Kristyn Smith's Story
Sports aren’t supposed to be easy. You’re supposed to be strong, get up and dust yourself off when you fall because that’s what you’re taught from day 1. Always looking for the next opponent to beat and the validation that you get when you beat them or when you do well. It's a high that all athletes chase and it’s what makes you great. But what happens when that new opponent comes along, The one that has a name but no face or the one that looks back at you when you look in the mirror. No one can train you to beat depression or anxiety in the way your coach can train you to beat your rival team. Mental health is silent and it hits you when you least expect it to.
As a kid I was put into any sport just to keep myself moving until I picked softball. It was the sport that my older sister played and I’ve always wanted to be just like her. The pressure of wanting to do well and having everyone tell you good job after a game was what I wanted even as a young kid. I was harder on myself than anyone else could be after bad games or games that I knew I could’ve done better in. No matter how many times my parents told me they were proud of me, I told myself that they were lying to make me feel better because I was so hard on myself.
As I got older I began to experience these feelings more and more but I became better and better at softball. The older I got the more pressure I put on myself to do better. My anxiety and post game depression would only build but I was able to find my escape from these feelings of anxiety and depression, just get up and dust the dirt off like I was taught. I pushed the feelings down further and further until I couldn’t feel them anymore and then I would explode on myself or those around me. Mental health was an injury far worse than any type of broken bone or sprained ankle and it felt like a weakness that if I ignored it would never be there. “Just keep moving” is what I tell myself because once you stop it hits you all at once like a train without a whistle.
In the summer after my sophomore year I had stopped moving, I made the decision to transfer schools and softball was not going well for me. The train had hit me, I was depressed and forced myself out of bed just to go play softball. I made it through the summer season and when August came around I had my first thought of wanting to be gone from everything. I felt worthless and like I couldn’t be good at anything because I had failed that one summer as a softball player. I pushed the feelings down further and further until they weren’t there anymore. “Just keep moving,” I told myself again.
I transferred schools and was finally able to commit to play softball in college like all my other friends had been able to. Fast forward to today as a sophomore at Manhattan College who in the span of a year has dealt with two injuries that stopped me from playing. In September I began to get shoulder pain like no other that I had ever experienced, and when I went to the doctor and got an MRI done it came back with the results of a tear in my shoulder along with tendinosis. I was to not do anything for 3 weeks and then follow a 4 week throwing program. I barely played in any fall games because I could only hit and other than that I sat on the sideline and heckled some teammates. I had to find the good in the bad and just keep moving.
I was able to get through the fall and get back to throwing just in time for us to go home. I went home and worked and worked, spending almost 4 hours at the gym sometimes just looking for my next distraction. I came back to school with the want to play since I had worked so hard all summer and winter. During our first preseason weekend on a trip to Louisiana I was hit in the face which ended up giving me a concussion and a broken nose. After the games I walked over to my parents and cried in my dad's arms. I cried about how unfair it was that I had worked so hard just to be out again. It felt like the world was giving me a sign that I shouldn’t be playing softball.
During my concussion recovery I was trapped in my room listening as my roommates would go in and out to class, practice or Lockes dining hall while I was in a dark room looking at the ceiling. Who thought someone could miss dining hall food until you’re locked in your room? I stopped moving again to which the train that hit me felt like hundreds hit me at once. I sat with my thoughts that told me how bad of a player that I was, “How could you get hit in the face at a position where your job is to catch the ball?” was my biggest and worst thought. I told myself over and over how dramatic I was and that I needed to get over my concussion so I could get back onto the field. I thought I was a baby and worthless because I couldn’t get over a small injury and that everyone was disappointed or thought I was faking it because I wanted to sit.
When I was finally able to get back onto the field my world came crashing down around me. I had gotten myself back in the lineup and one thing after another went wrong, I had made 2 recorded errors and went 0-3 in just one game. Everyone told me that it was okay and that I just needed to get over the hump and everything would fall back into place. To me it meant that all my thoughts were right, it meant that having two injuries in under a year was someone telling me that I should be done. I began to spiral and the thoughts came back.
I became less and less like myself, I wasn’t getting work done, I didn’t wanna be around anyone, and I didn't wanna be at softball. I was scared to make another mistake because I felt as if people were judging me for the ones I had already made before. I thought as if everyone around me would benefit from me not being here anymore. I thought the easiest way out was to be gone, because no one would need to deal with me. The pressure had gotten to me and I had cracked, I watched as other student athletes across the country took their own lives. I kept drowning and every time I moved it felt like the weight on my chest had only gotten heavier.
I lost myself as a player but also more importantly as a person. Athletes are often only recognized as athletes who are supposed to be tough and can get through anything. But we forget that they started out as humans, as little kids who fell in love with the game before the game got too big. So I stand in front of you as a softball player but also as a human, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and as someone who suffers from depression and anxiety. I stand in front of you to tell you, even if you know me or not, to ask for help if you're struggling and to check in on your friends who might be. There's nothing scarier than feeling alone in a world where everyone tells you that you’re not. The hidden opponent can’t beat us if we stick together as one. You are seen, you are heard, and you are loved.