned a lot.
I learned from a healthy relationships seminar that my mother and I were highly emotionally & verbally abused by my father.
I learned the signs of suicide from QPR Suicide Prevention training.
A previous lack of knowledge of both the signs of suicide, and abusive experiences I had, made them now so drastically apparent that I saw them all day, every day in flashbacks, and all night, every night in dreams.
I was forced to face my past, and it made me come crashing down.
I couldn't block anything out anymore.
What was once the beginning stages of depression, quickly developed into a very intense and ever-present anxiety.
The dam was open, and the water flowed like the tears I cried trying to make sense of this flood of emotion.
It flowed too heavy to stop, to catch a breath, for a couple years, then things began to clear up.
Thanks to the countless number of incredible individuals I have been so fortunate to be surrounded by, I worked up the courage to admit to myself that I needed to take action to improve my mental health.
It was the scariest, and most vulnerable thing I had ever done.
By about half way through my junior year, I started going to counseling.
I learn more about myself than I ever thought imaginable.
I learned more about everything I went through. I learned that what my father did, everything he did, was not his fault. It was a side-effect of his struggle with mental illness.
I started to make real peace with it all.
But, the more I know, the more I have to make sense of.
I am a new me. Healthier, much happier, and healing.
But healing is not linear.
I came back this year from a summer full of beaches, baseball, and an incredible counselor. I was the happiest I have ever been.
I continued going to counseling. I had my emotional support dog with me. I joined Lakers Listen. I started preaching mental health, and how far I have come, and how I have changed.
I thought it was over. I thought I had escaped the bees and jumped over the fence to a place they did not live.
I did not.
But I am learning.
I’m not afraid of the bees anymore.
They won’t sting me.
If I nurture them they will pollinate my mind.
Flowers have started to grow.
I am learning to appreciate my bees.
I am learning how to use them. For good.
Some days, I forget about this.
Those are the days I don’t want to get out of bed.
Those are the days that the moment I open my eyes, my thoughts start to swarm around like an angry mob of bees, doing everything they can to frighten me, to overwhelm me.
Those are the days I let my anxiety affect my relationships and my school work.
The days I see playing the sport I love as a chore.
The days I can’t control my self-doubt.
The days I have crippling anxiety attacks.
And the nights I cry myself to sleep over something I have no name for.
Those are the times I feel like I am being chased by a swarm of bees, sometimes there are just too many to reason with.
There will be good days, and there will be bad. But the good are becoming more frequent.
I am learning to control them.
I can hear the soft buzz of their musing.
Now I know I decide whether to run and let them chase me, out of control, or, if I accept them.
If I accept them, they make flowers.
I can turn what was once pain, into beauty.
I draw, I write, I sing.
A bee sting, to a flower.
And I can feel my power.
It is growing inside of me, every day.
I will not give up. I cannot give up. I must learn to harvest the good thoughts in my mind.
These are the thoughts that make me feel strong.
That make me feel brave, unstoppable, and like I have what it takes to make a change.
So, I will not give up.
I will work, every day, to create an ally with my thoughts.
They will help me harvest my power, the flowers.
With sunshine and rain, embracing happiness and understanding pain.
Every day I become the most beautiful, powerful, and purposeful version of myself.
Thanks to those around me who gave me help*, dedication to myself, and prioritizing my mental health.
*A special thank you to my boyfriend, Matt Williams, for helping me write this blog post, and for helping to give me the strength to dedicate the necessary time and energy to my mental health. Nicole and Susie Kessler, Megan and Julie Maitino, and the Hughes family for more than I could explain in words. My roommates, Carly Shisler, Carolina Reis, and Liv Passe, for your continued support. Lakers Listen, my fellow Anchors, Gretchen Goodman & Anthony Adams, thank you for everything you do. My friends, especially Gabby Cuzzola and Olivia Desguin, your vulnerability inspires me. My family- aunts, uncles, cousins, and Mommom for being my strength and my role models. My brothers Thomas and Timmy you guys are everything to me, and my mother for everything we have been through together and your continued strength. My teammates, past and present. My coaches, Coach Rach, Coach Mac, Coach Nora, and GVSU Athletics staff - shout out Dr. Damon Arnold, Myesha Gholston and the Laker Academic Success Center for your contagious energy. I would not be where I am today without the help of every single one of you. Thank you for everything.
Some of my favorite Books/Journals: “An Inspired Life: a journal for thinking, dreaming, and discovering”, “I Am Her Tribe” by Danielle Doby, “Pillow Thoughts” by Courtney Peppernell, and “The Sun and Her Flowers” by Rupi Kaur.
February 11, 2019
BLOG POST #4
My god-mother worked as a medical assistant providing passionate care to people, but I never knew that she struggled with depression. She brought so much joy to others, but when it came to taking care of herself, she didn’t know how to. My god-mother committed suicide and without any adequate training or education in mental health, her family and friends couldn’t help.
Being unable to recognize unspoken feelings and thoughts of people struggling with depression is dangerous, but by studying body language and abnormal behaviors one can begin to offer the proper support.
One evening at work, after I helped shower and transfer a resident into their bed, I noticed that my god-mother’s old scrubs were covered in bath water and sweat. I reminded myself of why she motivated me, reflecting on her patience and selfless actions. I am driven to pursue a career in medicine, but no matter where it takes me, what I have learned and my pursuit of bettering mental health awareness and care will follow.
I joined the Anchor Team because I believe that mental health care begins with conversation. Talking about emotions, thoughts, and feelings is raw and embarrassing. Not everyone has experienced a tragic moment in their life, but that does not mean they aren’t struggling. It hurts me to see people disregard and neglect their feelings because it isn’t tied to someone’s death, a major breakup, the loss of a home, or some other life shattering event. Everyone matters and needs to be heard. I encourage you to share your story with a friend.
February 4, 2019
BLOG POST #3
The summer before my freshman year at Grand Valley, I had more panic attacks than I could even count. I felt miserable and I was miserable to be around; I was stressed out, cranky, and liable to lash out or burst into tears at a moment’s notice.
The day I committed to play lacrosse at Grand Valley, my top choice school, in March of my junior year had been the happiest day of my life. I remember running around my house screaming in joy, my mom crying, and going to practice that evening with a permanent smile on my face, so excited to tell my teammates and coaches my big news. As each summer day bled into the next and I got closer and closer to actually attending GV, my joy and excitement turned into paralyzing fear. My anxiety about how I would play against better competition, whether I would fit in, and of course the dreaded fitness tests, dominated my whole life. Lacrosse, which had been my respite for so many years, was becoming my worst nightmare.
Experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression wasn’t new to me. I’m not a doctor, nor do I have perfect memory, but basically from the ages of 6th grade on I experienced periods of depression and dealt with anxiety. Again, I’m not a doctor, but I think the combination of being bullied and the poor self and body image that resulted, and own social anxiety which made me feel and act extremely uncomfortable in social situations, lead me to just feel absolutely terrible a lot of the time. The bullying mostly stopped as I got older, but I carried the hurt it caused me long after. Lacrosse was my saving grace at this time in my life. It gave me purpose, helped me make friends and improve my social skills, and gave me something to be proud of myself for. It was really hard for me to see my happy place turn into something that terrified me.
I wish I could say I got to GV and my problems were magically gone, that I came in, tore it up my freshman year and all my worries were for nothing. Yeah, not the case! It turns out there’s no perfect solution to all of your problems. My struggles still followed me to college. In fact, I can’t say that my actual playing experience has had anything to do with why I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. I’ve never been the impact player I wanted to be when I was a kinda-cocky high school senior daydreaming about the future. In order to be happy, I couldn’t use lacrosse as a crutch anymore. I had to make the best of a not-ideal lacrosse situation, and figure out how to thrive, both in my role on the lacrosse team and outside of it.
What has helped me to do this? Actively working on my mindset; deliberately trying to approach each day with a positive attitude, even when I don’t want to, even when things are terrible and hard and I want to quit. Making the most out of the moments I’ve had with my teammates on and off the field, because the older I get, the more I realize these moments are numbered. I won’t remember my playing time, but I will remember the amazing people I’ve met through this sport. Getting involved outside of lacrosse, which helped me to understand my value outside of athletics. I also allowed myself to be more open about my feelings, both to myself and to my friends (even though this is something I’m still working on!). My friends have helped me more than I can say, whether they’re sounding boards, a shoulder to cry on, making me laugh or pushing me out of my comfort zone. In a more concrete sense, I took advantage of the resources available to me by going to counseling for a large part of my sophomore year. None of the strides I’ve made would be possible without the resources counseling provided to me.
Things aren’t perfect, but they’re better, now that I have the toolbox to handle them. However, to be completely honest, I struggled while trying to write this blog post because it’s hard to be honest about something so personal to me. To pretend everything is fine now, to act like my mental illness isn’t something I still grapple with every day, would be a lie. While I’m in a better place than I have been in a long time, I still have setbacks. My healing has been the opposite of linear.
Even the first two weeks of this semester were nearly impossible for me. In theory, you’d think I’d be having the time of my life. It’s my senior season, and I had played the best and most confident lacrosse of my life in the fall. I have a job that I love, I got into my two top-choice graduate school programs, and I was really involved on campus in organizations I really enjoyed. On paper, I was thriving. However, I came back to school after winter break feeling miserable. I was doubting my lacrosse abilities and I wasn’t performing in practice. Even small mistakes would bring me to tears. I wasn’t interested in my classes, my job or my extracurriculars. My busy schedule, which I normally love, started to feel like a burden. I even felt separated from my teammates, and I started to convince myself that all of my teammates, who mean more to me than almost anything in the world, didn’t like me or want me around. In my free time, I didn’t want to do anything; I just wanted to sleep or hide out alone in my bedroom.
I couldn’t bring myself out of my depression alone. On Friday of our second week back, my assistant coach came up to me and offered me reassurance after noticing that I was upset at practice. She told me that she could see the effort that I had been making in practice and offered me some strategies to help me shake off the tension I’d been carrying in the cage. I honestly can’t articulate how much it meant to me to just be seen and acknowledged, for someone to know that I was trying and try to help me through my struggles, even though she didn’t even know that my problems were also following me off the field.
That night, I went home determined to make the next week better. I dedicated the entire night to self-care and re-centering myself. I took a long, hot shower, did a face and hair mask and took time to do my skincare routine, which had fallen by the wayside in the past couple of weeks. I did a guided meditation using the app Insight Timer that focused on confidence and maintaining high energy. I wrote in my journal for the first time in months and made a list of reasons I had to be optimistic about life, despite the funk I’d been in. Finally, I got comfy, watched my favorite feel-good movie, Legally Blonde, and went to bed early, allowing myself to get a full night of sleep for the first time in two weeks.
I woke up feeling tentatively optimistic. I wasn’t “cured,” but I was ready to feel good again. I had a good day with my teammates, which turned into a good weekend. On Monday, as practice approached, I was extremely nervous. Per my assistant coach’s suggestion from the week before, I dedicated a portion of my warm-up to meditation and visualization. I visualized myself not only performing well, but also feeling confident and in control. I went on to have a good practice, but more importantly, I didn’t feel like every minor mistake was going to be catastrophic. When I made a mistake, I recovered and moved on.
This definitely isn’t the first time I’ve had a depressive episode, nor will it be the last. Everyone’s healing process is different. I look at mine like a rollercoaster. There are ups and downs. However, as I’ve developed coping strategies, the rollercoaster has gotten much more boring; less steep hills and upside-down loops and more cruising on a straight track with an occasional bump.
People who know me know that I can be pretty shy and I don’t open up too often. This is one of the most personal things I’ve ever put out into the universe, which is pretty scary! However, I wrote this so that anyone out there reading this, struggling with anything, athletics-related or not, knows they aren’t alone. You have so many resources available to you and people who care about you and want to help you; your coaches, your teammates, the Lakers Listen staff, the ANCHOR team, your friends, your family, not to mention the staff at the Counseling Center. If you aren’t struggling, and you think you know someone who is, don’t be afraid to reach out to them, because that can make all the difference. Additionally, no matter who you are, take the time for self-care! It’s not all about bath bombs and comfy pajamas; it’s about treating yourself, your mind, body and soul, like they matter, because they do. Being more open about what I was going through and taking the time to invest in Madi the person, not just Madi the lacrosse player, has made so much of a difference in my life.
January 28, 2019
BLOG POST #2
Welcome back to another week of the Lakers Listen Anchor Blogs! My name is Abbey Clasen and I am a 3rdyear on the women’s Track and Field team.
After reading the blog post from last week from Gail (if you haven’t read it yet, go do that!) I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to write about. I, probably like many of us, have never gone through anything remotely that tragic and I felt guilty for wanting to write on here about my struggles that relatively seem so insignificant. I feel as humans and especially as athletes we want to feel tough and being vulnerable is not one of our strong suits. Looking at tragic things around us can make us feel like talking about our problems is petty complaining. I had to take a step back and remind myself that everyone is dealing with something. It is already difficult to talk about your mental state and that is just another reason why a lot of us don’t. We want to be tough for those whom we know are going through a harder time than us. But that is just another mechanism for keeping things bottled up, which we know is not helping. It’s important to remember that others are going through things but that we don’t have to put up a tough front all the time. I guess the moral of the story is, if something in your life is bothering you, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Find that person that will listen to you and not belittle your problems, because they are your problems and they do matter.
With that being said, I want to specifically address any freshmen reading this post. The reason why I joined Lakers Listen was because I wanted to help others the way I was helped my freshman year. The changes to your lifestyle, training, sleeping, studying, are immense and it can be overwhelming at times. We have all been there, and we feel for you. On the bright side, it does get better. So much better. Eventually (and maybe this is how you are feeling now that you have a semester under your belt) you won’t feel tired and stressed all the time and you’ll be able to look at all the great things going on in your college experience. All your new friends, your athletic and academic achievements, or reflecting on how much you’ve grown as a person. The key is taking everything day by day. Looking at all the workouts and assignments and exams and whatever else you have going on for the rest of the semester is terrifying. If you can say “okay, I have class until 12, that’s what I’m focused on” then “Ok I’m at practice, I’m not thinking about my project for these 2 hours” you’ll find that you can balance what you’re doing, and do it well. Stick with it, seek out new opportunities and ask for help.
Thank you for reading this blog post and I hope it encourages all of you to talk (or listen) to someone about any problems, big or small, and to take things day by day!
January 18, 2019
BLOG POST #1
September 23, 2014 at 9:20 p.m. This is the date and time that I told the Grand Valley State University Women’s lacrosse program that I would commit myself to coming to their school to play on their team. At the age of 16 I committed myself to be a part of a sport that I have been playing since I was 5 years old and could barely fit into an extra small jersey. Little did I know going into my junior year of high school I just made the best decision of my life. Little did I know that going to this Division II University that no one really heard of would help me overcome so many obstacles that I couldn’t have even imagined would happen to me while attending a school over 600 miles away from where I called home.
I grew up in a town where sports seemed like the only thing that held together friendships and families. I was lucky to grow up in a house with two older athletic brothers and an extremely athletic older sister. We were fortunate to have a mom and dad who came to all of our games and believed in us, even when it seemed impossible to believe in ourselves. My home seemed to slowly become the only place where I felt good enough for the people around me. I attended a small private high school for the first three years of school and then switched to public school for my senior year in order to play at a higher level of sports before venturing to west Michigan to continue the next four years of my life. In every game I ever played, the first thing I would do is look for my mom or my dad in the stands. I always had to know where they were just in case I needed one of my dad’s encouraging thumbs up or my mom’s intense “triple whistle” that I feel I can still hear to this day. I was a tall, happy, loud, full of life girl who was heading into college and I couldn’t have been more excited.
Flash forward to the spring season of my freshman year, I am crushing it on the field and in the classroom. I was receiving accolades and I was getting all of the attention that as a little girl I dreamed of, but in the noise of all of this attention I found myself only caring about what my parents had to say at the end of the day. I would send my dad the film of our games if they were not streamed and if they were, I would always call him the second we got on the bus or the second I got home from a game. He would go over almost every goal I made (or didn’t make), every draw control, and even every time I found myself face down on the turf. When he spoke, I listened. Every word he said I analyzed. Sometimes I would focus so hard on our phone calls that I could hear my mom in the background whispering things so he would make sure to remember to tell me what her opinion was on every play. After my freshman year, I couldn’t have felt more alive and I was so blessed to have made amazing friends who helped me stay the tall, happy, loud, full of life girl who was starting to turn into a young woman.
Welcome week of my sophomore year, I was ear to ear smiling the whole time because I just spent a whole summer back at home where people I haven’t seen in a while were coming up to me giving me congratulations because they saw all of my dad’s Facebook posts, bragging about how proud my family was of me. It felt good, but more importantly I felt good. August 26th, 2017 I had the day/night of my life. I spent the whole day with my teammates outside, doing abnormally good on yard games, laughing, eating, and just living life. The day turned into night and the night turned into the next morning. I wake up on the 27th, go to the gym with my roommates, come home and crack open an applesauce, joking with my roommates about how great our lives seemed to be. I look back at this moment now and realize it is amazing how quick life seems to change. My phone starts to ring, of course I have the most amazingly happy ringtone I could find on our default list of options, and I look down to see that it is my mom. I have that same ear to ear smile on my face and I answer the phone like this, “Hey mom!!! Sorry I didn’t call you yesterday!”. I hear mostly silence on the other end of the phone then she speaks in a voice I never have heard before, “Abbi, are you at home? Are you alone? Are your roommates there?”. I immediately dropped my spoon full of applesauce and walked over to the door and started to pace. Back and forth, back and forth. “Mom yes I am with my roommates and I just got back from the gym why?”. Those next words that unsteadily came out of her mouth changed my life, and that big smile that once had defined who I was, dwindled down to a sorrow that was painfully obvious every time I looked in the mirror or passed by a window. The next couple of hours consisted of phone calls, text messages and tears, lots and lots of tears. I mistakenly log onto Facebook while sitting on the floor of the Chicago airport, scrolling through the endless posts about what an amazing man my father was. The only thing I could think of was the last thing my dad said to me, “Abbi I love you and I am so proud of you and I am so excited to see how you will grow in this next year”. The only word I seemed to be able to say was “how”. How could this happen, how did no one see it coming, how am I going to get through this. The problem with all of these questions is that no one could seem to tell me the answer. I got home and everything around me got silent. No one seemed to talk, or maybe I just was not listening. A few days go by and I found myself forcing a smile and forcing words out of my mouth, it felt like with every word I sank into a deeper and deeper hole. I got my dress for the funeral, I wrote my speech for the funeral, I smiled through the viewing which was nearly impossible but had to be done. I would tell people what they wanted to hear, what they NEEDED to hear to make them feel better. The next day comes and it is time for me and my siblings to walk up and say our final goodbye to my dad, none of us knew what the other would say but we all knew no words could fill this new hole in our hearts.
This blur of a week came and it went, time seemed to speed up and days flew by in a blink of an eye and there was only one thing I could do, keep moving with it. I decide that it was important to go back to school, ready or not I had to try, I needed to try. Someone suggested that when I got back to school I should write letters, so I did. I wrote a lot of letters to different people, but as I look through an old box I have under my bed I find those letters, unsent. Fall turned into winter and winter turned into spring and that meant it was time for my sophomore season. I felt like all eyes were on me and if I would be able to improve from my freshman year and most importantly if I would be able to play without my dad. I told everyone I could, but could I? The games came, we would win or lose, I would care for a second but then I wouldn’t. My love for the game slowly started to decline and I found that I was not playing this game for myself but for the people around me. I was always physically at a practice or a game, but mentally I was constantly somewhere else. I did an amazing job hiding it from everyone, my roommates, my teammates, my boyfriend, my family, but the one person I could not fool was myself. For a while, I think I might have tricked myself into thinking I was fine, my smile slowly came back and I really thought I was improving. At the end of the season I found myself confused because in no way did I have a stand out sophomore year but for some reason people still were proud of me. I played bad, and not just “I am hard on myself” bad, but BAD. I did not produce the statistics I felt I needed to, I was so disappointed in myself, but to those around me I “did the best I could!”, I “seriously was so strong for being able to make it through”, I “made my dad proud!”. It wasn’t their fault that their words stabbed me in the heart, it wasn’t their fault that all I heard was “you sucked but let me give you this pity”. This tall, happy, loud, full of life girl who was starting to turn into a young woman slowly but surely became a tall, sad, quiet, stranger.
Junior year, almost a whole year later. I found myself having déjà vu, but this time at the first football tailgate of the 2018 season. I was having such a great night, doing a lot of my ear to ear smiling and then it hit me. The only thing I can compare my breakdown to is a Tsunami of emotion, flooding my body from the inside out. It felt like I was drowning in sorrow and had no one around to throw me a life preserver. I was lucky enough to have been with my boyfriend, but he was so overwhelmed with seeing me gasp for air in between my screaming cries. He had to reach out to the people he thought knew me best, my roommates. I can only imagine what they thought when they were pulled from the fun atmosphere of the first half of our college home football game and thrown into the mess that was my life. Emotions on top of emotions were piling on top of me. People were rushing in trying to find the right words to stop my tears from streaming down my face, but nothing seemed to work. I remember shaking and screaming “I need to talk to my dad, I need to talk to my dad”, everyone around me was left with blank stares and empty words. That night I found myself staring into the face of a police officer who was telling me how I needed to get help or I would never be able to recover.
Losing a parent at 19 is something I would never have thought would happen to me, but it did and my own thoughts consumed me. Throughout the next couple of days, all I felt was weakness. I was always tired, yet every night was a sleepless one. I could barely find the energy to keep my head up so I constantly found it drooping down. One day I got up from another sleepless night and turned on a cold shower. I stood in this shower thinking about the day before. My day went like this: I woke up, went to counseling, sat there twiddling my thumbs talking about everything but the issue at hand (which was entirely my fault because at this point I put up a barrier so no one could see in). I came home, ate half a sandwich and sat there until I had to go sit through a class that I did not even know the name of. Then came practice where again I found myself going through the motions and holding my breath until I finally heard the last whistle blow and I could breathe again because now I got to go home. My day was over and I couldn’t be more relieved. As I stood there, looking down at my father’s signature which was tattooed on my wrist, I saw it covered in pinch marks because all I wanted to do was feel something again. I turned off the shower and looked in the mirror. I no longer wanted to live like this anymore. I wanted to get my ear to ear smile back, but most importantly I wanted to actually be someone who made not only my dad proud, but myself.
I started to take counseling seriously, and even though I only went a few times it showed me that I CAN get past this, and I WILL get passed this. I began telling people what I was feeling, opening up more, breaking down the barrier that I once thought was the only thing that could protect me. I began to self-love: manicures, pedicures, bath bombs, and self-talk. I forced myself to love harder then I ever have before. “I love you” became a part of my everyday speech, whether that was to my friends, my family, my boyfriend, or the face I saw every time I stepped into a bathroom. Grand Valley became my happy place and I found myself surrounded by people that opened my eyes to see that mental health is not something to be afraid of, but something that can be grabbed by the horns. I no longer was afraid and I no longer felt alone. Thanksgiving break was coming up which meant it was time for me to fly home and see my family. I don’t know exactly why going home was so hard for me, probably because it was the place that knew best, yet I had this big dark secret that I knew would be almost impossible to hide. The days flew by and there was no time to even stop and think, it was honestly amazing. I get back to school and finally start to feel like my old self again. I would stop and think of these words I came to live by, “it is okay not to be okay”. I found myself laughing, having fun, and of course ear to ear smiling once again. While I was doing all of these things that finally became natural again, I found myself thinking of my dad, yet no sadness rolled in anymore, only more happiness. I was able to turn my phone around and look at his photo and smile with pure joy. I began to feel like he was always with me, I began to believe that he was guiding me through. Christmas break came and I found myself yet again getting butterflies to get off of that plane and step into my mom’s car, but even though I was nervous, I was not afraid. I decided to open up more and tell my family that I was getting counseling and that it really was helping, and they reacted with open arms, telling me that they were happy to hear that I was. Relief covered my body and I felt like I finally felt released from the imaginary handcuffs I placed on my own heart. As I enter my junior year lacrosse season, I find myself thinking about it and my body begins to explode with excitement. I finally want to play again, I finally can play again. I have my bad days still, like everyone, but now the good finally outweigh those bad. I finally have a sense of closure, I finally have a sense of acceptance. I have come to learn that grief has no timeline. It can hit you after a week or a year or even 10 years. No matter what your timeline is, it is YOUR timeline. No one else can tell you what you’re supposed to do or when you’re supposed to do it. I have also come to learn that everyone’s experience when it comes to the loss of a parent or loved one is different. People will give you advice, people will tell you what they think works because it worked for them but don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work for you. It is cliché but time really does heal, it is a trial and error process when it comes to finding the thing that really makes the light at the end of the tunnel shine. If you are going through something similar like this, please know that I believe in you, everyone around you believes in you, but you’re not going to start to feel better unless you believe in you.
I know after reading this, people might look at me different. I wrote things that no one knew about, that no one even suspected, but how was someone supposed to understand when I didn’t even understand it myself. Looking back, it amazes me that at just 16 I picked the place that in the end, ultimately saved my life.