Tyler Lewin: Male Athletes Aren’t Immune

My name is Tyler Lewin, I’m 20 years old, and I’m currently a junior, starting goalkeeper on the men’s soccer team at Ursinus College.

Athletes aren’t immune, we aren’t superhuman, we aren’t invincible, we’re people too.

Unfortunately, it’s even harder for males, due to the stigma that we “can’t” have mental health issues.  From such a young age, it’s preached to us that men don’t talk about our feelings or emotions. My battle with anxiety and depression is one that often feels as if it will never end.  Every day, I deal with thoughts racing through my head telling me that I’m not good enough, that I’m not worth it. I constantly worry about things, whether it be how I’ll get an internship next summer, or how I have to walk my dogs on the same exact daily schedule.

Trigger Warning: suicide

My story starts a little differently.  I’ve grown up in a military family; to most people that won’t mean much, but for me, it defined my life.  I was born in New Mexico and until I was 12, I moved around living in seven different states: New Mexico, Texas, Missouri, Nevada, Arizona, Alabama, and Maryland.  Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.  I had the chance to be intertwined into so many different cultures, and I was able create unique memories in each place I lived. However, what most people don’t realize is how much of a toll this can take on you, especially at such a young age.

My family moved once in about every two years.  Just as I’d find my group of friends, I had to leave them and make news ones. Every time I thought I knew where my home was, I had to get used to a new place.  These constant changes start to add up.  Most people feel like they have a true hometown. It’s just something that I will never experience.

But, the hardest part of moving around came with the many changes in schools. Young kids are curious and ask a lot of questions, especially towards the “new kid.”

Though I became used to the routine of starting at a new school, I found that simple questions from kids and teachers turned into what felt like interrogations.  I felt as if I was being judged 24/7, or that my every move was being watched and evaluated by others.  Though I didn’t know it at the time, I had developed severe social anxiety.  As I continued to move schools, I would talk less and less each time.  Not only was I extremely anxious in these social situations, I was also constantly worried and wondering when I’d come home next to have another “family discussion” about where we’d be moving to next.  I found myself feeling more closed off to the world with every passing day.

Once we moved to Maryland in 2012, I was in unchartered territory; I was going to be here for the rest of my youth, 7-12th grade.  Soccer was always part of my life, having played since I was four.  From state to state, new home to new home, soccer remained my safe space.

In Maryland, I found a new team and felt at home, until the first day of school.  I vividly remember in first period, someone looked at me, said, “hey, you’re new here right?”

I just looked back at at her blankly, paralyzed in fear. She then said, “I like your shoes, the’yre nice.”

I sat still in my seat, unable to respond, sweat starting to drip down my forehead.  Thankfully, the bell rang and she headed off with a laugh.

I struggled for years with simple things like small talk and acknowledgement from others.  It wasn’t until I hit 10th grade when things really took a turn for the worse.  This was the year of my dad’s first deployment. Granted, he was stationed in the United States, but he had to move away for a year, which was much harder than I expected. 

I remember sitting in my room one night after soccer practice after everything had built up.  I didn’t feel connected to any friends, I drastically missed my dad, and I had hundreds of negative thoughts converging in my head.  

This was the first time I had ever seriously considered ending my life; I had everything planned out.  I was texting one of my teammates about it, telling him how I couldn’t find any worth or purpose.  Within about five minutes of that conversation, he texted my coach, who immediately contacted my parents.  Kevin Garcia, you saved my life.

For most people, this would be their wake up call. Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t.  I refused to talk to my parents about how I was feeling or my state of mind on that day. 

As time went on, the recruiting process picked up.  I felt overwhelmed as I managed my schoolwork, saw friends commit to college, and fielded college visit invitations of my own.  The recruiting process was another time extreme anxiety for me, that was only partially alleviated when I finally committed. Throughout all my high school years, I faced a constant battle with depression and social anxiety.  I thought that once I hit college, it would be a fresh start, one where I could re-invent myself.

I spent my first semester of freshman year at Ithaca College, helping turn the program around from a .500 team to a nationally ranked team, reaching the Liberty League Final.  To any outsider, everything seemed great, but on the inside, I was a mess.  I was eating out of control, I was avoiding my teammates and friends, and once again, I was refusing to open up to anyone.  On top of this, I found out that my dad would be going on his second deployment for two years, leaving my mom and brother at home.  I had to make the tough decision to transfer to Ursinus College, a school much closer to home, so that I would be able to be closer to family.

During winter break before I started at my new college, I was at home one day in my bedroom.  All of a sudden, I became overwhelmed with an anxiety attack.  My chest tightened up, it was hard for me to breath; I started crying out of nowhere. Millions of thoughts rushed to my head, but I wasn’t able to vocalize anything.  This was my breaking point; I hit rock bottom. 

I gathered myself together and went downstairs.  I finally decided to open up to my mom, which was quite honestly, the best decision of my life. We discussed my feelings and what I’d been dealing with for all these years.  I was able to find a therapist who I have been working with ever since. 

With God, anything is possible.  He has helped me make more progress than I ever expected. But it only started when I decided it was time to make a change.

While I still struggle with depression and anxiety every day, I’ve learned different strategies to help me combat my mental illness and make this battle one in which I have control. 

Don’t be afraid to talk to people, don’t be afraid to open up. It really can be a lifesaver. Just know that people will always be there for you.