Wayden Ay: Family Pressure, Transferring, & Rewriting My Legacy

My mother, two aunts, uncle, and grandparents all attended Georgetown. To say the least, Georgetown was “our family school.” Growing up with divorced parents, life was rough. I turned into a people pleaser because I was always trying to stop the fighting at home. Once lacrosse recruiting came around, Georgetown was an obvious choice for where my mom’s side of the family wanted me to go. I visited one other school and talked to a few others, but ultimately committed to Georgetown before my sophomore year of high school.

Flash forward to senior year, I was ready and excited to attend school, but nervous to start college lacrosse. Once I got to Georgetown, I became extremely homesick. There’s no doubt I’m a homebody, but I just felt like I could not be myself there. Likewise, I slowly realized I did not choose Georgetown for me. I had chosen it for my family. In lacrosse, I was one of the only freshman actually playing, but I came to hate the sport I once loved.

Suddenly, I turned into a person who did not want to get out of bed, eat, go to lacrosse, or class. I had gained muscle from a new lifting routine and I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror because I hated how I looked. Most days, I ended up crying whenever I was alone, and went to bed and woke up with terrible chest pains. It came to the point where my anxiety and depression was causing such intense pain that my athletic trainer did not allow me to play because my chest wall had grown so weak. I was sent home early for Thanksgiving break, and I immediately went to a therapist and was prescribed anti-depressants. At the end of winter break, I decided to take a medical leave of absence from Georgetown to take time to heal.

But, I could not bear the idea of having to go back. My mind was so torn because I wanted to love my school and be happy, but I just couldn’t. Deciding to take my leave of absence made my mother’s side of the family extremely upset. It came to the point where I was cut off from my mother, and simply put, life was hell at home.

My mother was grieving and going through a tough personal time. I decided to enroll and commute to Stockton University, where I took four classes. I also started working at a local restaurant in Ocean City, NJ. I lived with my grandmother most of the time. With my weekly therapy, new medicine, and new routine, I slowly realized the biggest two lessons: I need to create my own path, and I need to be my own best friend.

In late April, I decided to transfer to The College of New Jersey to continue my academic and athletic career. After a few college visits, it came down to Rutgers or TCNJ. The obvious difference was that at Rutgers, I could continue to play Division 1, while at TCNJ, I would compete at the Division 3 level. I knew that I could compete at the D1 level, but the lifestyle that came with it was such a big part of my stress at Georgetown. But, I still battled with the idea of giving up my D1 career and identity. However, I realized I was not quitting, I was simply just pressing pause and restarting in a new direction. Most importantly, restarting in my own direction.

At TCNJ, I will have the opportunity to still compete at a high level of lacrosse. I will also have more time for academics and for my recovery. I have learned that I need time for me and that’s ok. I cannot help others, which I love to do, without making sure that I am ok first. I can honestly say now that I am in a much better place and working to continue living a healthy life. My mother and I are also working on our relationship and we have both forgiven each other. My body is still changing and I am coming to realize that is okay, too. It’s okay to have ice cream and enjoy food. Your body will always be changing. I am also starting to find my love for lacrosse again.

My message for athletes is that it is okay to feel stuck. Anxiety, depression, and eating disorders suck. No other way to say it. However, every day is a battle. Every day I deal with the demons in my head. With therapy, a strong support system, and newfound confidence, the demons are disappearing. Six months later, I am starting to truly feel like myself. It’s ok to be stuck. You will get unstuck, it just takes time. Sometimes that waiting can be difficult, but in the end it will all be worth it.