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I Let Myself Believe I Was the 'Brain Dead Girl'

I don’t remember much about last year, but I remembered how it happened.

I was playing field hockey in a national qualifier. Parents and college coaches where sitting up on the observation deck, and I knew having an “off” tournament was not an option. If I had an “off” tournament we wouldn’t qualify. If I had an “off” tournament I jeopardized potential recruitment. It’s amazing now to think that was all that mattered to me.

I know somewhere within a 25-minute span of the first game, I had the ball on my stick and was doing a skill I had done thousands of times. Pull left, accelerate, close off — but this time, I received a push from behind. My neck snapped, but the ball was still on my stick. Pull left, accelerate, pass left. Now breathe. Something doesn’t feel right. I look over at my coach, and he urges me to open myself back up to receive a pass. A college is here to watch me. My team needs me to qualify. I am fine. I went on to play the rest of the game.

I remember right before the buzzer went off, quickly pressuring and gaining possession of the ball. I think I took two steps before the buzzer signaled the end of the game. It was over and we had won. But it wasn’t over. My mom told me it was the same girl who had hit me earlier in the game, but honestly I don’t remember. All I remember is feeling her stick against my back as she hit me. Again. My coach told me to calm down. He didn’t defend me, and the referee didn’t seem to care I had just been hit with a stick after the buzzer went off. I wasn’t OK. Nothing about the next 15 months of my life was right. I am sure the girl who hit me hasn’t thought of me since. I am sure she never realized what her anger cost me. All I wanted to do was qualify, and be recruited.

I don’t remember much about last year, but I remember how it happened.

The way to treat a concussion is through isolation. They stick you in a room. A dark room, with no noise and no mental stimulation. The first couple of weeks are easy. The first couple of weeks all you feel are the physical symptoms, the headaches, nausea, fatigue. It’s the following eight months that get harder. It’s the following eight months where you become isolated from yourself.

I don’t remember much about the last year but I remember driving home from school. I remember it because driving home was always the hardest part of my day. Driving home was where I learned to hate myself. I had done it so many times, the same route, 34 minutes, that was my fastest time. Thirty-four minutes was how long I had to live with myself. I remember leaving school every day and I remember slamming my already injured head on the back of the car seat and crying, wishing I somehow wouldn’t make it home. I couldn’t kill myself, but that didn’t stop me from wishing I were dead. I was reckless in the snow, and took the windy roads home thinking maybe a deer would jump out in front of me. I began living like every day was just another chance to die. Every day I made it through was a victory.

I don’t remember much from last year after I was told I would never step back on the field hockey field again. I contacted coaches and told them I had received the one injury that would make me ineligible to play for them, but I didn’t know this would be the easiest part of the next year to come. I know I started losing weight, 20 pounds to be exact, because I could see that and I could feel that. But I didn’t know the worst part would be the things I couldn’t see, the things that weren’t on the symptom sheet.

I don’t remember how I got to thinking I was nothing, but I know it happened. What I do remember is someone saying (anonymously posting actually), “Amanda Willet, isn’t she that brain dead girl?” I remember this because I remember reading it and believing it. For an entire year, I believed I was just that brain dead girl. Looking back, I realize the worst part is not the fact that someone said this, but the fact that I believed it. The worst thing about high school is not the horrible things other people say to us, but rather the horrible things we say to ourselves. I wish I had known what people think you are doesn’t actually make you who you are. High school is hard and I certainly didn’t realize making it better was entirely within my control. What other people where saying about me wasn’t the problem. The problem was what I was saying to myself. I was saying “I don’t like myself” and “I am worthless” and “I am not good enough.”

Everyone thinks you need to tell other people that “sticks and stones may break my bones,” but what I’ve learned is that sometimes you have to look at yourself and tell yourself, “What I think about myself is wrong.” Living with ourselves isn’t something we are taught how to do and that is what makes high school so hard. 

The issue with mental health is that because it isn’t something we can see, we as a community and a society think it just isn’t there. We are surrounded by constant reminders to eat healthy, exercise and make sure we are peeing eight times a day. We are reminded to do our homework, get good grades and make sure we have enough to put on our college application. We are reminded of our religious requirements, culture credits, campus service, weekly meetings, seated meals, required fun and all of the rules that tell us what we can and cannot do.

What would happen if we were reminded to be mentally healthy as often as we are reminded to fulfill all of these requirements? What if treating mental health became as common as treating a physical injury or illness? If going to a therapist became as easy as going to the trainer, or a teacher for extra help?

What would happen if crying didn’t make you weak, and anger didn’t mean you lacked self-control? If asking for help didn’t make you a failure, and making a mistake didn’t make you unfixable? What if instead of judging each other, and prying on each others’ insecurities, we stopped and thought, “I have no idea what this person is going through. I don’t know anything about their home life. I don’t know what they do on their drives home. I don’t know how hard it is for them to get up every single day and function. I don’t know if they are living each day like it is another chance to die”?

For a while I couldn’t even help myself, and I wondered how I could help people by writing this. And maybe you can relate to what I have to say and maybe you can’t. But one day you’re going to be alone. One day you’re going to be OK without everyone else, but you’re not going to be OK with yourself. That’s something nobody wants to tell you. Suffering is a universal war, but an individual battle, and it is so easy to forget that pain is temporary, and eventually something else will take its place. Pain can take away our ability to see long-term. What I didn’t know last year on my car rides home was that your talents aren’t what define you, and what other people think about you isn’t what defines you. Your grades, your athleticism, your looks, your popularity, none of that defines you. We attach ourselves to these things and we let ourselves think these things are who we are.

A year and a half ago I was preparing to commit to play field hockey. When I lost that I let myself believe I was nothing. I pushed away anyone who cared about me, and let myself believe I was just that brain dead girl. Last year, when I wanted to kill myself, I didn’t know crew would come into my life, or that I would be able to get into college without field hockey, or that I lived in a community with beautiful and wonderful people who would support me through anything. I didn’t know any of this, yet I was so ready to end it all.

I don’t remember much from last year. I don’t remember the depression, the anger, the loneliness. But I do remember the things that saved my life. The kindness of friends, the family that the crew team became for me, the support from teachers and faculty and family. Cherish each other and love each other. Have courage and be kind. It may save somebody’s life. I know it saved mine.

Amanda Willet

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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