Mental Health Is Not a Weakness
An interview with Remy Bikowski.
Remy is a University and current Co-Founder & Managing Director of Clutch ICONS, a clothing brand aimed to empower athletes. He attended the University of South Florida where he pursued his business degree while serving as an offensive lineman and student assistant for the Bulls football program.
What has your mental health journey looked like and how has it impacted your status as an athlete?
My mental health journey began at Temple University when I tore my ACL. The medical staff recommended that I have a session at TUWELL, the on-campus therapy service for athletes. While my first few sessions focused mostly on my injury, I slowly started opening up and working towards understanding the roots of some of my emotions. As a child, I became accustomed to insecurity, not knowing what the future held, and anxiety that I had to do extremely well to set myself up for a chance at a better life. I often felt that I had to be perfect in my actions and daily tasks to have a chance at making something of myself. This anxiety carried over into athletics, where I consistently imposed my will to control everything, which I thought might improve my chances of success. Instead of looking inward, I focused on minute details such as my diet, sleep, flexibility, strength, injury prevention and rehabilitation, and hydration.
I often felt that my feelings did not matter and that my value as a person was solely based on my performance in sports and academia.Remy Bikowski
Why are you passionate about mental health awareness?
I am passionate about mental health awareness due to my personal struggles and the struggles of my teammates. Through sports, I’ve had many conversations with teammates where I feel unequipped to help them. I always provide a listening ear and compassion to my teammates, but I often saw how athletes in hyper-masculine sports, such as football, chose to diminish their feelings and focus solely on sports. Additionally, the constant pressure to prove toughness and grit becomes exhausting. I have personally been made fun of by coaches for being “soft” or not playing through an injury, even though later MRIs revealed that I had a herniated disk. The level of anger I felt towards the coaching and medical staff was unhealthy, and I am grateful that I reached out for appropriate support instead of mishandling the situation and losing my temper. If there were less of a stigma around being “soft,” playing with serious injuries could be avoided, as it is dangerous and may result in further injury.
What resources have you found helpful in your mental health journey?
Throughout my playing career, I found on-campus mental health services made specifically for athletes to be the most beneficial. I greatly appreciate Dr. Stephany Coakley at the TUWELL offices at Temple University, as well as Dr. Lee Dorpfeld, Director of Sport Psychology at the University of South Florida. These two people greatly impacted my life for the better and inspire me to continue improving through my mental health journey. These sessions helped me get through surgical procedures, family hardship, and personal dilemmas.
Athletes endure more stressors than the average student, and the pressure to perform can wear us down. Feeling understood and knowing that there is someone to turn to is an invaluable resource for athletes.Remy Bikowski
What advice would you give to someone who might be struggling with their own mental health?
The advice I would give to someone struggling with mental health, especially someone dealing with a constant perfectionism, shame, and guilt cycle, is to show up for yourself just one time. Too often, we will defend friends and family, and provide support and empathy to others, but never ourselves. It is much more difficult to rationalize neglecting and hurting ourselves when we take a moment to reconnect with our inner child. Try to be more forgiving and realize that you are human too. We all make mistakes, react poorly, and fail to communicate sometimes. This does not mean that we are unworthy of love, kindness, or patience.
What do you hope the future of sports and mental health looks like?
I hope that the future of mental health in sports is one of open communication and understanding. I hope that athletes feel comfortable leaning on their peers and resources for support. A future where a seriously injured athlete can get checked out by medical staff without being made fun of or belittled.
I hope that one day, talking about genuine mental struggles will not be associated with being “soft.”Remy Bikowski
How can people be more supportive of mental health and advocate for change?
People can become more supportive of mental health by gaining a deeper understanding of each other. Isolated thoughts tend to spin out of control quickly, but if we communicate more with each other, we could find comfort in mutual understanding. Often, just talking it out can significantly reduce stress and increase empathy for others and ourselves. Advocate for change by being there for someone, and most importantly, be there for yourself!