Behind the Whistle: Spreading Your Wings


This story initially appeared on Behind the Whistle, the official blog of the IWLCA, and is being republished with permission from the organization. Maggie Clark is a sophomore midfielder at James Madison University.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This entry was written as James Madison University was engaged in raising awareness regarding mental health issues. The team supports Morgan’s Message, an organization that works to “eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health within the student-athlete community and equalize the treatment of physical and mental health in athletics,” the Rodgers family, who are JMU alumni, the lacrosse community, and athletes everywhere. The team wants everyone to know they are not alone. By sharing their stories, they hope to create courage and connection. Over the next few months, we will share additional entries focused on this topic, written by members of the JMU team. 

The mind is an extremely complex structure that is still not fully discovered, unlike most other parts of the body. Most of us have pretty normal childhoods and play with chalk and swing on the swing sets, and then somewhere throughout the years of becoming a teenager, you learn to grow up and face the brutality of life. Mental illness is something that many people do not talk about regularly, and the only time you do hear about it is during a unit in health class, but it is something that needs to be more normalized, which can allow people to be more comfortable talking about it with someone.

I’ve had friends go through extremely tough times, along with family members, and for a while I did not understand what I could do to help. I couldn’t sympathize with them, at least not until this past year. COVID-19 hit hard for many people due to the quarantine and having life be brought to a stop, but it hit extremely hard for me. It started off with losing my last high school lacrosse season with my best friends, which I looked forward to since I was in elementary school. I also lost the end of my senior year in total, along with a normal graduation. It felt like I didn’t get the right closure. Then my grandma passed away on July 5, a year after the love of her life for 72 years, my grandpa, died.

All those events hit pretty hard to home, and after everything started to unravel, I slowly started to lose myself. I finally understood what it meant to put on a smile, even though no part of you felt like smiling, to make everyone think you were OK. I started to not want to hang out with my friends as much and stayed home more. Looking back on it, I didn’t even want to talk to anyone about anything and internalized it all and let myself suffer alone. Since coming to college this fall, I started putting myself back together and finding joy in the little things again. I would call myself a work in progress at the moment because freshman year is hard in a new place, along with worrying about playing time in a sport. But I’ve accepted the new opportunities with open arms.

I was trying to figure out what to write about after sitting here for a little bit and reflecting on my past year or so, and I wish I could give this amazing advice on how to work through mental health, but the truth is I didn’t ask for help or guidance, and many people don’t. People face hardships in life. Almost every single person on this Earth does. But facing hardships has taught me that life wouldn’t be life without a few rough patches because it allows you to grow as a person.

I understand that many people may go through a lot more than I did, but the message I want to get across to anyone that reads this is that after looking back at myself a couple of months ago, I would tell myself to go talk to a friend or family member more about my feelings, even it is something little. The world is so much more unique with you in it, and I understand that sometimes it is a struggle to even get out of bed in the mornings, but it will get better, and it is never too late to make a change and ask for help.

It does not mean you are weak if you ask for help. I think it takes more strength and courage to admit that you are not OK than to hide behind a smile. There will always be someone there for you, whether that’s a teammate, coach, teacher, family member, friend or even a neighbor. The way I look at it, being in a dark place is like the phase of being a caterpillar, and as you grow and move towards the light from the dark place, it reflects the stage of metamorphosis with that caterpillar and with you being ready to evolve. And finally, once you are fully in the light after being in that dark place it reflects the stage of growing into that beautiful and unique butterfly that was able to recover from the dark place.

Remember, there is only one of you, and no matter how much you convince yourself that you aren’t unique or special, there is always someone there to remind you that this world is a whole lot better with you in it. Let’s allow Morgan’s Message to inspire us to live our fullest lives in honor of her. If you need help, be strong and reach out for help, even if it is easier said than done. I am going to continue day to day with Morgan’s Message as a reminder to live my life to the best I possibly can and to take risks and do things I might regret and to ask for help if I need it. You only get one shot at life, and you should give yourself the opportunity to live it to the fullest!

Author’s Note: I wrote the above in the spring of 2021 and currently I am in my fall season of 2021. I am happy to say that things do get better and eventually the storm passes. This new school year has started off so much better than last year, and it will only get better! Best wishes to everyone reading this, and I hope it is getting better for you, too!

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