Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to play soccer. I would always be in the field playing soccer with the kids from my class, and I would be at home shooting around with my dad. To me, soccer was the dream, and playing at a collegiate school in the states was all I ever wanted.
Fast forward to high school, I was on the basketball, water polo and soccer teams. I had the privilege of being on some pretty amazing teams, winning multiple city championships, and competing at OFSAA on multiple occasions. I was finally becoming the athlete that I always wanted to be. One day, I received an email from an American University coach, and my soccer dream was becoming a reality. I was going to play university soccer in a well-established Division II school in Pennsylvania. I was growing with anticipation the months leading up to my departure. I was practicing everyday, going to the gym, and doing on runs. All my hard work and dedication was about to pay off. However, in one fateful practice in the July, while preparing for the Super Y League U.S National Finals is when it all started to fall apart. This is where my mental health story began.
About a month before I was to live my dream, I injured my ankle. After waiting 8 hours in the hospital, I was told that it was a bad sprain. While I was disappointed that I could not play in the US National Finals, I was elated by the fact that the doctor said that with physio, I would be ready for training camp…my dream was still alive.
My ankle problems continue through training camp. I would practice for a couple days, and then have to sit out a couple of days due to the pain. Even though I was 10 hours away from home, and not playing, I was still in high spirits because I was living my dream. Finally, after a month and a half of going back and forth between playing and not playing, my coach decided it was time for me to see a surgeon to discuss what was really going on. The surgeon decided that I needed surgery, and 3 weeks later, I had it. Looking back on my situation now, I believe this is when I started to become depressed. I was in a cast, and had to crutch up and down hills to get to and from classes. My roommate wasn’t in our dorm very much, and because of my injury, I couldn’t do much else but sit around. It was probably, at the time, the loneliest I had ever felt. I had worked so hard to get where I was, and now I was forced to sit in my room for most of the day. Our team had just made the NCAA tournament, and everyone was busy, so there was not anyone there to give me the mental support I needed.
In January, I started to feel a lot better. I had my cast off, and was able to start rehab. I had hopes that in four months, I would be back on the field being the player I once was. In my mind, that dream was still reachable. About a month into rehab, I got a call that changed my whole university career and to some extent my life; my parents were now separated and they were getting a divorce. At this point, my roommate had moved out and I was alone. I was so focused on school and rehab, and now I had to deal with a whole other problem at home. This is when my depression returned. I wasn’t eating very much, I was always alone in my room and I remember always crying. When you talk about having a disaster of a freshman year, I feel mine was.
Somehow I managed to pull my athletic life together, and managed to rehab my ankle well enough to start to play again. The thought of being on the field again is the only thing that kept me going, and kept me hopeful. I practiced for 3 weeks, and even played in 4 games. Things in my mind were going better, until they weren’t again. About a month after being cleared to play, I tore my ACL.
Tearing my ACL was the thing that made me decided to come home. That moment when I had found out that I was faced with another year long rehab process was probably one of the hardest moment I had ever had. Even with everything that went on the previous year, it was in that moment that I felt my dreams slipping away. I cried for three days straight.
I was lucky enough to have two high quality universities at home, and after discussion with my parents. I decided to come to Carleton. I was even lucky enough to have a coach who was willing to take me on, after all my injuries.
Almost a year after first injuring my ankle, I was going into my second major surgery. This time though, I felt as though I was much better prepared. The athletic therapy staff were really supportive, my coach was very understanding, and my team embraced me with open arms. I worked hard, I bonded with my team, and I believed that I was on a healing path, both mentally and physically. It wasn’t until our first season game that it hit me that it would be another year until I could be on the field again. I continued to try and work hard, I went to all of their games, and was the best cheerleader that I could be; but inside I was slowly dwindling away. My personal life was up in the air, and my only release to my anxiety (playing soccer) was something I could not do. On the outside I was doing all right, but on the inside I was not. I began partying and not caring about anything. My grades were slipping and I was becoming a shell of the person I used to be. It took one long cry with one of the athletic therapists at Carleton to show me where I was headed and where I needed to go. I started to speak to a counselor, and eventually I started to realize what was going on. Around Christmas, something clicked in me and I realized I needed to change my path.
In March, I had the privilege, of stepping on the field for my first practice. After I finished practice, I remember just crying because I felt like I had gotten something back. I was still a far cry from the player I once was, but I now felt a part of me was back. Over the next six months, I had many setbacks in my recovery. Eventually August rolled around and it was time to start a new season.
It was officially my third year of university, but my first year of actually getting to play soccer. I was no where near the physical shape I needed to be to compete at the university level, but the coach let me stay on the team to try and work on all the aspects of my game. Deep down, I knew the player I was still there, I just needed to find her. My depression had subsided and I felt as though I was finally in a good place in my life. I even had the opportunity to start my first game. I remember hearing the national anthem and hearing them call my name. I actually started to cry, and I looked up, and it so happens that my dad was crying too. It was a moment in which we both felt a sigh of relief because maybe things were getting better.
That same week, in practice, I received a concussion in practice and my season was done…yet again, just like that!!! The thing about concussions is that you don’t feel them like a regular injury; it’s not like a knee or an ankle that you can see the visual difference; it’s your head. When this happened, I did not feel shock or even that upset. It was more of “well obviously things are going to go wrong.” Again I rehabbed, and was cleared to play, until 3 months later, I received another concussion. Again, I had the same “what else is new”, being injured to me was now as normal as not being injured.
After this concussion, I was cleared and started to work hard again. I was playing the best soccer I had played in years, and could feel that something was different. I was happier, healthier and more myself than I had been in a long time. With all the support and care I had received, I was ready to take on anything. I had a new job, great friends and a boyfriend that could not have been more supportive. I was ready to take on the next year with a storm, and finally live my dream.
Finally this July (I am starting to realize that July hasn’t been a great month for me), at practice, I was struck in the head with a ball. The moment the ball hit my head, I felt like something was wrong. My ear started to ring and I fell to the ground. I knew and the athletic therapist at the practice knew I had probably just received a concussion; although neither of us said it at the time. It was my third concussion in nine months, and probably the worst one I had ever received. For the following three weeks was the most depressed I think I had been in a very long time. Again, a twist of fate had probably taken my dream away…for a fourth time.
It has been 4 very long years, and I have had to deal with a lot. With every injury, and every setback, it has taken a little piece of me. The mental aspect of every injury has probably been the toughest. The physical pain I could deal with, it was the mental pain that has been almost unbearable at times. After many discussions with my coach, my athletic therapists and my family, I made the decision to take a step back and take a year off. I didn’t think I could spend another year on the bench, and to continue to go through it again. I can tell you now that I do not regret my decision. For the first little bit, the depression came back. I didn’t know who I was without being apart of a team. I continued to follow the team online, always checking scores and trying to get live updates. The team was always a part of me.
It has been 5 months since my last hit to the head, and I can tell you I am feeling better than I have felt in a very long time. I am still suffering post-concussion symptoms, but they are slowly getting better. I am doing reasonably well in school, and may even graduate in May. I have also found a career path that excites me. I have even started coaching. Taking a step back from soccer, and focusing on my health has been the best thing for me. It has allowed me to continue to heal mentally and physically.
Many people don’t understand the mental drain that being an elite athlete has on you, and many people are not prepared to deal with it when their sport is taken away. For so long, I was very mad at the game I loved because I felt it took so much away from me. The passion I had for the game made every injury I had seem like it was the end. For the first few months since leaving the team, I didn’t know if I could ever go back, and if I would ever be strong enough to deal with going back. Today I think I will go back to the game, and with all the support I have received, I know that I will be okay in the end.
Special Message: I want to say a special thank you to all the coaches, doctors and athletic therapists at Carleton. Without them, I do not think I would be able to heal and be where I am today. I also want to say a special thank you to my parents. Although it has been a difficult time for all of us. They have been my rock through it all. Through every decision, every surgery, and every tear they were there. So thank you.
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