When Light Follows Darkness: My Mental Health Journey

My struggle with mental health has been a roller coaster ride, one that is finally coming to the calming end with a flat track in sight. To tell my full truth, I have to go back and explain exactly what it looked like for me. I’m doing this partly for timing, with Suicide Awareness Month beginning today, and partly because I know many people struggle in some capacity with mental health. Many people, including myself, are comfortable saying they have depression, but not so comfortable with the details, and that can leave outsiders confused as to what having depression is like. This confusion is in large part because depression is different for everyone, but I hope sharing my story sheds some light. If you’re suffering from mental health issues, your journey might not look like mine, but I hope at least one person out there knows they aren’t alone. My story is long, but stick with me, and you’ll see how I was able to come out of the darkness and find the light. 

Telling this part of me is making my heart race just typing it, as it is the most vulnerable aspect of my life. Exposing it to everyone I know, friends, family, coworkers, players, coaches, and really everyone on the internet is making my skin crawl. As a warning, I want to say that parents you should probably read this in its entirety before showing kids, and if anyone out there is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255). If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.

The Beginning
I think to understand how different my brain works; I have to start from the beginning. I am a middle child which I suppose comes with its hoard of problems, but I have always felt different. I was always the shy kid. I never liked “girly” things, and I wanted to be playing sports and trading Pokemon cards at recess. My perfectionist tendencies, unfortunately, hit me early. This story is very telling as it scarred me for life. In second grade, I was taking a science test, and I couldn’t remember if the correct spelling was “leafs” or “leaves” and so I tried to look into my folder for the answer not wanting to get any points deducted. Then, I got caught, and earned a 0 on the test instead, and felt mortified. Not to mention, I got in heaps of trouble at home, but I never cheated again. 

Problems
My real problems began in high school, specifically junior year. As I’ve said throughout my blogs, the mental aspect of playing goalie was so hard for me. It was the height of recruiting, and my concern for how I played and my grades were at an all-time high. This was also the first year I played on varsity, and if you are familiar with the high level of lacrosse played in the IAAM Conference in Maryland, with the likes of McDonogh, Roland Park, Maryvale, NDP, Bryn Mawr, etc. you know that competition is high and every game matters. I was a ball of stress, to say the least, and to top it off I was finally starting to realize that I liked girls while simultaneously holding the Catholic beliefs I learned and truly believed that being gay is a sin. I also learned that when you’re a goalie, you have to be tough. In a way, I turned that into my persona, and I made myself as strong physically and mentally as I could appear to be. As such, I kept much of my emotional side inside. On the outside, to everyone else, I probably seemed like a happy kid, that when I was upset, it was just average teenager feelings. However, when we’d lose games, my feelings and reactions were anything but normal. In those moments, everything became too much to handle, and all my stress and worries and emotions would pour out. I remember sitting in my room crying, asking God why he made me like girls, why after I worked so hard couldn’t I have made one more save to win the game for the team. I grew to hate myself in these moments, and eventually led to me physically harming myself. I legitimately thought that’s what I deserved, and I’d feel relief after thinking that my punishment was justified. 

Eventually, because holding secrets feels like lying to me and I was so desperate for help, I let some friends in and shortly after my family found out what was going on. I went to therapy, but it didn’t help too much as this behavior continued off and on throughout my senior year, and sparingly even into college. Going through all of that is ultimately why I wanted to coach goalies so badly because I don’t want any other goalie or person for that matter to feel that way about themselves. To feel that much pain about how you played in a sports game or who you are as a person is not worth that. That was the problem though, I thought if I didn’t play well that I was worthless, that being different made me worthless. I hope that my story is an outlier, but I worry that it’s not. 

College
Playing sports in college is a grind. Anyone who tells you that it’s the most amazing thing in the world and says they’ve never felt challenged physically, mentally, or emotionally is lying to you. It was an amazing experience, but it’s just hard. You’re trying to figure out who you are, what’s important to you, who you should and shouldn’t be friends with, what you’re going to do with your life after college, and many times to mostly just fit in somewhere. At Stanford, you’re always surrounded by excellence no matter where you go. It’s incredible, motivating, and inspiring, but also debilitating at times. For me, it brought about all my perfectionist tendencies back out. 

I was putting way too much stress and pressure on myself to still be perfect in the classroom and on the field because I still thought that’s the only thing I was: a great student-athlete. I had zero coping mechanisms for my stress because I always pushed my feelings down. When things weren’t going well, or I was super stressed, I used crappy band-aids like the ones that stick for five minutes and then fall off when you move. These looked like binge eating, consuming alcohol, watching mindless TV, and at its worst, self-harming again. My anxiety was at an all-time high. This looked like me lying in bed at night analyzing every single thing I did and said, worrying if I said the wrong thing to someone, wishing I said something else or did something else, thinking they made a mistake on my acceptance, wondering what I would do with my life after college, did I even have anything else that makes me who I am beside lacrosse, thinking my team will find out that I like girls, the list went on and on. The lack of sleep caused me to drink copious amounts of caffeine; I think I was averaging about four cups of coffee per day. If I’m honest with myself, periods of depression began in college as the things that were supposed to be bringing me joy just weren’t anymore. I’d try to patch them with the crappy band-aids, and they never lasted long enough. 

I want to point out at this time that the instances I’m describing were what the worst days and weeks felt like. There were many times that I was so truly happy, and I don’t want that to get lost here. Stanford was a fantastic place where I did come to find myself, found lifelong friends, grew tremendously as a person, and just learned so much. I don’t want anyone to think I was depressed and mentally down 24/7 of my teenage and college years. How long each one lasted, I couldn’t say, sometimes days or weeks, but wanted to make that clear. There were many happy moments and periods of time despite the hardships I simultaneously experienced internally. 

Post-College Life
I thought that after I graduated college that everything would go away, all my stress would dissipate with lacrosse and school out of the way. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I still didn’t hold value in just being myself, and feeling enough. I constantly felt like I had to hold myself up on this pedestal. Depression crept in during the winter of that year and would go off and on for the next two years. Sometimes these periods would be long, and sometimes they would be short, I never knew. I knew what I was feeling was not okay, so I enrolled in therapy but it was not effective, and I was just going through the motions of it. I was simultaneously seeing a psychiatrist who would give me a new medication every time I visited, which could have contributed to the blur I feel surrounding that period. 

When I would go through these depressive periods, they were different than anything I felt before. It was way more than nothing bringing me happiness. I would get existential thoughts in my head, wondering what is the point of this life? I remember feeling like a failure that I had gone to Stanford and was living at home, seeing my peers and friends doing amazing things. I still didn’t feel like I was doing “enough” because I was still in the lacrosse world. I felt like my life wasn’t going anywhere, that even though I was happy being at home, I enjoyed my job, everything on paper was perfect, and yet wasn’t happy, that I could never be. My logic was that if I had everything in my power to be happy and I wasn’t, then what was the point? I began to think that maybe I could be happy if I just ended things if I didn’t exist. Then at least I’d be in heaven or forever sleeping. Then I thought about my family, and my friends, and what that would do to them, and I immediately stopped that train of thought. Instead, I would go for runs, and seriously, I would think in my head that I wished someone would accidentally hit me so that it wouldn’t be anyone’s fault, that at least I wouldn’t be the one causing them pain. But then I immediately regretted that, thinking about what it would still do to them. Then, at times, I’d think, maybe if I left a note, telling them that I was finally happy, and I wanted them to move on, then maybe it would be okay. The furthest I ever got was one bad night I looked to see if I could overdose on these pills I was taking, and then my mom’s face flashed in front of me and I just couldn’t. So, I laid there and cried, wishing it would all just go away, wondering why, yet again, I was made like this. 

I’d have various periods like this until the winter of 2016. They would look exactly like that, me, lying in my bed, crying, wishing it would all go away. Apathy began to come into play, and I would feel so numb, I had to tell my girlfriend at the time that there were times that I would look at her and feel nothing, and reacted in ways of someone that felt nothing. I felt nothing for everyone around me, both family and friends. Suicide had made its mark on close family members and friends throughout the previous year, and it was at this point I knew I had to do something to make this world worth wanting to live in. I realized this is not how I wanted to live my life, and certainly not the Lyndsey I wanted to be. I wanted to be happy; I wanted to want to live, I wanted to be excited about the future, not feel crippling anxiety about it. 

The Lighting Process

I started by just working out more and improving my diet, which helped but not with everything. A sudden sequence of events began to change things for the better when I got a new job in Baltimore, learned that I’d be living with my former teammate, and began seeing a new therapist. All of these changes led me to where I am now. Looking back, I have no idea how I thought all of those things. I never truly understood that about depression, how it can take over your thoughts. I always thought life was so black and white, that not everyone wants to do everything they do, they just get it done. But depression doesn’t care what you need to do or what you want; it completely alters how you see the world. I consider myself so incredibly lucky that I was able to pull myself out of it enough to stop thinking the way I was because this life is amazing. I know there are many that aren’t as lucky as me, that their “cloud” brain as I call it takes over completely and tells them they have no other option. For this reason, I know that suicide is not a selfish choice because when it gets that bad, it feels like your only one. For those family members and friends, I am so unbelievably sorry for your loss.

With therapy, I now know that much of my struggle came from the lack of self-worth I had for myself. I thought I had to be “perfect,” in school, in sports, and in life. I thought that I couldn’t and shouldn’t feel emotions, so I hid them. I also know now that I didn’t have any tools to deal with what I was going through, so I kept using the only ones I had (terrible band-aids). Looking back, I wish I had gotten help sooner and when the first therapist wasn’t helping I spoke up instead of letting it go. I can’t regret too much because my journey has made me who I am, I know that there's no real "why" I'm like this, I just am, and that's okay. 

I’m still very much working through my mental health struggles, but I can say without a doubt in my mind things are so much better. Now, when I start feeling the “cloud brain” coming, and it still tries to come around, I know what to do to make it go away. I was able to work with my therapist and find much better ways to cope with things. I learned about my habits, what is good and bad for me. I learned what environments I do best in. I learned that I am so much more than the lacrosse player or coach, Stanford graduate, or any other accomplishment or recognition I earned. I acknowledged where a lot of my tendencies come from and how valuable they are. 

I found out when I’m most vulnerable, like when I’m alone and at night. I learned that if I don’t work out my mental state and energy seem to be lower. I learned that making poor nutrition choices and not sleeping enough makes me feel both physically and mentally worse. I learned that overloading myself with positivity, and positive people makes me happy. I learned I am happiest around the people that I love, and that telling people how much they mean to me, and giving love that it not only spreads love to others but fills me up with gratitude in the process. 

For the people in my life, I am so grateful to you I cannot explain. My support system has been phenomenal throughout this process. My friends don’t give me crap when I tell them I want to go to bed early, in fact, they plan our trips around it. They don’t pick on me or make me feel like I’m lame for not drinking at times when I tell them that I don’t want to because I don’t want to deal with the anxiety and depressive feelings that usually follow. They simply love me for me and where I’m at, and it just honestly as corny as it sounds makes my heart feel full and happy. I also learned that spreading kindness in general and helping others fills me with immense happiness.

I committed to practicing meditation, and although I might not make it every day, I keep going and even though I’m not great I keep going. Again, many in my support system know I need to do this and will make sure to be quiet or sometimes they’ll join me. I learned how to practice mindfulness, and how to use it. I learned how to be present, and appreciate the little things. I’ve opened myself up with my emotions and feelings, and feel more comfortable than ever sharing them. I know that I’m not perfect, that even when I thought I was perfect that I wasn’t, and I never will be. I know that I’m trying my best every day. I took to heart what Brene Brown said in her book, “Rising Strong,” that everyone is doing the best they can with the tools they have. It helps to know this in the off chance I get let down, instead of being angry, I feel empathy and sadness for those people that they don’t have the tools to be kind, or let people in, or whatever the scenario is. I’ve also just been embracing that everything happens for a reason and trusting the process.

I’ve been through the ringer with this life so far in my short 25 years, but I know that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t appreciate all the things that I have now. I can look back, and appreciate all of the things that I didn’t think were big deals before that are amazing. For example, I didn’t think I was doing much working in lacrosse still, and that’s just crazy! I introduced lacrosse to over 1,000 kids in DC! A mom in fact of one of those girls sent me a message about how much I impacted her daughter’s life, that she’s now attending a private school and they hadn’t even thought about that before, and that she’s on a scholarship for a club team and has such a passion for playing goalie because of me. What? I did that? Yes! Not to mention, how lucky am I, are we in the lacrosse community that we are able to do something with our lives that we are so passionate about? Not many people get that. I’m so lucky I was able to live at home, that I have amazing parents to support me, and that I was able to build savings that helped me launch this website! 

In June, I got a tattoo of a semicolon on my neck in support of the semicolon project. Just like my tattoo, mental health issues and suicidal ideations are difficult to see unless they’re shown to you. There are others out there feeling like I did, and they might not display the signs you’d typically think of. Spreading kindness could not be more important than it is now. We don’t know the struggles of those around us, and you never know what could set someone off. You don’t need to watch 13 Reasons Why to know that. 

I never thought I’d say this, but I have zero idea what the future holds for me, and I’m okay with that because I know I can handle it. I know that I have amazing humans in my life, and they’re only expanding as I became an Only Human advocate which unbeknownst to me, shoved me into this amazing community of positivity, kindness, and uplifting. I am surrounded by love, and I let myself feel it. Yes, my journey has been tough, but I am here to stay; I promise. 

If anyone has any questions about my story, feel free to ask me by any communication means you’d like. Again, I just want to add if anyone out there is struggling with suicidal thoughts please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255). If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.

Thank you for hanging in there with me through this journey, I look forward to continuing it with you.