The Whole Being Athlete Series is a platform for athletes to share their stories about their own mental health journey. Please be advised the following article contains mental health content that may be triggering to some. If someone you know is struggling with their mental health, please call the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) hotline 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) M-F 10am-8pm Eastern or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why Mental Health Matters
by Gabby Seiler Kessler, Professional Soccer (NWSL)
Normalize medication, normalize therapy, normalize mental health. For the longest time I felt like an outcast. I felt like I constantly had a million things going on in my head and I had no way of organizing my thoughts. I felt trapped. I am the kind of person who hates asking for help. I will do anything and everything myself before I ask someone else to help me. I remember going into my senior year of college on an absolute high. I felt like I was playing at a high level on the soccer field and from the outside looking in my life was perfect.
What people from the outside probably do not know is I would have an anxiety attack daily. They got so bad that I felt like I could not breathe and honestly it crippled me. Every day I got up felt hard. Going to practice luckily was a huge outlet for me and a place I felt safe. Still at this time I never sought to get help. I tried to listen to podcasts, do breathing exercises, and eat healthy. You name it, I probably tried it. For the longest time I was in denial that I needed to see someone. I felt like if I went to therapy, got put on medicine that this was a loss for me. I was succumbing to my anxiety.
I know what it is like to feel like you have no purpose. I know how hard it is to get people to understand what you are feeling. So many people would tell me they just don’t get. Your life is so perfect, you have everything going for you. You have nothing to be sad about. Honestly hearing those things absolutely broke me in a million pieces. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I am hard on myself and hearing those things made me feel like a failure. What was wrong with me?
One day I just decided to get help and that day changed my life. It is okay to not be okay. It is okay to not have an explanation for your feelings. Your feelings are valid and worthy. Being a professional athlete comes with pressure and it is tough for everyone but for me prioritizing my mental health is the reason I am still playing today. I want people to know that having a mental illness is not a personal failure. I have the most incredible life and honestly I pinch myself sometimes because I can’t believe how lucky I am. But I’m also here to tell you that just because my life is quote on quote “perfect” doesn’t mean I’m incapable of struggle or that I’m not dealing with internal things in my brain every single day I wake up. I’m here to tell you that just because you may have a mental illness, you are no less of a person. In fact, you are strong because despite what you have going on, you get up each day and fight. We are going to be okay and you are loved in all forms.
I have learned the importance of having meaningful conversations with people about mental health because we have to continue to break the stigma. We have to break the walls and barriers to start prioritizing our mental health. I recently have started to meditate and take time to breathe, which helps, but I recently was prescribed an antidepressant. I feel very lucky to be in an environment where they prioritize my mental health. I feel accepted and loved now more than ever, which is credit to my teammates and the Dash.
My advice to anyone who is struggling would be to 1) Don’t be ashamed. You are loved and your feelings are important. 2) Do not be afraid to ask for help and do not be ashamed if medication is brought into the picture. 3) I promise you that you are not alone in the fight. May is mental health awareness month and I love that this even exists because I think the more we can just continue having conversations about mental health we will continue to go in the right direction. The more awareness we can bring can truly save lives and to me that is incredible. My hope for the future is that this is just the beginning and that athletes have a safe space where their mental health will be a priority in whatever sport they are competing in.
Gabby Seiler Kessler is a professional soccer player for the Houston Dash in the NWSL. She played soccer at UGA for 2 years, later transferring to and graduating from the University of Florida. She was drafted by the Portland Thorns in the 2018 NWSL College Draft.