As if ending the season with the worst record in years, not qualifying for the conference tournament, and failing to accomplish my personal goals wasn’t bad enough. Then pile on studying for finals while, also, being responsible for working tirelessly to stay physically fit. College sports demanded excellence not just during season, but year round—in sport and school. And, finally, on top of it all, the end of the fall semester in Michigan inevitably ended with a winter storm that consisted of sleet, heavy snowfall, and freezing cold temperatures.
Michigan State University’s campus is one of the biggest campuses in the nation. Just like many colleges, parking was extremely limiting–causing me to trek across campus in my winter parka and boots to get to my classes. This felt awfully lonely and depressing at times.
As the semester wound down, it was clear I had the most difficulty during that time. It seemed my final grades were dictated heavily on the outcome of my final exams. The pressure placed on anyone to score well is overwhelming. But, the pressure a student-athlete puts on oneself can be shattering. When I wasn’t working out, I was studying.
At the time I was in college fourteen years ago, mental health carried a stigma, and often went unrecognized. The pressure I felt as a student-athlete to perform to my utmost potential led to overtraining and calorie restriction. Then, because of my perfectionist personality, and drive to succeed, these behaviors quickly turned into unhealthy habits. As the weather turned colder, the sky became dreary things started to take a turn. I lost a significant amount of weight, was constantly sad, had very little energy, and lost interest in just about everything. I not only developed an eating disorder, but I was depressed, as well.
I never would have admitted to being sick, depressed, or even malnourished. It was preached my entire life that I needed to be mentally tough, and persevere through any difficult circumstances. Therefore, conceding to the fact that something was wrong with me made me feel like I failed myself, and everyone else for that matter.
But, looking back now, I am so lucky my roommate and coaches noticed signs that I needed help, and had treatment resources available immediately. I was directed to the sports medicine staff, who then arranged an appointment with a psychiatrist who specialized in athletes with eating disorders. My process to recovery began.
This week, as the weather is getting colder, the days shorter, and final exams scheduled, it is especially important to be in tune to signs and symptoms of eating disorders and mental health for yourself and others. I promise that if you need help you are not showing a sign of weakness—instead you are demonstrating a tremendous amount of strength. I can also promise you one more thing… I was, and am, not alone. In a recent study of Division 1 NCAA athletes, over one-third of female athletes reported attitudes and symptoms placing them at risk for anorexia nervosa. It does exist. And, it can be helped.