I’ve never been just ________. I’ve always been a student-athlete. Never just a student and never just an athlete. Sure, sometimes one takes precedent over the other, but at the end of the day, they both still exist.
I’ve never been just ________. Putting aside the student-athlete identity for a second, what about me as a person? I’m a daughter, I’m a sister, I’m a friend. I’m also a worrier and an obsessor, but at the same time, a determined individual trying to make her mark on the world. I guess you could say I’m a conflicted human being.
Which identity is better? Student-athlete seems pretty simple, right? You do your homework just like you put in the hours in practice. You take exams just like you show up for competitions. One would say they are mirror images of each other just in different contexts. The label of a student-athlete, however, is somewhat misleading.
It’s just two words. But what most people fail to recognize is what those two words leave out of the student identity. They forget to include injury, stress, pain, competition, disappointment, dreams, failure, success, pressure, responsibility, determination, teamwork, and I could go on. The student-athlete identity would seem like the recipe for a successful individual. And sure, it is for some people – but a particular type of people, one of which I have learned I am not anymore.
I cannot simultaneously identify as a student-athlete and as _______. It has been something I’ve struggled to balance ever since I started participating in collegiate athletics. _______ has different aspirations. I want to be fascinated, I want to learn, I want to grow. But more importantly, I want to be happy. It is something I haven’t felt in a while. I have brief moments where I experience this, but they are all too fleeting. Call me greedy for wanting more, but isn’t the goal of life to be happy? And if you aren’t, are you failing? Perhaps one could be miserable but successful because they sacrificed a happy life for a successful one. That’s what I felt was necessary for the longest time in order to prosper under the identity of a student-athlete. Ask someone else and they may have a different answer. Hell, ask me at a different time and I may give a different answer. But the point is, this is how I feel right now.
People have been telling me for a while to focus on “the now.” To not get ahead of myself because that would only lead me to obsess, become anxious, and eventually spin out of control. Control – well, that deserves its own explanation.
Life is as controllable and uncontrollable as you make it, however, nothing you do is going to prevent a meteor from hitting the earth and ending all life as we know it. Maybe that example is a little extreme, but it demonstrates that life is, for the most part, inherently uncontrollable.
But the small number of things we can control, I find difficulty with. For me, I would say my emotions are inherently uncontrollable because they take a mind of their own. Some days I am able to feel emotions that one would call “healthy” and the next, my emotions are hit by a literal meteor in the form of a panic attack.
I constantly find myself struggling to make sense of my emotions. Therefore, controlling them seems all too impossible. But one thing I do pride myself on is my willingness to ask for help. I want help and I know that I need it. There is no shame in admitting that. What I find shame in, however, is all the things I feel necessary to give up in order to get the help I so badly require. I will sacrifice my status as an athlete before my status as a student because I have always valued my education over everything except family. Maybe after this adjustment I will find not only the time, but also the peace of mind to get help.
But, if I no longer identify as a student-athlete, I fear that I will carry a dark cloud of shame with me wherever I go. Shame from my teammates, my coaches, my parents, my friends, and more importantly, myself.
How do I cope with this shame? To do that, must I get help first? I don’t know. How are you supposed to be hopeful about a magical light at the end of a tunnel if you don’t even know where the tunnel is?
I guess the first step then is finding the tunnel. I have to find what I know is best for me and follow it. Yeah, it is going to be difficult and probably the scariest thing I will have to deal with in my life so far. But if I don’t take that leap, I will be left wondering who _______ really is.