by Tara Davis
My Dad used to always tell me track was 90% mental and 10% physical. At the time I was young, about 12, and I never really understood what he meant. I never had any mental struggles.
They all came later – when I went to college.
Why did it start? Many reasons. Part of it had to do with pressure from coaches and family, and just life itself. Coming out of high school, I was on top, but my first year of college I fell behind.
Why am I not on top? I'm doing everything I'm supposed to be doing. Why is it not translating?
I got injury after injury and, after a while, I was like: What is the purpose of all this?
Track and field was my world, and I wasn't performing. I wasn’t able to do what I loved, and that just put me under. Between coaching issues, difficulties in transferring colleges and trying to start again, making new friends, it started to feel like I didn’t know what life was.
Everything was moving so quickly, and I was just trying to catch up.
At times like that, social media is a dangerous place, no matter how many supportive followers you have. There are also a lot of haters out there and they really, really got to me.
She’s never going to be good again. She’s just a prima donna.
But they never know what’s going on behind the scenes. They only know what they see on social media or what they hear through word of mouth. I could have 100,00 positive comments coming in, but if there’s just one negative comment, it sticks out way more.
The thing I’ve come to realize? The person making that comment is probably just sitting on their couch, not doing anything with their life. Despite that, proving those people wrong is what I love to do – to make them eat their words.
But first I had to work on myself.
When I started to deal with depression, I didn’t seek help in the beginning. But after my first panic attack, I decided to call someone at the University of Texas, which has a really good mental health program.
I began therapy, and saw someone each week. I didn’t open up at first, but in month three, month four, I was truly opening up, sharing what I thought – how my world felt like it was crumbling (even though it wasn’t).
I usually didn't express my feelings before, except when I was on the track. I never really cried or showed anger. I was always keeping it to myself and sulking. But once I finally opened up, spilling everything, emotions started coming and sharing how I felt changed a lot for life on the track.
When I was at practice before, all I could think about was what was going on in my head and not what I was there to do. Before that it was the opposite – I’d get on the track and feel free. But as my issues escalated, I felt not so free.
Track was hindering my mental health.
But once I broke through in therapy, a whole new world opened for me.
It’s not that the problems just disappear. I do still have depression and mental health issues sometimes, but I don't think I could ever let myself get back to that point because I know now I’m capable of dealing with them, and being who I want to be.
I don't see a therapist these days, but I follow a similar approach to when I did. It’s about having someone or something you can share your feelings with.
It could even be your phone.
That's what I do now: I type all my feelings out so I don't have to put it on anyone else. But that way, everything I feel comes out and I don't have to think those thoughts anymore.
Of course, the negative comments are still there, but it’s more life in general that sometimes gets to me, like if I’m not hitting a goal. But sometimes it’s just a day when I wake up and don’t want to do it.
I’m tired. I’m tired. I’m tired.
That’s what I say when I’m struggling – either physically or mentally. My life moves so fast and sometimes I just want to sit, but I know I’ll have time to do that later in life. This is the time to use my voice and in 10 years, I figure I’ll be able to sit down, look at all the things I’ve done and just live.
As I’ve matured, I’ve had to reassess my relationship with social media. What’s crazy is I’m really big on there, but I feel like my social media and my fiance’s are very genuine – it’s our authentic selves.
But not everyone is that way, and for a long time I wasn’t.
Nowadays, I look at things on social media with a grain of salt. Everything you see is so often picture-perfect, but you have to remember that photo happened in 0.5 seconds, and you have no idea what else happened throughout that person’s day.
There have been times in the past when I’d been crying, then I put on some make-up and smiled so I could post a photo.
I hated that. It wasn’t me. I felt like a fraud.
But that’s why my advice to girls these days is to be unapologetically yourself. Don't be like anyone else, because it's exhausting. I’ve been there, and I was lucky to get out of that.
It’s so important for athletes to remember, too, that your performances don’t define you. Sure, you can win an Olympic medal that might define your career, but if you lose it doesn't define you who you are.
Being an athlete is all about a process and losing is part of that. It pushes you, shows you what you truly can do, because no one likes to lose.
I hate losing, but when it happens I go to practice and train my butt off because I don't want to feel that ever again.
When I’m competing these days, my attitude is so different to what it was before.
If eyes are on me, then I embrace it and I’m willing to be myself. People like that. Competitions can be so stern and serious but I often wonder: Why don’t we have fun with it?
Football players aren't serious. They're out there high-fiving, doing drills and making up dance routines – why can't we do that in track? Why do we have to be such a serious sport?
Because if we’re not having fun, why are we doing it?
It’s what I’d say to young athletes if they asked me for advice: Have fun with your sport, and if it's not for you then it's not for you – move on to something else. Don't let someone force you to go to the track when you don't want to, because that's when negative things start happening.
And always – always – be unapologetically yourself.
As of right now, I’m doing really well mentally, but I know other athletes aren’t and I want to put my two cents out there and tell them it’s okay to deal with these things.
If you’re going through it, just remember there's a light at the end of the tunnel. For a long time I didn't believe that, but I finally got to the other side.
And now I have a whole new world in front of me.