Thanks to Mai Foringer for contributing this story to our Project: Speak series on athletes’ experiences with mental health in their coming out stories.
Trigger warning: mentions of self-harm and minor suicide ideation, moderate language
It’s hard to explain what having depression and anxiety is like when it’s the way I’ve been living and thinking my entire life. I can tell you what it’s like for me when it gets really bad, but not a day-to-day thought process.
Before being diagnosed my sophomore year of high school, I believed everyone thought like me. I assumed others thought about what their death would be like, or had days where they didn’t want to (or couldn’t) get out of bed or out of the house. I believed everyone thought they were the worst person to ever exist when they did a piss-poor job at something in school or in sports.
I’ve found that I hold myself to a higher standard of living and thinking. Not in the sense that I live like the one-percent do, but that I’m always supposed to be ‘ON’, as in, I have to do everything perfectly and if I don’t, then my teacher, coach, friend, partner, or whoever will think I’m too lazy and not worth their time. I get mad at myself when I start thinking woe-is-me when I know others are going through Hells I can’t even imagine, but then I get down on myself again for being so selfish. It’s like the image of a snake biting its own tail. It’s a never-ending cycle that doesn’t really help anyone.
My tipping point was freshman year of high school. All of those years of bottled up emotions and confusion came out kicking and screaming.
I had spent years trying to figure out what was broken inside of me that made me not have any crushes on guys. I looked up to the older girls more than any guy in my life. I was naturally drawn to females more, and I didn’t understand why that was.
In 2011, preseason crept up on me at the end of the summer and it was downhill from there. I had no interest in seeing anyone, or doing any of the practices, which was unusual for me. I loved seeing my friends after a long vacation, and I loved soccer. It just didn’t add up. As the season wore on and I added schoolwork into the mix, I was left feeling so emotionally and physically drained. I lost my appetite, so I would skip lunch. I cried myself to sleep most nights. Every little thing set me off, and I was either ridiculously angry or in tears and that was just during the school day. Practices and games were a nightmare. I couldn’t do anything right, and my teammates weren’t helping matters by yelling at me and telling me to get focused so I could be recruited. Fuck that. I could barely get out of bed, let alone worry about what colleges thought of me. College recruiting wasn’t even on my radar so that added a whole new dimension of stress.
One thing led to another, and the pressure became too much and I turned to cutting about halfway through the season. I used it as a reward for getting through the day, but also as a reminder that I could still feel something because honestly, in the moment, I couldn’t tell. I didn’t feel sad, or happy, or angry anymore. My whole body felt numb, and my mind was blanked out. I barely spoke to anyone; I was on autopilot. I never attempted suicide, but I had an idea how I would’ve wanted to go. People believe that suicide is the most selfish act on earth, but I don’t agree. I felt so useless. I believed that I was a burden and a waste of space. I also believed that I would be doing the world a favor if my space was free to be filled by someone better equipped to live properly.
This went on until late-February 2012. Our lacrosse coach liked informal winter practices to get revved up for the spring, so I decided to go. During the first week, we were introduced to the tri-captains. Two of the girls had been my captains from soccer, but the third senior was a mystery to me. I had never seen her before, nor had I heard of her.
There was something about the way that she told us that the captains were always there for us for anything, lacrosse-related or otherwise, that I started to think about maybe letting someone in. That night I reached out to her. At this point, I was so tired of fighting myself that I bit the bullet and slowly started asking for help.
Over the course of the season, she and I talked a lot. Mostly it was me talking to her, well, more like badgering if I’m being honest. But I was so desperate for any form of comfort and camaraderie that I took whatever I could get. When I look back on our interactions, I realize that she was exactly what I needed at the time. She was already in a position of seniority, therefore there was an assumed idea of experience and knowledge that I, as a freshman, wasn’t privy to yet. But more than that, she was always accommodating and replied to my messages quickly. I began to trust her more than others, and I began to tell her what I’d been going through that year. She never judged or interrupted me. She validated my struggles, and that’s what I’d been craving to hear for a long time. When I came out to her, I was sweating bullets and almost started hyperventilating. Her opinion of me mattered so much at that point, both as my captain and teammate and just as another person. When she didn’t reply right away, I asked if she was angry and she was quick to reassure me. For the rest of that conversation, she made it a point to make sure that she left me feeling welcomed and accepted, as I was, all of me, and nothing less. I had one of my best seasons that year. I’ve never been able to replicate a feeling quite like how I felt after coming out to her. When I say that I believed I could do anything that season, I meant it. I fell in love with my sport again, and felt like a normal kid for the first time in my life.
When I look back on freshman year, I found that I never stopped to think that my pain was valid; that I could have a legitimate reason to be upset. Other people feel pain, and have their own Hell, that is true, but that does not decrease the value in our personal struggles because they are two separate entities and cannot be measured up to one another. I also forgot to celebrate the smaller victories. I think everyone does that. Remember to celebrate the little victories, no matter how small, because they matter. They’re important, too. I still struggle with my demons, but that doesn’t mean I let them control my life. Do I have hard days? Definitely, but it’s not a 24/7 thing anymore so I think I’m on the right track. I share my story with people because I know at least one person will feel less alone knowing someone else is going through something similar. It’s all about visibility and support.
Mai Foringer is a former soccer, field hockey and lacrosse player. She retired from contact sports her junior year of high school. She is currently a freshman at Penn State Abington, commuting from center city Philadelphia. Her intended major is Athletic Training. She is also one of the Social Media Coordinators for GO! Athletes. Mai can be contacted at: email@example.com, Twitter: @mai_foringer11, and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mforinger
Project: Speak is a story-sharing series to promote conversation surrounding mental health, addiction and suicide in LGBTQ* athletes. If you are an athlete interested in sharing your story, contact us as firstname.lastname@example.org.