I write, but here is the complete background as to why I write. The following is an honest reflection from the most major turning point in my life. It’s longer than I wish it was, but I believe many people will be able to relate, and nobody talks about this stuff, and that should change.
In college, I experienced a stage of depression that was only seen by me, alone, when my friends, professors, coaches, staff, anyone, was not around. I created a lonely world to carry in my shell of a body behind a smiling mask. It was caused by years of neglect to my mental health from loss and less than great luck, all out of my control.
What was in my control was the way I acted in response to all of these terrible things. I believed that if I pushed through with a happy outlook that they would just go away. I didn’t know what to do otherwise and it worked for years—until it didn’t.
Fast forward to the summer before my junior year of college. I was home in upstate New York. It was beautiful out every day, but a voice in my head told me to stay in my room, all the time, so I did. I avoided responsibilities I should not have, but that voice told me I didn’t deserve the things I once earned: a scholarship, social life, happiness. In my head, I was living the life someone else should have, so I drove around aimlessly or stuck to the couch.
When August came around I understood that I couldn’t go back to school in the physical shape I was in and pass as a runner for (one of) the best collegiate running programs in the country. The only apparent solution to keep the life I was living was to put myself in harms way and hope an injury would prolong facing the reality that I could no longer compete as a Division I athlete.
(Side note: If this was a movie, like so many others who have gone through much worse than I did, this moment would be the one where I find someone to confide in who tells me it’s all okay, so I lace up my shoes, dig deep, and make the Olympic Trials. However, my life is not a movie.)
That was the summer I hit my lifetime-low. I can’t go into details, but I did the most stupid stuff all to avoid my actual illness. I screamed at the top of my lungs and broke down when I failed at… failing. I couldn’t do anything to avoid my mental state anymore.
My family couldn’t afford the university I still had two full years to complete, but this was the one thing I could not give up. I am ashamed to say I put on my mask for one more grueling week and buckled up on the long drive to PA.
After my parents and I moved everything into my dorm we went to lunch. They originally planned to leave after, but instead, I broke down in the diner not too far from campus and told them I couldn’t run. The looks I received as I said for the first time how depressed I was were not of embarrassment or disappointment, but complete and utter understanding. Instead of scolding me, we sat for hours in the car outside the diner brainstorming ideas. The first was to talk to my coach.
I have always known that my parents love me. I knew they would do anything for me, but this was the first time I understood it. It was the first time I felt like I had people on my team in my world of lonely.
I talked to my coach and explained how I felt. I explained how I tried to be the mentally tough athlete she thought she recruited, but how I failed. I explained how much I love the team and how I would do anything to help in any way I actually could, and she… understood.
In any of the ways I imagined the conversation, I never thought this actual outcome would happen. I know she was upset, but she didn’t say anything that would hurt me when I was at my most vulnerable. She set aside her frustrations to help me, told me I was not the first athlete this has happened to, and together, we figured out what we could do to keep me around.
The woman is one of the best coaches in the running world. Point blank. She is a huge reason why I went to Villanova in the first place. However, I’ve been on her chopping block before. It’s not a great place to be, especially when I felt like most misunderstandings were miscommunications. But humans are emotional creatures and she did everything to protect her team in the way she believed best. Knowing how truly understanding she is when someone’s life is breaking down in front of her, and coming up with a solution to help, just shows how good of a person she is as well.
I became the cross country and track team manager for my remaining time at Villanova and I loved it. Despite being offered to keep my scholarship through senior year, I couldn’t. The guilt of taking money from an athlete who put in the effort was too much. Instead, my parents and I figured out how to pay for my degree after giving up my scholarship (hello student loans). Giving up the scholarship was a big blow to the younger Amanda inside, who worked every day of high school for that opportunity, but it was what present day Amanda needed. And those efforts brought me to where I was in the first place, so it was not a complete loss.
Despite all of this track talk, I still had real demons to take on. They were the voices that kept me shut in, even though my academic future was secured. I had one person at school who I wasn’t afraid to be me in front of. She was my professor from second semester sophomore year, and somehow, unexplainably, I slowly opened up to her about everything. Her name, for the sake of her privacy, is Anna.
Anna was young and cool, but brilliant and had herself together. She accidentally swore once in class, then laughed about it, and I felt how real she was. I don’t remember how I began to open up to her, but over time, I could be crying in Anna’s office one minute and laughing in the next. She never judged me, but told me when my head was lying to me. She also suggested therapy.
I had been to two therapy sessions before, and they didn’t do much for me. I was skeptical and really concerned that the listener would judge me or tell someone a dark secret to ruin my life. But when Anna suggested it, she was more or less saying, “No, you’re doing this,” so I signed up for counseling at my college’s health center.
When I had my first session I walked into (let’s call her) Nicole’s office, sat down, and bawled. I cried for 10 minutes before we properly introduced ourselves. She was young and adorable and I couldn’t help but to feel as if she didn’t know what she signed up for. I felt as if I was going to ruin every one of her Wednesdays with whatever baggage I’d unload in that room.
However, that was a voice in my head. That was the illness trying to hold on to the things that would keep it alive. Nicole told me that. She went through all of my concerns, even about being in therapy, and over time, we went through more issues that I even knew I had.
I had days in Nicole’s office that were solely dedicated to happy things. Real happy things. Days when I didn’t cry. I looked forward to every Wednesday because Nicole allowed me the space to say what those voices told me, and break them apart to their figmented reality. Some days were harder than I ever thought possible, but possible they were, and I’d dash to Anna to tell her about my progress and thank her for suggesting this in the first place.
It couldn’t have lasted. Nothing does. But I was in such better shape when Nicole told me that she and her husband were moving to Texas. I was happy for her—it’s where she was from and where she wanted to settle down. I took the following semester off from therapy, which is also when I took screenwriting.
I loved screenwriting. The quirky formatting came naturally to me and I could place little parts of myself in these stories with any outcome I wanted. In this class, I was creating a reality of any shape I liked. The idea of being a writer never occurred to me before this class. Stories and communicating were abstract concepts before I studied Communication, which is part of why I loved it.
I went to the bookstore and got a journal that felt like it’d always been mine. I could finally give purpose to my insomnia and write in the middle of the night when I’d normally stare at my ceiling. I could whip my phone out any time of the day and jot down something short just because it came to me. Writing opened a door where my demons could leave their footsteps in ink on a paper in front of me, then trot off and never return to my brain again.
I don’t know if I was really good because I never wrote before. If I received a compliment I thought about a quote I heard about good writers being mentally unstable people. I loved writing, but I didn’t want to reveal to the world how injured I was. So I kept it to myself, until I finally let it free.
During my last semester of undergrad I took a Voice & Diction class. We practiced the way we speak to articulate better in the case we were ever to perform or speak publicly. For one assignment we could write our own speech or story. My heart started glowing for the first time in years.
I performed a piece I wrote based on a modern day “Catcher in the Rye.” Before that class, the story was never going to leave my laptop, and suddenly it was in the minds of every person in that classroom. Their applause felt more real than any crowds’ while standing atop a podium after Track and Field Nationals.
During dinner at the cafeteria that night, one girl from that class came up to me and told me how much the piece meant to her. She told me I had to share it, and to keep writing. It was one girl. One girl who didn’t know me changed me forever.
Later, I posted the piece to Facebook. I received notes from the most random people I never believed would care, but did. I realized there was something there, so I kept writing. Some pieces felt better than others, and most stayed saved as drafts, rather than free for the world to read. I was just happy to have found something that makes me happy.
So I write. I write about things that are hard to write about. I write about private things, fictional things, and things that are such small details of life and all I care about is telling a story that relates to others.
You might be asking, “So why did I read this?”
Good question. I didn’t expect to wake up and bust out this piece for three hours on this Sunday morning, but if you have noticed (or haven’t), my blog has been down for months. Voluntarily (sort of).
This piece exists to remind myself, and to remind you, that you should never give something up that means the world to you. Even if I don’t make a profession out of writing, doing this makes me feel good. It alleviates my anxieties, it grounds me, and it makes me feel connected to other people who live similar lives.
We don’t talk about things like mental health as much as we should, but that’s only part of why I’ve written this. I’ve written this because nobody should make you feel like something so (truly) healthy for you is not. I’m writing this to say that I gave up writing because it was misunderstood by my partner. That it was easier to shut this blog down than to fight about why I needed it.
I write about personal things—things from my past—but I am a human that is so much more complex than the words you’ll find on this page. I’m different than these words. They are stories. At times they are my platform to vent, but only venting after I let a story sit in my draft box for months, ensuring I want that to be available to anyone.
I write about love, but writing about love does not mean that I still live in those feelings. Sometimes I do, but in a weird way, like I have digested the story and it is now just a part of my past.
If I am romantically with someone, I am wholly with that person. I am grossly loyal and believed doing anything for my partner would help me feel loved. It didn’t. It’s one of so many little things I now know, but this is who I am, and sacrificing myself to secure ~less than myself~ in a relationship is something I will never be able to do again.
So I write, and now I’ll be around a little longer.