Jess Schildkraut: We are athletes, but we are also so much more

We are athletes, but we are also so much more.

Too many NCAA student-athlete lives have been lost in the past few weeks. I’m sharing my story in case it can help anyone going through it. I’ve been you. I see you.

For much of my life, I clung to my athlete identity as all that I was in the world. Growing up with a speech impediment, I felt different and thus inferior amongst my peers. Sports were the one place where I didn’t need to open my mouth. Instead, just by running around on a field, I found instant connection.

When small everyday tasks felt insurmountably difficult in high school, such as making a phone call or participating in a class discussion, I thought that life was meant for everyone else but me. That I was just “less capable” or “less good” at doing life. By 16 years old, I was confident that I would die by suicide eventually, it was just a matter of time.

It wasn’t until college that I acknowledged my mental health – identifying the challenges I was facing as social anxiety, and my pervasive hopelessness as depression. Upon seeking professional help, I realized that these were not problems within me, but instead problems that I was dealing with. By finally facing it head on, I was able to start healing.

I believe that as athletes, our unrelenting drive makes us incredible. Nonetheless, it can be destructive if misplaced, if we think that athletes are all that we are in the world…
because we are athletes, but we are also so much more.

I just want to share for anyone who may relate: Your struggles are valid. You don’t need to meet a set of criteria or a diagnosis to be worthy of healing. You are never alone. And I’m here if anyone ever wants to talk.

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