When you grow up doing gymnastics, you grow up in a culture that is unlike any other.
You practice six days a week for at least five hours a day, spend more time in the gym than at home, and arguably see your coaches and teammates more than your own family. You are told to watch what you eat and monitor your weight starting at a young age and are constantly chasing perfection.
Honestly, it’s like being told over and over that you aren’t good enough.
This was my life for 14 years, so I never thought anything of it when I would experience major anxiety or go through spurts of struggling to get out of bed... I simply called it “being in a funk.” I thought this was normal and everyone felt this way.
I never said the word “depressed” or made the connection that I suffered from a mental health disorder.
Or maybe I did but didn’t want to admit it to myself or appear to be weak to anyone around me. I was always the one in my family that no one worried about, I was the “strong one that is always fine.”
My Desire To Break Free
Time went on and I continued with these struggles. I finished club gymnastics and started my career as a collegiate gymnast at Arizona State University.
I was excited for college and to move to a different state and get a fresh start. It was the chance to be whoever I wanted to be, someone different.
I didn’t have to be the girl that would “be in a funk,” turn to the wrong things to make myself feel better and repeat the whole thing a week or so later.
I could just be the fun-loving, free-spirited girl I wished I was.
Although as I started college I struggled to adjust, my freshman year I was mostly the care-free girl. I thought maybe, just maybe, I’ve broken free from that part of myself.
The Worst Point
Then my head coach retired, and the team got an all-new coaching staff.
My sophomore year started with extreme excitement about the possibilities a new coach could bring to the program.
Long story short, I ended up seeing a therapist and a doctor that year who prescribed to me anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants. I was mentally at my lowest point.
The excitement I once held did not last long. After a tough year, I transferred to the University of Iowa for my last two years of gymnastics due to my mental health.
My sophomore year, I realized that I was at a point where I was not truly living. I only got out of bed for practice & weights but skipped classes for three weeks straight. I didn’t want to eat. Overall, I couldn’t even go to practice without getting sick from being so anxious.
Thank You, Iowa
While that year was one of my hardest, good still came out of it.
I learned so much- that standing up for yourself and those around you is hugely important, that you don’t have to settle and that your happiness is more important than any amount of money or other distraction.
My athletic trainer, Mindy, made my mental health a priority. It was the first time in my life it was even addressed.
It was halfway through my sophomore year when I decided it was in my best interest to transfer.
I quickly found a new family at the University of Iowa for my junior and senior seasons.
Both sides of my family are from Iowa and my dad graduated from there too, so it was an easy decision. Even easier after I met the coaches, staff, and team.
At Iowa, the importance of the athlete as a person is put before their athletic ability. That was something truly unique to me.
My New Mantra
The mantra within the gymnastics program at Iowa is that “I am enough.”
The head coach, Larissa Libby, came up with this a few years ago and has continued it each year making sure every gymnast that comes through her program knows there is more to life than gymnastics and more to themselves than their skills.
Throughout my two years at Iowa, my mental health and happiness were prioritized above anything else, as it was for every member of the team.
We would do mental training every Friday to improve our performance and learn how to better ourselves as a whole. The exercises we did within mental training in addition to the support I felt from the staff has been one of the biggest blessings and has without a doubt saved my life.
I cannot thank the entire university, my teammates, trainer and coaches, especially Larissa, who has dealt with and helped me with so much more than any coach should ever have to. She taught me that I am enough, that my mental disorder is nothing to be ashamed of, and that I have so much to offer to the world and to live for.
Finding Strength In God
Over these years, I also started going to church regularly.
If there is one thing that I suggest in life, it’s to establish a relationship with God and our savior Jesus Christ... I can’t begin to explain the difference this has made in my life and how I look at life.
Just knowing that I belong to Someone and Someone loves me has worked wonders on my life.
When I’m having a hard time understanding something or just struggling with accepting that I don’t always have control over everything or know what’s next, I open my Bible and talk to God.
It never fails to make me feel better and ease my anxieties. When you don’t know what to do, give everything to God.
Accepting The Struggles
This isn’t to say there aren’t days where I continue to struggle, because there are.
There have been times since coming to Iowa that I didn’t want to get out of bed, that I hardly ate for days at a time and tried masking my problems with alcohol.
Although no one knew at the time, just four months ago, I even questioned if it was worth it to keep going.
I was in a really dark place mentally after a really hard year.
However, because of Larissa, teammates who have become sisters, the beliefs instilled in me from my time as a gymhawk, and my relationship with God, I can say it is worth it.
I finally know and believe that there are people that love you. That you have so much to give to the world and that there is still so much more to life than what you’ve experienced or even know about now.
You have a purpose. You are enough just as you are.
Ink On My Skin
Your depression, anxiety, eating disorder or any other mental health disorder you may deal with is NOTHING to be ashamed of and nothing to keep quiet about.
I got a tattoo that reads “love you more” with a semicolon because of this belief last fall.
The quote is to remind me and everyone that sees it to love who you are and all that makes you unique.
Semicolons are used when an author could have stopped the sentence but CHOSE to keep going and is the symbol for suicide awareness and when someone CHOOSES to keep living.
The most important thing I have learned about mental health issues and dealing with them myself is that it is crucial to reach out to those who you think might be struggling. It could literally save someone’s life. It is also life-changing to talk about your own struggles so you can deal with them, instead of suppressing them.
These issues hit home with me.
My grandmother died of suicide. Two of my friends and a few other students from high school also died this way. My best friend intended to via overdosing on pills and had to be admitted to the hospital… It would be a lie to say I’ve never had similar thoughts. Society needs to end the stigma and make conversations about mental health the norm.
If you or someone you know is dealing with suicidal thoughts, please, reach out and get help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 for help. You can also go to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/ to find emotional support or a counselor.
If you remember anything, remember this- keep fighting. Keep choosing to live; God’s not done with you yet.
As the saying goes, “Suicide doesn’t end the pain, it just passes it to someone else.”