ESSAY | How Track Saved Me From Depression

Track Saved Me From Depression - Actively Gemma

If I’m being honest, I’ve probably gone through this in my head too many times to count, but have never had the courage to actually sit and write everything down.  The only reason you’re actually reading this now is because my friend, Brandi, encouraged me to share my story.  This was and will probably be the hardest thing I’ve ever sat down to write.  Here’s your warning:  this post is extremely long.  It’s definitely more of an essay than one of my typical blog posts, but I knew that if I was going to write about this, then I wanted to write about it, including all the gory details that I’ve always been too embarrassed to share with anybody.

I’m actually not sure where to start, so I guess I’m just going to write and hope this ends up taking me in some sort of real direction.  During my freshman year of college, I was severely depressed.  Why?  I can’t be completely sure.  I never went to talk to anyone about it, despite the many times I attempted to make appointments to talk to a professional.  Looking back, I’d say it was a couple reasons.  I think I was predisposed to it.  During high school I would go through periods of being “down”, but I always just pushed it aside or placed blame on being a teenager going through normal angsty issues. These phases always passed pretty quickly, so I never considered it returning full force later on in life.  Unfortunately for me, I think being in the college environment only exasperated everything.  When you go to a large university, it’s very easy to either make tons of friends or fall through the cracks.  I was the latter.  I had friends, but no one I was really close with (excluding my roommate and my boyfriend at the time).  Not only that, but suddenly I wasn’t the smartest person around.  I was getting average to below-average grades and my confidence and self-esteem fell dramatically.  To top it all off, I was basically running on 3-4 hours of sleep everyday because of my work study job, which lead to me being sick pretty much all year and poor performances both on and off the track.  I spent all my free time in bed sleeping or crying, and Skyped with my mom to try to fend off the homesickness.   I skipped classes all the time (which didn’t help my grades). I hated every second of it.  

I ended my freshman year failing my first class ever and placed on academic probation, which meant I wasn’t allowed to compete.  Luckily, we didn’t have meets until the spring semester, so I had time to bring my grades up.  That summer I resolved to try harder at everything.  Sophomore year I stopped working nights, pulled a ton of all-nighters, and focused more on the progress I made on the track.  On top of all that, I became closer to a girl named Jennifer, whom I had met the semester before.  Oddly enough, she’s one of the reasons I was able to pick myself back up.  Since I rarely left my room, she would check in on me constantly.  She would drag me out to eat a proper meal (instead of just the junk I kept stored away), and introduced me to great group of people who I now consider some of my closest friends.  On days where I absolutely refused to leave my room, she would just sit and talk.  I’m not sure exactly why she went out of her way on so many occasions, but I’ll be forever grateful for it.

Second semester is where things started going wrong, again.  Our track team is lucky enough to travel during the outdoor season, but the downside of that is that you have to really be on top of your work.  I struggled with this, despite the fact that I dropped the class to try and make the work-load easier to handle. And because we traveled so often, I couldn’t see my friends as much, either, so I began to feel that old sense of loneliness settle in.  This time, I just tried to ignore all my problems, and eventually fell into the cycle of skipping classes and getting bad grades again.  Somehow, I managed to convince myself things would work out.  I was wrong.  I failed two more classes, was put on probation again, and was told if it happened again I would be kicked out.  After I saw my grades and got that phone call, I called my mom to tell her.  As soon as she picked up, I broke down.  It took 10 minutes for her to calm me down enough for me to actually get any words out.  

After I talked to her, I felt a little better.  I signed up for summer classes and pushed forward.  I had a lot to time to think that summer and decided I needed to be completely honest with myself:  I wasn’t happy and hadn’t been for a long time.  I saw school as the catalyst for how I felt and came to the conclusion that I should take a break, since quitting was out of the question.  I figured I could take a leave of absence, try and find out what direction I was going in, and hopefully find a way to manage everything.  I ended up not taking the break.  The main reason for that was track.  In a stark contrast to my academic career, my track career had taken off.  I had drastically improved my 100m time and qualified for more meets than ever before.  Going to practice and running in meets became the highlights of my days, and was one of the biggest motivators for me to try and find an alternative solution.  Thinking back on it now, I know if I had taken that leave, I wouldn’t have come back.  I have no idea where I would have ended up, and I’m glad I’ll never know.  

I ended up deciding to change my major.  I just couldn’t do engineering.  It wasn’t school as a whole that kept breaking me down, but I just couldn’t stand the fact that I was studying something that I barely found interesting.  Classes became ten times harder, and I would fall into that self-destructive cycle, again.  The second the thought of switching my major popped into my mind, I felt immediate relief.  The kind of relief that I felt when I skipped class and laid in bed all day.  When I went home for the 4th of July weekend, I talked to my mom about switching.  Her words were “As long as you’re happy, I’m fine with it”.  Throughout the two years of school I hadn’t conveyed just how bad everything had been to her, or anyone else really.  I glossed over it, and if anyone noticed me being a little more down than usual, I’d just say I was tired, a common problem for college students.  It was nothing for anyone to worry about.  Having my mom give her blessing restored my confidence and I got to work on figuring out what I needed to do to get the new major in motion.

My junior year, I started with all new classes and faces and loved every second of it.  I got off probation again, and was able to once again compete.  Second semester, I began traveling, but was able to manage everything a lot easier.  Writing came easy to me, and the assigned topics usually gave free enough range that I could find something that I could make interesting.  This isn’t to say I didn’t have any bad days.  I just learned to handle them better.  Instead of isolating myself, I would seek out Jennifer or any other friend that was available and talk to them about anything and everything.  I called and Skyped my mom because somehow she has a way of making me feel like everything will be alright.  I focused on track and put more effort into getting to know my teammates.  I learned that every now and then, it’s OK to take a day off and have a good cry, as long as you get back into the swing of things the next day.  Junior year ended up being the first year that didn’t end with academic probation.  

At this moment in time, I’ve finished my very last class and am awaiting my degree (I have to wait until September to receive it).  I’ve competed and medalled internationally for Ghana, and have made plans to continue to do so.  There are still times when I feel the depression seeping in, but I’ve learned to see the signs from a mile away and deal with them accordingly.  

I’m not sure if there’s one concrete thing I want people to get out of my story, but I’m sure you can find something if you search hard enough.  It’s OK to change your major.  You’re not alone in feeling the way you do.  Failing isn't then end of the world.  You don’t have to handle everything on your own.  There’s probably more, but this isn’t why I shared my story.  I want anyone who feels like they’re stuck in the same cycle to know they’re not alone.  It took me two years for me to face what was happening in my life.  Sometimes you have to really be honest with yourself in order for you to face what’s happening in your life.  

I just want to say thank you to everyone who’s read this far.  Thank you to my mom who became my rock, even if she didn't realize it. Thanks to Jennifer, Brandi, and everyone I’ve become close to for making me realize I’m not as alone as I once thought I was.  And thank you track for returning to me my confidence and self-esteem, for being the reason I didn’t get stuck in the downward spiral during my dark days, and for being one of the reasons I kept pushing.

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