I’ve been playing ultimate since 2010. I started playing during my sophomore year of college at Michigan State University with Infamous, the women’s club team. I went on to play for Infamous for five years. I’ve also played several years of club, always in the mixed division. I have been fortunate enough to play with Dallas-Fort Worth’s top mixed team, Public Enemy, for the past two years. Throughout this entire time, I have struggled with mental illness, even though I didn’t always know I had a problem.

I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and severe social anxiety four years ago, during my first year of graduate school. Just like many people with mental illness, most people would not have guessed I was struggling. I was really good at hiding my struggles behind a smiling face and a lot of enthusiastic optimism.

KFAR SILVER, ISRAEL: Ultimate Peace Camp 2017. Saturday, July 15, 2017. (© Jeff Landesman, Ultimate Peace)
KFAR SILVER, ISRAEL: Ultimate Peace Camp 2017. Saturday, July 15, 2017. (© Jeff Landesman, Ultimate Peace)

Since my initial diagnosis, and after much reflection, I realized I have had both depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. I thought what I was experiencing and feeling was typical of most people. I didn’t understand that what I was experiencing was atypical, and things weren’t supposed to be as difficult as what I was used to.

After my initial diagnosis, I panicked about therapy and didn’t stick with it. I “dealt” with my depression on my own until it escalated, finally peaking one night with serious contemplation of suicide. If I had been alone, I wholeheartedly believe I would have attempted suicide that night.

I eventually decided to try giving therapy another shot, and I have been going consistently for several months now. It has worked wonders for me. I definitely still have struggles, but I have been working on coping strategies, and having a trusted person to talk to about anything and everything has helped immensely.

I have come to terms with this being something I will struggle with the rest of my life, but I now realize I don’t need to feel shame for it. Mental health is so taboo in society that, for the longest time, I felt like I needed to hide what I was dealing with. Since accepting myself and my struggles, I have become a lot more open with my mental health and have felt relatively comfortable sharing with people.

whistle.

While ultimate is generally a place of relief from anxiety and depression, it is not an area of my life unaffected by these struggles. Simple things affect me more than they should because of overthinking and how aggressively critical I am of myself. For example, at regionals during my first year on Public Enemy, there was a pick call I didn’t hear. I threw the disc, which was not caught, and was thus a turnover. I was instantly in my head, berating myself and feeling horrifically embarrassed at the mistake. When the point ended, I had to leave the field because I started crying. I didn’t return to the field that game.

In my opinion, even though experiences like the one above are terrible, they aren’t the worst thing caused by my anxiety. The most challenging thing for me is developing relationships with teammates. I have such severe social anxiety that it often feels impossible to create meaningful relationships with my teammates.

Public Enemy is the most loving and caring team I have ever played with, but I have struggled with feeling like a part of the team. I struggle with initiating conversation and relationship building because I am in constant fear of doing or saying something that will be perceived negatively. I constantly feel like I am not good enough and don’t have anything to contribute in a relationship, so I tend to feel like I am bothering my teammates. Social events are particularly hard for me. If I’m not directly invited, and then have someone ask me the day of if I’m coming, in my mind, that means I’m not wanted.

Despite all of my anxiety around being part of a team, Public Enemy has still felt like a family to me. There are moments when I am able to fight through the anxiety, or someone does something to make me feel wanted, and I’m able to truly enjoy myself. Since becoming more aware of my struggles, my teammates have all been incredibly supportive and loving. I can’t thank them enough for how much they have helped me accept myself.

What I have found in Public Enemy is what I hope everyone who struggles with mental illness finds: a group of caring and supportive people who accept and acknowledge your struggles. There are several things you can do that will enable you to be an ally for people who are struggling with mental health.

all star

Below, I’ve listed some ideas based on what has helped me.

  • Be an overtly supportive teammate. While all my teammates on Public Enemy are great, the ones who have been the most unwavering in their support and positivity have done more for me than I could ever ask for. Those who come up to me and specifically ask if I am ok or if I need to talk have helped me feel the support I need to be confident and comfortable.
  • Recognize that when you make a general invitation at a practice, not everyone is going to take it as an actual invitation. Take the extra step of specifically inviting someone.
  • Know peoples’ communication styles/preferences. I personally don’t handle conflict or arguments well. It makes me extremely uncomfortable, and if I am yelled at, I can guarantee I will shut down and probably start crying. Many people with anxiety yell at themselves enough internally that adding in your voice can be incredibly destructive.
  • Educate yourself; recognize what mental health problems looks like, especially if you have never experienced them. Ask questions. Mental health is still so taboo that it can be hard to talk about, but the more we talk about it, the less taboo it becomes.

Ultimate is an amazing sport, and I hope everyone, ultimate player or not, finds something that brings them the same joy the sport has brought me. I hope everyone continues to educate themselves and takes action to keep growing our sport in a way that is inclusive of all. If you ever want to talk about mental health and ultimate, you can reach me at:

Email: kappenli4@gmail.com

Twitter: crunchatized9

PE1