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An Athlete's Mental Health Journey

For my whole life, it has always been an aspiration of mine to become a high-level volleyball athlete. I worked hard and it eventually paid off; I represented my country, Canada, on the Youth Volleyball Team in 2017 and am now on the Babson Beaver Varsity volleyball team. I have always loved to play my sport and to be around my teammates and it often appears that everything is going smoothly from the outside-- but if you asked me, how does it really feel on the inside?

Anxiety is something that I have always struggled with, and still continue struggling with. I often find myself thinking about worst-case scenarios no matter what situation I am in, and working myself up about thoughts that may not be rational. Sometimes, it impedes on my daily life and I avoid doing certain things because of how anxious I can get. However, being an athlete myself, I recognize that there is a stereotype within the athletic community that we are supposed to be “mentally and physically strong”; and what’s even worse, is to appear as if mental issues do not phase or affect us. Over time, I found myself falling into this trap trying to hide from the anxiety I was struggling with, which made things a lot worse. I was afraid to be seen as “weak,” or someone that “couldn’t handle the pressure.”

Something that really turned my thought process around was when Victoria Garrick, a USC Division 1 volleyball player and mental health advocate came to speak at my college. I had been a longtime fan of Victoria’s and getting to see her in such a personal setting deeply changed my perspective on expressing my own mental health.

During her talk, she shed light on her personal mental health issues and those amongst athletes and shared how the pressure and stigma to be perfect needed to be broken. I felt a sense of relief learning that she too-- as a high performing Division 1 athlete-- was someone who had also experienced mental health issues. From a young age, I saw Division 1 players like Victoria as superstars, as people who are, as said before, mentally and physically perfect. Hearing Victoria share her battles showed how normal mental illness is for athletes and how it is more common than a lot of people think, no matter what level someone plays at.

Someone like Victoria, a talented, well-known volleyball athlete sharing her personal mental health struggles can have a dramatic impact on other athletes who feel alone. Her experience showed that not everything is like how it looks on the outside, and not everyone who you think is perfect, is really perfect. This experience helped me climb out of my personal struggle of hiding my anxiety from the world, and allowed me to feel vulnerable to share my mental health struggles with my teammates, coaches, and peers.

Openly acknowledging my mental health was an important step for me as it positively shaped who I’ve become as an individual and as an athlete. Practicing vulnerability and opening up to others about my mental health has not only helped to elevate my game on the court, but has also helped normalize mental health conversations within my social circle and for me to truly understand myself. I no longer feel shame in going to therapy, and seeing a sports psychologist. Hearing Victoria’s story validated and normalized what I was going through then, and made me want to be a role model for others, to show other athletes that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes, and that striving for perfection on the court and outside is a flawed goal.

I’m extremely proud and blessed to be a part of a generation where mental health is prioritized and the stigma is beginning to break away. We must recognize that mental health is no different than physical health, we all possess it and therefore we should prioritize it just as we do with our physical health.

The author of this article, Jordan Lapins, is an Unmute Therabuddy. Therabuddies are everyday people, many with lived experience in muted or marginalized communities who have experienced the challenges of finding the right therapist and want to help make it easier for you!

Note: This article covers general information & guidance. If someone you know is in crisis, please call the emergency services or the national suicide helpline: 1-800-273-8255. The content is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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