Norene Iosia: Athletes, Let’s Talk

Norene Iosia first posted the following text on her instagram blog @athletes.realtalk

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or thoughts of suicide, please reach out for professional help. A list of resources can be found at this link.

It was the summer going into my senior year. 2019. I was a senior at the University of Hawai’i where I played indoor volleyball. As a senior, you have these expectations of what you want your last year of college to be, what you want it to look like. Whatever I had imagined or planned in my head, God had other plans for me.

July 4th, 2019, I lost one of my closest friends to suicide. I blamed myself, wondering why he felt like he couldn’t he talk to me. Why couldn’t he talk to someone? Why didn’t I call him and bug him to hang out at the beach? Why this, why that… A lot of should’ve, could’ve, would’ve scenarios came to mind. That’s when everything went to s**t. I struggled with my faith. I was mad at God for the sequence of events that took place and I turned to alcohol for comfort.

I received messages like “stay strong” or “keep your head up,” but I didn’t know how to stay strong in a moment where I felt so hopeless. I figured that if I was intoxicated, I would have a lower chance of showing any “weakness” to those around me. When asked how I was doing, I was prideful in always saying “I’m good, doing fine,” when that wasn’t the case at all. I didn’t want sympathy. I believed crying was weak, venting was weak, seeking help was weak. But, I was so wrong!

Suicidal thoughts came into play, and being intoxicated became normal to me. I ignored the responsibilities that I had as a student, player, and teammate. The season was just a couple weeks away and I knew I was mentally at my worst. But unfortunately, as an athlete, you always have the pressure of needing to perform no matter what, as there are other people working to take your spot. I was rushing my process of grieving and healing to the point where it was just overwhelming. 

There would be times where I would be in the weight room, at practice, or simply just walking in the grocery store and I would start to have a panic attack. My heart would race, my chest would ache, my breathing sounded horrific. I sounded like an out of breath donkey (lol) and tears would burst out.

My coaches voiced their concern and encouraged me to start going to therapy. I rejected their offer over and over because I felt like I couldn’t be vulnerable with somebody I didn’t even know. I thought I could never be one of “those” people who go to therapy. My depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts worsened. It got to the point where my coaches showed up to my house and basically told me I had to try going to therapy. So I said “F it,” I’ll give it a try. I went once, didn’t go back, I got worse, then started going consistently.

Thankfully, I had supportive and dedicated coaches and athletic administrators. Shout out to Coach Rob, Ang, and Serenda. They were consistent in letting me know that they care for me. Despite my hardheadedness, they always sent me a text of encouragement and reassured me that I was not alone. I am also grateful for my friends who checked in with me and showed me love during one of the most challenging phases of my life.

As challenging as it was, how dark it may have been, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Mental health is real. Mental illness is real. Let’s end the stigma.  LET’S TALK.

You can learn more about Norene and her mental health advocacy at @athletes.realtalk