Lyneé Belton: Finding My Way

April 2nd 2014: I was warming up to play in the McDonald’s high school All-American game. A game that I had looked forward to for many years. For context, only about 24 players in the United States get selected to play in this nationally televised game. If you were chosen, you were considered the top of your class. And I was chosen. I was ranked #10 overall in my class, MVP of many tournaments, and the list goes on. I was truly blessed.

Four months before the All-American game, I was struggling in a way that I could not understand. I did not have words to describe it —I just knew that I wasn’t myself. I was arguing constantly with my parents, I lost my faith in God, I didn’t want to play basketball and I didn’t want to be at school. I just wanted to be home, in my bed, alone. Eventually, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

After the All-American game, I was set on starting a new life at Duke University. I was going to meet new people, I was going to excel in academics, and I was going to elevate my game in a way that no one could stop me, and. As I moved from Clinton, Maryland to Durham, North Carolina, I definitely started a new life, just not the one I envisioned. In Durham, my academics started off great during my first summer session and I met new people that are still an important part of my life to this day. However, my game did not improve the way I expected, which was detrimental to a young adult who only knew, and measured her value by, sports.

TW: mentions of suicide

Fall of freshman year, I thought I had finally started to find my way. The season was coming up and I slowly started to blossom. Practicing well, scoring and defending in games, making big plays—this is what I had been waiting for.

On December 17, 2014, I scored a season high of 10 points against Oklahoma University, which was a major step for a freshman who had been struggling.

Then, with about 15 seconds left in the game, I went for a loose ball and tore my ACL.

The high of positive emotions that I had been feeling was taken away in just one second.

Every athlete has feared having to experience a season-ending injury, and mine came just when I started to find my way at Duke. It was the worst possible timing. As I rehabbed during my freshman year, I started to lose my love and passion for the game of basketball. I wasn’t supposed to be rehabbing alone. I was supposed to be at practice developing and perfecting my game with my teammates. The rule on my team was that if you were injured, you weren’t allowed at practice. This was supposed to motivate you to get back to the court quicker.

However, there was no way I could speed up my ACL recovery. I was frustrated, angry, upset and every other related synonym. As time went on, this feeling just kept growing and growing. Throughout the rest of my freshman year, I started to feel less connected to the team and my own happiness. I did not know how to manage my depression or anxiety and I didn’t have any resources to help manage myself with the depression and anxiety. And even while I was spiraling downwards, I kept a smile on my face most days to stay strong for everyone who I was representing.

As time went on, my injury was not getting better. I would push myself and do the extra work that was needed. However, there were times I was being told that it still wasn’t enough. I did not take that very well. I developed the mindset of “what is even the point?”. If I could be in the gym trying to get better for my team, and cheering them on the loudest I can during games, and it was still not appreciated, then what was the point?

Eventually that mindset translated to my effort in rehab and in life. I was not motivated at all and I had had enough. I did not want to live. Once this feeling was exacerbated, I attempted to take my own life by overdosing during my freshman year.

I woke up the next morning frustrated that I was still alive. But now I feel that this was just God saying it was not my time yet and that he had a second chance for me. As the year went on, I needed another surgery on my knee. It took me about a year to come back fully from the original ACL tear which made me miss the start of sophomore season. Once I came back fully, I felt like I had my purpose back. I had recovered from my injury and nothing could stop me in my mind. However, I still was suffering mentally and my struggles were just being covered up by the thrill of being back on the court.

During my freshman year, I had two surgeries on my left knee. Sophomore year, I had to get an additional surgery on my left knee (torn meniscus), my left shoulder (clavicle), and my left ankle (torn ligament). My junior year, my right knee (torn meniscus) and my left foot (cyst) needed surgery. I decided after my junior year that 7 surgeries was enough and my body should rest.

Therefore, I “medically retired” and decided I would be on the team my senior year and not play. But 7 surgeries were not enough. I ended up needing a right hip surgery (labrum) during my senior year, which resulted in 8 surgeries in 4 years.

Throughout college, I distracted my mind so much from what was truly hurting me. A game that I found comfort in at one point became my worst enemy. My senior year, I stepped away from the game physically and mentally. If the workout or rehab session was not mandatory, I was not there or anywhere close. After college, it took me about a year and a half to even pick up a basketball again because I felt betrayed. I gave my all to this game at times, missed many events and social gatherings for it, and it didn’t give me what I was looking for. My purpose had left me and I was useless. This is what would constantly replay in my mind. I was embarrassed when I looked back and compared my high school and collegiate athletic career.

After graduation, I went on and completed a graduate program and this is when it hit me. I was not defined by anxiety or depression. I was not defined by a basketball. Basketball was not my destination in life but only the transportation I needed to get me where I am going. I have reflected constantly to learn what helps me manage my disorders. I have found people who will do nothing but surround me with love and positivity, rather than hate and negativity. My purpose in life now is nowhere close to where I thought it would be 7 years ago. I guess you could say that I have finally started to find my way…

Lyneé recently founded the One Of A Kind Foundation to continue to spread awareness for mental illnesses and prevent suicide. She’s also a medical assistant, a basketball coach, and hopes to become a Physician’s Assistant in the near future.

“As I was facing my battles during college I started drawing smiley faces on my wrist. I did this so that when I looked at my wrist, I would instantly smile and remind myself that there were reasons to continue living. The semi-colon is a national representation for suicide survivors and a sign of support. My tattoo on my wrist is a symbol of the two combined, and a reminder to myself and you that we can do this. “

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