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Why Quitting Swim Team Was the Best Decision for My Mental Health

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Since I was little, I’ve loved the water. The pool was a second home to me. Every time I saw a body of water, all I wanted to do was dive in and start swimming. I told myself I was a mermaid. I thought I’d always have this love, this passion, for the water and swimming. But unfortunately, the high school swim team changed my love of swimming into something else: hate, loneliness and dread.

Since I was 7, I swam on the local summer swim team. I was always fast and won a lot of first place ribbons. Since swimming was such a rewarding and enjoyable activity, I planned to join the high school swim team. I didn’t know what I was in for. High school sports are a commitment. Swim team is no exception. From August to November, for six days a week and two and half hours a day, I swam. Even though I was a freshman who didn’t swim year round, I was doing very well (I earned my varsity letter freshman year). But I still got burnt out.

My anxiety prevented me from making friends. In fact, I only had one friend who got me through. I don’t know if I could’ve made it without her. Being a quiet and introverted girl made me into this person who was almost untouchable to others. I was weird, antisocial — unfriendly even. Swimming, supposedly a team sport, made me feel isolated and lonely. At meets I would sit alone, debilitated by anxiety before my event.

Swimming began to be more for exercise and for college applications than for fun and friends. After freshman year, I was nervous for sophomore year. Could it get any worse than this past year? I thought. The answer, unfortunately, was yes.

Sophomore year I again was on varsity, but the difference between freshman and sophomore year was I didn’t have my friend. She had decided to join theater instead, so she left swimming and I behind. Practice was a little more dreaded, meets had a little more tears. I looked at the clock more often, minute by minute ticking by ever so slowly. I didn’t know how I was going to make it through.

My anxiety still made it impossible for me to make new friends. Stress made it even worse because of loads of homework. And just when it seemed it couldn’t get any worse, I started getting horrible headaches every day. I couldn’t do anything when I had a headache except just lay down and try to cry the pain away. Swimming, which used to be my one true love and passion, began to be hell.

So I stopped.

I decided the headaches were the end of it — I had to take a break. Did that mean I was going to come back the next year? Of course. Swimming was my obligation. My sport. The only sport I was actually good at. I didn’t train at all during the time between sophomore and junior year. I couldn’t. Even thinking of going in the pool again gave me the chills. It broke my heart that swim team had ruined my love of swimming. Even though I was still a strong swimmer, and others told me I was a beautiful swimmer, I just couldn’t look at water the same.

The first day of junior year swim, I already I knew I was probably going to quit. It was OK. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t fun, it was tolerable. It was the first day after all. As the week went on, it was still just OK. I thought about my future with swimming. I decided my commitment for the next four months would be swim. For hours every day after school (which is torturous enough as it is), would have to be swimming. I dreaded going every day, being surrounded by people I wasn’t even friendly with. I’d been diagnosed with depression. I’d been diagnosed with anxiety. And I knew swimming was making me feel more unhappy. I knew swimming was causing more anxiety in my life. But I felt obligated to swim. Because for so many years I’d been a swimmer. And I felt defined by it.

It took me a long time to decide to quit. I don’t know why, but one day I just had this moment of clarity. That I shouldn’t do swim team anymore. And so that was my decision. I quit. I felt fine for the first week. But after that week, I’d begin to regret my decision. Was I making the right choice? Was I happier now than when I was swimming, or worrying about swimming? Am I bettering my mental health? The answer was yes.

Sometimes the hardest decisions are the right ones. Quitting swim team has let me explore other interests I never would have been able to if I’d kept with the sport which became torturous to me. And as for my mental health, I feel quitting has benefited it. I’m less stressed and less lonely. I don’t have to sit in the bleachers alone and hide my tears. I can let go of all those times, and try to find myself. Swimming obviously wasn’t going to be my future, so now I have to figure out what will be. And for that, I am excited.

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Thinkstock photo via EvrenKalinbacak.

Originally published: September 1, 2017
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