What I Learned From Coming Out as a Gay Athlete With Depression
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
Senior year of high school started out like any other year. School, work and athletic practices would take up a majority of my time. But what I did not realize was the thoughts and sleepless nights that would accompany my hectic schedule. I did not realize how some days would take every ounce of effort to lift myself out of bed. Even lace up my sneakers for basketball practice. Countless nights I spent in my room just trying to shut off the thoughts of death and hate for myself. I never thought I would feel this way. I had a great life and a loving family. I went to a great school. Held a great job. But underneath it all, I knew one secret I could never reveal. I was gay.
I was gay. Those words felt like soap in my mouth when I first said them. I could not be gay and be an athlete. Those two worlds did not coexist. If I was to be offered a scholarship and be successful, I better not be gay. The more I tried to bury this part of me, the more I found myself sleeping less. I woke up and went through the motions, just because I had to be OK. Not gay. I had to function and be a smart and hard working student and daughter. Those feelings of being gay could not exist. I also realized at the same time I could not be sad. Or numb, because numb was what I felt. Tired is what I felt. Empty. Exhausted. Broken. Damaged. Or maybe I felt nothing at all. I felt like an empty shell of an athlete trying to navigate a world that did not welcome me as gay.
And so I kept quiet. I kept quiet about being gay. Maybe if I did this, I could wish it away. Maybe pray it away. That works right? Praying away the gay. I blamed God for not helping me though. I would pray and pray but never got an answer. How could I be gay? How could I be depressed? It made no sense to me. Hiding was the answer, even if it was destroying me. If I was going to be a good Catholic and an athlete, I could not be gay.
I also kept quiet about being depressed. Because just like being gay was not OK, neither was being depressed. Because depression was not something physical. I could not say I can’t practice today because of depression. It is not like a sprained ankle or torn ACL. It is not a reason to stay home from school like the stomach flu I had in eighth grade. How could I explain it? How could I explain I needed time to finally feel happy? I couldn’t. So I continued to battle my own thoughts, function in public,and hope for a day I could feel something, anything. Google called this “high-functioning depression.” When I went to see a psychologist about some anxiety about flying, I asked her what this meant. Would I be OK? And how could I feel emotions again? I didn’t mind having this high-functioning anxiety, but I just wanted to feel something.
So I was gay and depressed, but no one had to know. No one needed to know. Because athletes aren’t gay and athletes aren’t depressed.
Halfway through season, I finally broke. I quit the game I loved. I told my coach and teammates it was because I wasn’t getting playing time and needed to work more hours at my job. Because that was easier. It was easier to lie than tell them the truth. And so I walked away. But I was still silent on being gay and depressed. Because kids get beat up over being gay. And well, I would rather be in my own head walking around like a machine than risk adding physical abuse to the already growing list of problems I drew up.
It would take two more years for me to realize hiding was destroying me. So I finally came out to those close to me. Or actually I let people in. I finally felt safe revealing I was gay. I thought with this, I would not be depressed, but I was wrong. After some more therapy sessions, I found out depression can come in waves. I would have good days and bad days. Heck, maybe I could even have some great days. But I needed to hear six words to make me realize I was not my depression. “It’s OK not to be OK.” Those six words saved me from my own self. It took me some time to accept the fact I could feel depressed and show it to those close to me. It took me years to understand I can talk about my depression openly without the judgment I perceived back in high school.
Today, I still have bad days. But I also have great days. Days where I can feel and experience myself outside of my own thoughts. I am working on taking personal time and space on the bad days. Accepting it’s OK to reach out to others for help. To share my story. To allow myself to be vocal about my depression and anxiety. I viewed my depression as a weakness that could never be revealed. But today, I use it as a strength. I know I am stronger each day I wake up. I may have bad days. I may need to take a personal day. But that is OK. I know depression will be a life long battle for me. I will have days where I feel happy, sad and empty. But I have friends that love me. Friends that don’t tell me to just be happy. They recognize my depression and they make sure to give me support. I may have depression, but it does not define me.
If you’re feeling suicidal, or just needs a safe place to talk, you can call the Trevor Lifeline at 866-488-7386.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Thinkstock photo via efks.