I thought you’d like to know that things are pretty great now. You’re in a good place, better than you could have imagined just a few short years ago.
When you were trying to train longer, work harder, be smaller - your wires got crossed… and what you thought was a healthy work ethic had become an eating disorder, a mental health crisis without you realizing it.
Despite how much you were struggling inside, on the outside, you had always put on a strong front. I’m so proud of you for the work you put in to get to the place you are now, and I never want you to take your mental health for granted ever again.
This letter below is for anyone who may see glimpses of themselves peeking back at them in the words you used to tell yourself. Now that you’ve reached the other side, you’ve made a commitment to use your experience to help others.
“I never imagined someone like you would be struggling with their mental health!”
Neither did I.
Someone like me? Why would someone like me struggle with my mental health? Scholarship offers for two sports. Good grades in school. Two incredible parents who did everything they could to provide me with endless opportunities. A sister who was an amazing role model to me.
With all of the privileges I have had in my life, wouldn’t it be selfish to disappoint the people around me?
Ungrateful. That’s what I thought about myself. Why would someone like me have any reason to struggle with my mental health?
“Just appreciate what you have”, “Work harder than everyone else, even when you’re tired”, “Work harder if you don’t see results,” “Do more”. These were the messages that played on repeat in my head for years.
Mantras like “Never be satisfied,” “The grind never stops,” and “No pain no gain,” constantly come up on a daily basis in the athlete environment. I had been consumed by these thoughts since I first started playing sport, with little to no idea how they would impact me in the future.
“When did I start to struggle?”
No human being is prepped for transition. No one enjoys their identity being tossed in a few different directions while trying to find out how to belong in a new environment. The easy answer to where my own struggles began is to blame college, my high-performance aspirations, or to blame school stress. That must be why I struggled, right? Despite how I felt deep inside, I always kept it all together on the outside. As long as no one knew my internal battles, I wouldn’t be ashamed, right?
“You got this far, no time to disappoint now.”
As my struggles progressed, I felt like this is all I could hear in my mind.
On the court or in the weight room, through extra workouts and training sessions, even late nights in study hall. I began obsessing about clean eating. This was the loop I remained stuck inside of.
Having a sense of accomplishment was nowhere to be found in my daily schedule, because I didn’t have time to even consider disappointing or not meeting expectations. Maybe if I was a little smaller, a little quicker, a little stronger, a little smarter - then maybe I would feel more accomplished.
“Hanna, slow down. A little turns into a lot.”
The shift from a competitive mindset to an obsessive mindset was fast.
It wasn’t scary at the time, because I didn’t really understand what was going on. All I knew was that I wasn’t satisfied with myself. I wasn’t proud of who I was as an athlete. How ungrateful. Right?
What I learned is that mental health is not tied to the appreciation of what you already have in your life. You can be incredibly grateful for the things and people that surround you and still struggle with mental illness. Oh, and it sure as heck doesn’t discriminate either. Your gender, shape, size, sport - none of that matters. Anyone can experience these struggles.
After years of living with an eating disorder as a high-level athlete, and dealing with the long-term health effects that continue to follow years after, I finally came to this understanding. But before long, I would find myself questioning it all again.
“Why would you put yourself through all of that, just for those simple lessons? You ruined your life.”
I told myself that I should’ve educated myself more and had more empathy for people around me who were really clearly struggling. From the outside, my life looked okay. So, I told myself that. Things are okay. It’s okay, I’m okay.
When things would get bad, the story I’d tell myself was that maybe you just have to hit rock bottom to pick yourself back up and get to where you want to be.
I learned that you don’t have to let yourself hit rock bottom. In fact, please don’t. We’ve lost too many people down there.
“Okay, just one last question Hanna- What made you decide to go public with your struggles?”
Because…if only I’d known. This was always my first thought when asked this question time and time again. If only I had known these things. I wonder what my life would’ve looked like. Would you be a pro athlete, an Olympian? Maybe. Or maybe not. Maybe there was no single reason I would have to battle with mental illness.
Maybe I simply lacked awareness.
It all looked great from the outside. It still all looks great from the outside. Only now have I learned to be honest when this is not the truth.
The truth is, you can’t normalize these kinds of conversations without having the conversations. Open ones and honest ones about your thoughts, struggles, pain, and lessons you’ve learned. There are so many lessons I have learned through my experiences. But, if only I’d known these lessons before I had to learn them myself.
Today, I aim to pass these valuable lessons along, hoping that someone out who is looking for answers can find them here.
Mental illness does not discriminate. You can live a picture-perfect life and still struggle with your mental health. Don’t put athletes on a pedestal. They’re human, just like you. Let go of the idea that external rewards will bring internal accomplishment. You’ll be disappointed.
It takes a village. Doesn’t matter the size. Lean on the people around you. This is true courage. Check-in on your people. You’ll realize how quickly this results in checking in on yourself. It’s a win-win.
You don’t lack gratitude because you experience struggle. Both can coexist. Give yourself a break.
With growth, comes acceptance. With acceptance, comes vulnerability. Be willing to be vulnerable.
If I’d known these lessons,-would my life look different? Probably. But, would I change my experience so that someone else would have had to go through it in order to pass along the same advice to me?
My mental illness is what makes me unique. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m proud. This mentality is not easy to have - I have to remind myself of this every day. But, I’m worth it.
You’re worth it.
If you or someone around you is experiencing triggering thoughts following this article. Please contact one of these incredible resources. These conversations are not easy, but they are necessary.
With mad love,