I was 14 and in the middle of the first tournament of my high school career. It was January, and I was more excited than ever to start playing. I had been relentlessly practicing; from waking up at 4 am to go to the gym and work out to spending time with my coach after practice until 10 at night, I was completely entranced with practice. It was all I could think about, even during school. My first tournament this year was fairly large, with 4 games needing to be played to determine rankings for the pool play the next day. It started out with a clean 2-set win in the first game. The second game followed the same pattern. When our third game started, I knew something was wrong. I could feel a sense of dread in my chest I could not shake off no matter how hard I tried. It was in the middle of the first set, and one of my teammates did not pass well. The ball was flying off of the court towards a wall, that did not stop me. I ran after it, determined to prove my worth, even though I was the youngest on the team, I was valuable. Before I knew what happened, the side my head made contact with the ground, and my body was not stopping. The momentum pushed my legs, rolling them over my shoulders, and the wall was there to add another hard blow to my head and my ribs. I was crying, but the air was knocked so harshly out of my lungs I could not make a sound, the saltiness of my tears was the only feeling grounding me to where I was. My mother was running towards me. The gym was silent. I could not get up. I do not know how, but I was sitting on the bench crying and yelling at my coach to put me back in the game because, “My team is passing horribly and I need to help them.” I was put back in 2 points after I hit my head. This was the biggest mistake I could have made. My team eventually won our third game in a 2-1 tiebreaker that went into overtime. We had a slight break after, but I could not remember what we were doing. The fourth game began, and I was back in the starting lineup. In the second set after a loss in the first set, I was back towards the end line of the court to prepare for serve receive. The other team saw I was too far back. They served, and the ball was going to land right after the 10-foot line. I knew no one was going to get it, so I ran and dove after it. My head was not prepared for the harshest blow yet. This time, I blacked out. I do not remember if I was able to keep the ball up in the air, but when I came to, I was on the floor and my team was surrounding me and trying to get me off the ground. I did not tell them I was unconscious, even for a brief moment, because that meant I would need to go to the hospital and miss the rest of the game and possibly the following day. This time, I could not remember where I was at, or what my name was. I only remembered what I was doing, what sport I was playing, and what I knew was going to follow after I left the tournament. After a crushing 2-0 loss in our fourth game, my coach sat us down and told us what we did wrong and right, and what to prepare for the next day. I do not remember any of this, all I could feel was the pressure and pain in my head that was so unbearable I knew I needed to go to the hospital. My mother drove me to a local children’s hospital, where I was run through a head CT and a chest x-ray to determine if I had any significant bleeding or broken bones. I was diagnosed with a grade 3 concussion. It meant I would not be playing the next day, or in my foreseeable future until my symptoms went away. I went home the next day crying after spending hours in the hospital. Angry, distraught, confused, these emotions cycled over and over in my head like a broken record: Angry, distraught, confused. Angry. Distraught. Confused. My grades suffered greatly during this period. I physically could not go to school most days, and instead spent them in the dark confines of my room, my four walls my only company. I could not look at any screens, for the blue light was too harsh and too bright for my eyes to handle at the time. My balance was compromised to the point I could not walk straight and could not go anywhere by myself. I went from a model straight-A student to barely pass with C’s or maybe a B if my teacher was gracious enough to understand my situation. Most of them did not. It was a full calendar month before I could return to school fully, and by this time I had changed. I was not outgoing or happy anymore. I was pessimistic, tired, dark. I had thoughts of harming myself constantly, but I could not because my mother was constantly watching me and I did not want her to see me that way. Instead, I used sports. My body became my canvas and the floor was the brush; I painted bruises, floor burns, and gashes on myself like an artist. I often came home covered in wounds I would cover with sweatpants and sweatshirts, and would never tell anyone. I worked hard to try and recover my grades, but I still could not sit still for more than a half-hour without a throbbing headache beginning. My downward spiral was reinforced by my own thoughts. Why did I not do better? Why did I not protect myself more? Why did I have to be so prideful? Why did I not stop? These thoughts plagued me every waking moment, and even in my sleep in the dreams, I can remember they still haunted me; these ghostly whispers circling around me like I was their prey, waiting to strike and take me down. Angry. Distraught. Confused. It took me until my senior year of high school to finally get myself to an almost-normal. I have many marks on my skin that will remain with me for the rest of my life as a result of my last three years playing. There are days I wake up and everything seems too much of a task to do. Instead, I lay in bed and simply go back to sleep, because it is the only way I can stop my head and my heart from hurting those days. I got accepted into my first-choice school to play for them in October of last year. I realized I needed to change. I began to take school more seriously. I began to make fantastic grades and will get my first two years of college done by the time I begin my next four years at my university. I struggle so much to this day. I have never gotten away from those haunting thoughts. Some days I still listen, their voices reminding me of how much I have lost and will never get back. Some days where I wear sunglasses inside because the world is just too bright and too loud. These days, I have a new team waiting for me, every person wanting the best for me and wanting me to succeed. I will no longer be a not-wanted nuisance, I will be an equal instead. I have not recovered mentally by any means, but every day it gets just slightly easier for me to drown the voices out: angry, distraught, confused. Angry. Distraught. Confused.
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