The things I didn't know

“Injuries, while hopefully infrequent, are often an unavoidable part of sport participation. While most injuries can be managed with little to no disruption in sport participation and other activities of daily living, some impose a substantial physical and mental burden. For some student-athletes, the psychological response to injury can trigger or unmask serious mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, disordered eating, and substance use or abuse.

When a student-athlete is injured, there is a normal emotional reaction that includes processing the medical information about the injury provided by the medical team, as well as coping emotionally with the injury.”

Those emotional responses include:

Sadness

Isolation

Irritation

Lack of motivation

Anger

Frustration

Changes in appetite

Sleep disturbance

Disengagement

(Margot Putukian, NCAA Sport Science Institute)

Check.

Check.

Check.

Check.

Check.

Check.

Check.

Check times a million. This was my reality.

I never had an injury until college. But, it wasn’t until I was out of college and through eating disorder recovery 10 years later that I learned about the significant changes that someone goes through mentally & physically with an injury. There’s something wrong with that picture. For me, it was an injury that kept me away from running for almost a year. For others, it’s years. No matter how long it takes to recover from an injury there are changes that take place that should be addressed and acknowledged in sport.

While I knew something was different, I didn’t really know. And while I went through the motions of surgery & TONS of rehabilitation, I experienced many of the emotional responses noted earlier. And as an 18-year-old going through a hard transition into college, I didn’t know how to cope with more adversity. It’s mind-boggling how alone I felt during that year and a half through injury. I questioned my very existence during that time. But yet, no words would come out asking for help. Mental illness thrives in secrecy.

While many people can talk about how their college experience was fantastic and list all the reasons why they had a great time, my mind draws a blank. Like a fog covered me for 4 years. And really that fog followed me well after college was over. Mental health issues don’t just go way. I would love a mental health magic eraser. I would love a re-do.

So many of the women that have blogged this week have mentioned the fact that while running and their sport is part of their identity, it’s not their whole identity. And they may have come to that realization through the experience of an injury. To find themselves. So no, I don’t want a re-do. I just want to bring awareness. I just want to educate others. I want schools to use collaborative programming for their athletes. “What you don’t know can’t hurt you”. I’d like to re-write that statement as, “What you don’t know CAN hurt you.” Not knowing about the changes I would experience through an injury was a blind spot in my life. It caught me off guard.

My ultimate piece of advice for anyone in sport is empathy. Creating a judgment-free environment where athletes can be themselves and where they can feel safe to talk about difficult issues. And if you as a coach, as a parent, as a teammate don’t know how to address a certain issue…just listen, talk, learn, collaborate and reach out for guidance. It could save someone’s life.