*Disclaimer: The following post was not written to evoke pity in any way. Rather, it is a narrative of how I endured a very low point in my life and emerged stronger and enlightened. Hopefully, those going through times of strife can use my story as a source of inspiration.
Chp 2: Sophomore Year (’13-’14)
“The darkest hour is just before the dawn.”
The summer leading into sophomore year, my family and I had gone back to China for one month to visit family. There, I visited the ZhuHai rhythmic gymnastics province team- the team I trained with back in summer ’11. I went to see the team doctor about my knees, hoping to get a fresh, eastern medical perspective. I had hope that perhaps this doctor would cure me, and I could train the rest of the summer with the Chinese gymnasts, get back into shape, and resume my competitive career. The doctor performed acupuncture with electric stimulation, which provided momentary pain relief, but, to my disappointment, could not permanently cure the tendinitis. The Chinese doctor, like all the doctors back home, told me that physical therapy and strengthening of the muscles surrounding the area of inflammation was the only way to heal. More false hope shattered.
But it was really nice getting away from home that summer, filling my days with activities and loved ones. If I spent my summer at home, I can assure you, I would have been in my locked room all day, curtains drawn and lights off, grieving and self-pitying. It was nice getting my hair straight-permed and highlighted for the first time, filling my closet with Hong Kong style clothes. Change is good, and it was much needed at my lowest point. Yet simply changing your hairstyle and wardrobe does not heal a broken heart- any person who’s been through heartbreak can attest to this. The heart mends itself after time spent mourning, accepting, and rebuilding. For me, the process of truly moving on from gymnastics spanned three years- it wasn’t until February of senior year that I was able to peacefully closed the door to that chapter of my life, a sad smile on my face, as I walked away for good.
During sophomore year, however, I was still in the early stages of healing. The wound was still fresh. The one escape from the pain I felt was schoolwork. By burying my head in the books, striving to maintain straight A’s and score well on the SAT, I was able to channel the grief to something productive- academics. I excelled academically sophomore year, playing catch-up in math, getting straight A’s and passing the SAT with flying colors. My parents were proud of my academic achievements, and they assumed that since I was doing well in school, my mental health was perfectly fine. They were wrong.
I felt incredibly lonely. This time of tribulation was an ultimate test of friendship- most of my “friends” I had freshman year left the moment things got bad for me, showing that I didn’t have any real high school friends to begin with (owing to my unwillingness to open myself up to those beyond my world of gymnastics). My one school friend at the time soon became agitated at my growing detachment and isolation. In truth, nobody at school understood what I was going through emotionally, and I didn’t expect them to. Not even my family understood, despite the countless articles I sent them via email about athletes’ depression after injury. And what of my gymnastics family? Did they stick by me, even without the common bond of gymnastics to hold us together? I wish I could say they did. In reality, though, once the tie linking us together was broken, my relationships with my so-called “real friends” fell apart. I learned that even if you are going through the worst time of your life, for others, life goes on. Only those who truly love and care about you- family and genuine friends, will stick by you and help you get through rough patches.
So, to sum up: by the end of sophomore year, I was still as broken as ever, falling deeper into the hole of grief, bitterness, and isolation I had dug myself into. My isolation from people, coupled with the identity crisis and plummet in self-esteem, fueled the social anxiety that manifested itself in my growing fear of public speaking and increased anxiety when having conversations with others. I didn’t think it was possible, going from confident, charismatic, level-headed gymnast who competed in front of hundreds, to shy, insecure, utterly terrified girl, afraid of speaking in front of a class of thirty. I didn’t think my life could get any worse, until junior year started.
After an entire three months without any real social interaction- the summer into junior year was comprised of college app’s and studying- my anxiety around people developed into a full-fledged disorder. A month before the commencement of junior year, I felt an incredible fear at the prospect of returning to school. I dreaded school. The fear ate away at me each day, inundating my thoughts. Where was the quality of life? Could this be called living? Because if life was this hard, then I didn’t want to be a part of it any more.