Posted on: December 4th, 2023

The Wellness Journey of a D-1 Athlete

By: Alexis johnson

Playing softball always came easy to me; it was my first love, as well as my first heartbreak. The feeling of getting hits, making plays on the field, or running bases was always such a thrill for me. Committing to playing Division 1 softball was the happiest day of my life. I had felt all my hard work had finally paid off and my dream of playing college ball was becoming a reality. Upon entering college, I anticipated that it would be time-consuming and a big challenge, one that I was ready to take on. To my surprise, I was not anticipating to run into struggles with my mental health. I was always the kid cracking jokes, smiling, and messing around. Then one day I noticed I didn’t smile the same anymore. The things I loved the most started to become draining. I constantly found myself not wanting to get out of bed to go to class or practice. I either was not eating at all or eating very little. I had recurring anxiety/panic attacks, would cry in my room every night, and stopped heavily interacting with those in my inner circle. I felt like I was a zombie walking through life. I don’t think people knew what was going on either. Like I said before, I was always smiling or laughing putting on a good front. 

My time in college athletics has not been as smooth as I think it could have been. I had 3 different coaches in three years and was on a losing team. I never truly gained full comfort or familiarity, because each year I never knew what to expect from the different coaches. However, with each new coach, everything seemed to get progressively worse. My sophomore year was the worst year of my life. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, started taking meds, and began going to therapy. None of this worked at this time though because I was not ready for help. I was so wrapped up in feelings of self-hatred, denial, feelings of not belonging, etc. These were all things I had never felt before and for the first time in my life, they all came crashing down at once. My biggest reason for being in denial was being told things like, “You have the perfect life, why are you upset” or “You’re just complaining, get over it.” Comments like these hurt so much and made me think that I was somehow being ungrateful, especially coming from those I thought would support me no matter what. After this year, I made serious efforts to go into junior year mentally stronger.

What did I do to get through it?

  • Therapy:  I took therapy seriously over the summer. I had weekly sessions to make sense of what I was feeling and give me tools to better cope in harder times. 
  • Self-Care: I made sure I did things I enjoyed and knew would make me smile. Things such as hanging out with friends, painting, being outside in nature, etc. 
  • Being Patient with Myself: Being patient with myself and understanding that this is a process. Getting stronger mentally will not happen overnight and there will be days where I won’t feel the best. Allowing myself to know that it’s okay and my feelings are always valid.

Overall, with graduation coming up for me in May of 2024, I find myself reflecting on my experience and how I will move forward from it. These by far were the hardest years of my life, and I did not want to go through it again. However, going through it helped me grow as a person and made me realize there is more to life than sports. The lessons learned and battles fought all contribute to the person I am today. 

My biggest advice is:

  • Not to stay somewhere you know you are not wanted
  • Life is too short to spend your youth unhappy
  • Find the joys in life no matter how big or small
  • Most of all smile every day even if it is at the silliest things, but also know it’s okay to feel broken inside at the same time.

At Pillars, we specialize in helping athletes on their wellness journey. If you are an athlete, experiencing any mental health concerns, don’t hesitant to reach out! Learn more about our program here.