Finding Home Away From Home
I once heard that when you hit rock bottom, the only place to go is up.
When I started a new chapter of life at Denison, I, for the first time, hit rock bottom. It seemed as if everything that the Heavenly Father could have possibly thrown at me was delivered at the absolute worst time. I was very proud of the strong personal foundation I had built, but that foundation started to deteriorate.
The transition from my blue-collar hometown of West Jefferson, Ohio, to Denison University, was exceptionally difficult for reasons that I never anticipated. I found that the hardest part of the change wasn't the academic rigor or the daily college football grind, but rather simply adjusting to living on my own.
Back home, I kept an extremely tight social circle. The individuals I surrounded myself with made me a better person in every aspect of my life. My lifelong best friends, loving girlfriend, and endlessly supportive family were the metaphorical backbones of my existence.
When I arrived at Denison on August 10th for football camp, everyone that helped me on my journey to get to Denison was suddenly removed from my everyday life. Lacking the direct support of the people I am closest with, I found myself bottling up all the emotions I was facing. Out of my comfort zone, I found myself pent up with anger, depression, and anxiety. Lacking the emotional connection to my new teammates and coaches, I felt like I had to handle struggles once fixed by confiding in those I love on my own. However, I refused to send anything but good news and reassuring stories back home because I did not want anything to seem wrong.
To outsiders, I was a hotshot freshman football player from a small town that always appeared with shoulders back and chin held high. Little did they know, the man in the mirror that I was forced to look at in my Shorney Hall dorm room was broken. My head was constantly filled with invisible battles that I was left to fight alone. All I wanted was for this torture to disappear and to go back to the happy life I had been living previously.
The only experience I have found to parallel my situation is that of drowning. I felt like I was constantly pulled under the waves and struggled to catch my breath. Occasionally, a hand would be there to pull me up for air. A great practice, a call from my mom, or a fun night on campus gave me temporary relief from my mental pain and left me with the impression that it was okay to breathe. As I said, those moments were all temporary. My grip on the metaphorical hand, and the reality of my situation, would slip as I found myself right back where I was before. Struggling, pulled down, drowning.
Nineteen days of suffering through my silent pain passed before I finally reached out for help. Nineteen days of pain, anger, and sadness finally gave their mightiest punch toward my mental health. The voice in my head that was begging me to be healthy again finally spoke louder than the pressure that was keeping me from seeking help. I knew that I needed help, and it was finally time to give the eyes of the man in the mirror a glimpse of hope. With each adversity that I faced, my mental health grew weaker and weaker until it was no longer recognizable to the man I once was.
On August 29th at 9:56 A.M in my digital humanities lecture I finally broke. I went to my football coach and let everything that was suppressed in my thoughts out.
My mind raced as I traveled from Barney-Davis Hall down to the Mitchell Center. What the hell was I supposed to say to my coach? I thought about turning around and climbing back up The Hill to disappear into my dorm room. I glanced down to look at the text I sent to my coach once more, glanced back up the stairs, and considered rethinking it all, but ultimately decided to head down to my coach's office. I used the back entrance to hide from the front desk. As I crept up to the door, I could feel my heart banging on my chest, begging for freedom from all the pain it had been enduring.
When I stepped into my coach's office, I felt tears begin to well up and the lump in my throat grow larger and larger. My mind was screaming to let everything out. The only noise I could conjure up was the nervous tapping of my foot on the floor. My emotions quickly turned to tears. My anger was anguished, my depression was relieved and my anxiety was cut loose.
As I stepped into his newly located office, Coach started the meeting like any other, “What can I do for you, Canyon?”
Through tears, I explained all of the struggles that were plaguing my mind. “Coach… I am broken” I exclaimed as my built-up sadness took control of my thoughts. “I feel like everything that God could possibly throw at me is taking its toll on me.”
As I sat and wept, he silently consoled me and allowed me to “get it all out.” It was through his silence, eye contact, and demeanor in which I knew that I had finally been heard.
As I slowly trekked through the battleground of my mind, Coach was my guiding light. He had finally answered the inner voice that was screaming for help. While my mind began to unravel and inch closer to peace, he was right there by my side escorting me toward the mental release that I had been yearning for. Coach revealed to me that I was no longer alone in my thoughts. The act of opening up was pivotal to my ability to connect with others and feeling understood. As the feeling of mental freedom rushed over me, I knew that the pain that had been chained to my heart had finally been unshackled.
That conversation was the turning point in the revival of “me.” All of the pent-up anger and confusion was cut loose. The hatred that was eating me up was finally defeated and those mental wars in my head finally reached a cease-fire. Once our conversation was over, I confidently carried myself back up the stairs and onto the main campus of Denison University; eager to show Granville the real version of me.
My new task was to pick up the broken pieces that my battle had left behind. It is said that hindsight is 20/20. Looking back on those nineteen days, I can now see that my anger was unleashed on those closest to me. Years ago, my pastor gave a sermon on how during tough times, we tend to treat those closest to us the worst. This is because we know that their love is unbreakable against our actions. During my tough time, my parents got the worst of my emotions. My Mom and Dad are my parents, obviously, but they are also undoubtedly my best friends. As you can imagine, my moving out was hard for my family members. When they would come up to visit, I was quiet, rude, and incredibly short-fused. My actions only made it harder for them. In my head, I had a fallout with my teammates as well. While they were enjoying meals as a team, I found myself alone in the dorms because I was so angry with the people I was sharing the campus with.
I kept my struggles hidden from everyone. To mend my bent relationships, I had to have some pretty difficult conversations. I had to explain to my roommate, teammate, and family what was going on in my mind. Turns out, nobody knew the struggles that I was facing daily. I was met with an incredible amount of support when I finally opened up about my struggles. I have never been met with the amount of support that I was when I finally opened up about my struggles. I discovered quickly that I was not alone.
College is difficult, especially as a college student-athlete. Finding balance in an unfamiliar place is a challenge for anyone. However, the built-in brotherhood and sisterhoods on this campus are woven so tightly together that you quickly realize you are not alone. However, the built-in brotherhood and sisterhoods here on campus are woven so tightly together. Together for one, one for all.
I can now confidently say that I came out of this battle victorious. There were times when I wanted to give in to the tide and accept that I was broken. However, I found hope and I eventually found my way out of the darkness. I have learned that everyone fights mental health battles and that each individual handles them differently. However, I am here to tell you this: when you feel like drowning, keep swimming. When you feel yourself becoming broken, reach out for help. And always promise yourself: never, ever quit. Together as young adults and student-athletes here on The Hill, we fight together as one.