Recently, the Long Island softball community was rocked by tragedy: a very young athlete on one of the local travel teams took her own life. This young athlete was not one of my students, but my heart broke just the same.
I realize that this is not a topic that many people are comfortable discussing.
I realize that most people tend to think that athletes are immune to depression or suicidal thoughts. The truth is, that athletes are just less likely than the general population to seek help for their depression. In fact, college student-athletes seek help for depression about 20% less than their non-athletic peers. According to a University of Washington study analyzing athlete deaths, out of about 500,000 student-athletes who compete annually in NCAA sports, 477 died from suicide between 2003-2013.
That’s probably more than you expected.
This is a topic that hits very close to home for me for many reasons. So I am going to get very personal for a minute in the hopes that I can save just one life with my own experiences.
As a young adult (even before high school), I struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide. On the surface, it would appear that there was no real reason for it other than the fact the I felt isolated and misunderstood. I have always had a supportive, wonderful family. We weren’t struggling financially. I always did well academically. I was always involved in sports. I was the last person whom you would ever expect to have thoughts of suicide. Yet they were often there: desperate ghosts haunting everything I did. I would sleep every day when I got home from school, but I was constantly exhausted. I was constantly thinking about how nice it might be to sleep forever.
I was lucky enough to have a tremendous guidance counselor in middle school who sacrificed her lunch period to spend time with me and help me work through some of the things I was feeling. She called my parents and made them aware of what was happening. My parents put me in therapy.
But it isn’t that simple.
Even with all of that help, I still struggled with periods of depression all the way through college and my first (and only) year teaching high school. Thankfully, the suicidal thoughts ended when high school did, probably because college gave me a glimpse of how much more there was to the world. I realized that I didn’t want to miss all of the wonderful things that the world had to offer, but I still had periods of depression. I utilized the counseling services that my college had to offer and you should make sure that you do the same. If you are suffering, but embarrassed about it, many schools offer relatively anonymous counseling. This counseling can literally save a life. Find out about what your school has to offer. Even if you don’t need these services, your friends might.
After all of that, what I want you to know is that I am horrified with my former self when I think back on those dark thoughts. Perspective is an amazing thing. I am currently living the life of my dreams. If someone had told me in high school that I would grow up to have a career that I created for myself out of love, I don’t know if I would have believed it. I also have a life where I am able to travel the world, and have the most amazing son I could have possibly imagined. I don’t know if I could have understood this magical life coming from a place where I felt so hurt and lost. But I want you to try and imagine what amazing things the future holds for you once you are past all of this. Really, the most important thing that I want you to know…
It gets better.
You have to fight it.
You can’t give up.
Repeat it to yourself: It gets better.
It might take years. It might take therapy and medication and lifestyle or dietary change. You might have to meet with several different therapists because the first one might not work for you. You might have to have people whom you can call in the middle of the night to talk you down. You might need to keep the number for a suicide hotline on hand.
It’s worth it.
I am brought to tears writing this and thinking about all of the people whom my suicide would have hurt: not to mention how horrible it would have been for my parents. If you don’t have a great relationship with your parents, think about how your decision would adversely impact your friends, your mentors, your coaches, your teachers, and the other people in your life. Suicide is not a decision that you can ever come back from.
I am brought to tears thinking that I never would have had the chance to work with so many amazing athletes, or to go to Japan, or fall in love. Most importantly, I never would have had the euphoric joy of holding my amazing son in my arms or listening to him laugh every day.
Think about it: with one action, you would be erasing your whole amazing future.
And you don’t know what amazing things your future can hold. Right now, the depression might cover your face like a horrible mask, but one day you will be able to see life without it, and life is gorgeous in so many ways.
Please seek help. Tell people about what you are going through. I know it feels embarrassing, I know it feels awkward.
You are worth it. In your future, you can be anything you want, and then you can go on to save other people.
I truly thank God every night for the wonderful life I am able to lead. I know that you have a wonderful life inside of you too.
And I want you to live it.
Please share this as much as possible to help anyone who might be going through something like this. Remember that it isn’t always the people whom you would expect. The number for the Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. You can reach someone there at any time. Their website is https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org