My Take on Mental Health.

I am not a mental health expert, I have not studied it in an official capacity, but I have read a good deal about it and worked on it pretty tirelessly the last few years. I do know that it is an issue that is starting to seem much more prevalent and possibly stole the life of a young volleyball player earlier this week (still under investigation). Needless to say, I was devastated to hear the news of Eric Zaun’s sudden passing. I didn’t know him that well, but he was such a warm person, funny, curious, and loved by many. He seemed to be shucking off a conventional life path, immune from external pressures of society, by pursuing beach volley and going on adventures far and wide. He said all the right things, I even watched a podcast clip of him explaining his life philosophy and it all came across as so grounded and down to earth, I thought he had a great perspective. I am so sad that he may have felt the need to end his life, that he couldn’t think of any reason not to or didn’t think it was good enough. I can’t imagine how alone he must have felt at the end despite having such a caring network of friends and family, and I just wished he had reached out to someone, I know so many would have helped him if given the chance. I can’t imagine what goes through someone’s mind when they are contemplating suicide, I just wish they could know that their friends and family are better off with them here, no matter what they might be dealing with. 

Chemical imbalances are real and convincing manipulators of our minds. If this is going on inside someone’s brain, logic and reason and willpower are often no match. It doesn’t matter how great your life might be or how many people love and value you, your brain can convince you otherwise. I know that finding a treatment for these issues is complicated and different for everyone, and maybe denial plays a large part in refusing treatment, but we must try to de stigmatize getting help. If you think you could possibly be dealing with something more serious please call a hotline, schedule an appointment, or just ask someone to do it for you. Getting help is only to be applauded and respected.

But even in the absence of physiological imbalances, this age of social media, materialism, and superficiality can cause us to attach our self-worth to things that don’t actually matter. I’m not sure how we combat this. I just know that it doesn’t matter how many followers you have, how many likes you get, how many random people tell you you’re amazing, it’s how you genuinely feel about yourself that matters. So how can we create a more genuine well-being within ourselves? I think our number one priority has to be connecting with the people in our lives (not online), forming and cultivating positive relationships with friends we can trust, and being one of those friends ourselves. I too need to be much better at this. And it’s a two way street, if you can tell someone is reaching out we need to be accepting of that person, resist rejecting, and take them in, you never know what battles are being fought behind closed doors and how you could positively affect their life by being welcoming.

We need to pour more energy into the present moment and being with the people in it, for the actual experience, not for how we can make it look on social media. I see so many high school kids (and younger) at the beach these days spending the whole time posing for pictures, like models, trying to capture the perfect insta pic, or snap chat, or whatever. Adults do this in their own way (sometimes the same way). Then there’s FaceTune where you can literally and convincingly alter your body, your skin, the whiteness of your teeth. Why? Because our culture fosters competition, it tells us to feel worthy we have to be superior, prettier, wealthier, more successful than other people. We need to lose this not-so-subliminal mentality as a society.  We need to learn to be secure in ourselves, as we are, so we don’t need to climb over other people to feel good about ourselves. We need to pay attention to ourselves and work on our inner state, be with our thoughts and channel our energy towards our own positive self-image so we don’t need to compare ourselves to others and as a result won’t need to feel superior or inferior, we can just be, happily, as part of the whole.

We also need to collectively find some perspective. I know first hand that our views of success are extremely skewed. After winning a silver and bronze medal at the OLYMPICS, I received a ton of support, but also the messaging that somehow I had kind of failed. That sentiment blows my mind. That some people believe if you don’t win a GOLD medal you are somehow not good enough. I want to be clear, I DO NOT feel this way, and I know how hard it was to win those medals and I am EXTREMELY grateful and proud of them, but the messaging I have received and that permeates our culture is that if you are not THE BEST you have fallen short, and that is bullshit. That is a lack of perspective. That shows me how much pressure our culture and society must be putting on young people to succeed. We need to REDEFINE success. 

Success to me is having people in your life who you love and who love you back. Success is having financial DISCIPLINE, living within your means, not getting caught up in what car you drive, what version of the iPhone you have, or what kind of shoes you wear or purse you carry. It’s contributing religiously to your retirement fund, saving as much as you can until you have an emergency fund, and only using the left over to splurge on fun stuff. We all need to take more responsibility for de-valuing perceived “status”. We need to stop putting pressure on everyone- individuals and corporations alike- to earn more to validate success and worthiness. Success is having the courage to follow your passions, to indulge your heart and what it truly wants, regardless of what our world might have to say about it. This goes for sexual and gender identity, career path, bodily autonomy, religion or lack there of, lifestyle choices, etc. And it falls on all of us to learn acceptance of these choices. We need to find enough security in ourselves, through receiving it from our community, family, and friends, so that we can pass it on to others and resist the urge to judge based on our personal beliefs, but realize that everyone is different and that is ok. They deserve our support and acceptance just as much as we deserve it from them and others. 

Our goal should be to live as peacefully as possible, in harmony with each other, creating lines of community as we go along.  We need to lose the ego, lose the doubt, lose the insecurity that makes us compare and compete with each other. It is NOT IMPORTANT. What IS important is helping others feel good about themselves and feeling good about yourself in the process. There is no right way to do life, no right way to live, no right thing to believe.  We all have light and darkness inside of us and that’s ok, it’s human and it’s beyond forgivable. We will hurt others, we will hurt ourselves, that’s just the straight probability of life, but if our intent is good and we attempt to act in that goodness consistently then we are a success. 

Life is messy, but when things get hard it doesn’t mean you’ve failed, we all go through those times, it is more than acceptable to ask for help, people WANT to help you, vulnerability makes people love you even more, others want to feel useful and everyone would rather you be apart of their life than the alternative. 

And it is ALWAYS OK to seek professional help! I’ve done it, and I know SO MANY OTHER PEOPLE in my life that have gotten professional help at one time or another. It’s just like getting a check up at the doctors office, but even easier. If you feel like you need some extra help please check in with a professional or someone you consider a friend, anyone really, I’m sure they are ready to help! But please KNOW that you ARE loved and you ARE valued, no matter what it feels like. We DO NOT have to believe our thoughts, our mind can play tricks on us, and we need to learn to see through those messages that have been subliminally taught to us by a faulty society.

The Blinding Present.

I’m often asked if I always wanted to be an Olympian, if that was my childhood dream, and at first I tried to give the answer I thought everyone wanted to hear, that yes, of course I wanted to be an Olympian since the day I got here! It took me awhile to realize I didn’t have to tell that lie, that there were plenty of athletes who would tell that story as their truth and I needed to tell mine in case it resonated with people who think like I do, to let them know that the way we think is okay too. I didn’t dream of being an Olympian. Instead I just LOVED playing sports, at recess, in P.E., on my cul-de-sac with my neighbors, roller hockey and basketball on all boy teams, gymnastics, soccer, even running track in junior high! You could say I lived for it. 

Regarding myself, all I was concerned about during my childhood was that I was finding a way to get better, that I was contributing to my teams, and that I was giving my all in an effort to win. Winning was important to me, and it’s not because my parents cared, or I got external validation from it, it was just this innate desire to be the best. I know my parents sensed this intensity in me and if anything attempted to temper it. However, going back to the point I’m trying to make, I didn’t play sports for any kind of future reward. I was consumed by the moment, the play, the match, trying to win each point. In practices, I was hyper focused on each rep, trying to make it the best it could be. I strived for perfection while knowing that perfection is impossible. I remember always being completely in the moment, before I even knew of that philosophy.

I firmly believe that the reason I have gotten so far in sports, is because I was never consumed with what was next, making this or that team, getting a scholarship, playing pro, or going to the Olympics. I just loved my teams, the experiences I was having with them, and the journey of trying to become my best. Doing my best in each moment, or “dancing in earnest” (as the book I just read, ‘The Courage to be Disliked’ calls it) is what created each opportunity to take the next step at every juncture in my career. 

From an early age, even outside of sports I’ve adhered naturally to living in the present. I find I have a hard time remembering details from my past and have shied away from rigidly planning my future. I think I’ve always had a feeling that everything happens for a reason and if you do your best, really YOUR BEST which requires an immense amount of effort, you will end up where you are meant to be. I can only assume that this is a result of what my parents taught me and I am grateful. To shine a light so brightly on your present that the past and future are dimmed is the most effective way to live. 

The present moment is really the only thing you have any control over. You can control your attitude, you effort, your actions, your thoughts, etc. which can be a complete change from the past and if done earnestly will have a positive effect on your future. You cannot control what happened in your past, only the story you choose to tell yourself about it in the present moment. And to a large extent you cannot control your future, other than taking responsible steps in the present to set yourself up for success in the future, i.e. contributing to your retirement fund, eating a healthy diet and exercising, studying in the area in which you want to succeed, etc.

I resist the urge to map out a concrete plan for my future, but I am predisposed to worrying about it from time to time. However, I have found if you follow the logical train of thought it will lead you right back to the idea that if you take care of business in the here and now the future will be as good as it can possibly be. It is still prudent to set objectives for yourself, and mini-goals to encourage attainment of those objectives, but equally important is that you apply flexibility in your mindset, methods, and possible roads you may be asked to take. If at some point in the future you find your life is not how you want it, not up to your standards, you almost always have the power to change it. Change your thoughts, change your actions, your attitude, your situation. Rest easy in this knowledge and the knowledge that with every challenge you face down in the present it will make you more formidable in the future, able to deal with whatever might come your way.

As I get older, and continue to chase this volleyball venture, I’m trying to not be too attached, but of course I am all in through Tokyo 2020 Olympics. But I have other passions and I don’t want to stifle them because I feel boxed in as a volleyball player. Living in earnest in the moment means following your heart and pursuing the things that mean the most to you, and if that changes for me, as it is changing for me, that’s actually amazing. It is only by diving into our authentic passions without fear of judgement and giving them our all that we can live our lives to the fullest and create opportunities for ourselves. If that means I keep playing volleyball then that’s what I’ll do, but I’m just as open to pursuing other paths in life as well. There are many roads we can take through this life, but we are poor navigators compared to the Universe.