- Friend, daughter, sister, niece, cousin, girlfriend, teammate, coach
- UBC Kinesiology graduate
- 5-time Academic All-Canadian and U-Sports Champion
- Elite athlete for 7+ years
When you read those stats, you probably think: Wow! This person has it all together. And for many years, that’s what I wanted everyone to think.
My name is Hannah Haughn, and I was serial a pretender. In fact, sometimes I think maybe I should have pursued acting, until I realize that would actually entail performing in front of an audience *cue heart rate spike*. The truth is that for 7 years I pretended I had my life together, and boy did I fool everyone, even myself.
- Throwing up before every game & exam
- Recurrent insomnia
- Social isolation
- Crying episodes
- Generalized Anxiety, Depression
Now when you read those stats, you probably think: Wow this person needs help or, what’s wrong with her?! This is what I hid.
So why did I hide it? Because as a 16 year old kid who’d just made the National Field hockey team, I was supposed to be living my dream. And in many ways, I was: getting to travel the world and compete at the highest level in the sport I loved. At the same time, I was forced to grow up quickly in a highly stressful, competitive environment. I’d barely gone through puberty and suddenly I was expected to make adult decisions without having the time to figure out who I was. I’d spend 10 hours each week on the bus getting to practices and missed over half of my grade 11 and 12 years to play field hockey. Socially, I no longer fit in with my high school friends, and I was “just a kid” to my new teammates. So I pretended. Like every other kid, I just wanted to be seen as “normal” even when I wasn’t.
In my 2nd and 3rd year of university I spent most of my time stumbling through the dark. I lost family members to illness, and I lost friends to my social isolation and rigorous training regime. People kept saying that once I settled into university I’d find a balance between academics and athletics. For me that balance does not exist; either I’m 100% in, or I’m out. I began to fear failure more than anything in the world. So, I tricked myself into believing I was striving for excellence when really, I was striving for perfection. Something that doesn’t exist, and never will.
Slowly but surely, my mental illness became a drug: reinforcing. When it showed up uninvited, my unhappiness allowed me to narrow my focus obsessively on the task at hand so that I thrived in the classroom and on the field. Part of me knew I needed to seek help, while another part of me thought “why change a good thing?” The second part always won the battle.
3. LEARNING & HEALING
By my 4th year my shining, perfect reputation was still intact. But I was tired. Meanwhile, 4400km away, my sister Heather was dealing with her own mental health issues. Unlike me, however, she was waging a full-on war with it and seeking help. What was more, she began using her art and social media platforms to expose her issues. She wasn’t hiding anything, she was shouting and she was unapologetic about it.
It was Heather that taught me more about strength and courage than anyone I’ve ever known. Sure I could bench press and squat much more than her, but her mind out-sprinted mine by a long shot. And as always, I wanted to be just like my big sister. Unfortunately, it turns out that once you decide you want to seek help, the fight has only just begun. The more I opened up to people about my issues, the more friends I lost, and the more doctors and counselors I had telling me there was nothing wrong- that I was just stressed. When I sought a referral to see a psychologist, the doctor at the walk-in clinic took one look at me and told me “you aren’t depressed, you got out of bed this morning didn’t you?”
So, you might be surprised to hear that the proudest moment of my short, but exciting life, has been connecting with my psychiatrist. The mountain of societal barriers, the self-doubt, the guilt and, most of all, the anxiety of what everyone will think, lead me to believe I would never get help. It has been the hardest thing I have ever done.
In the last two years I have learned more about myself and other people than I ever though possible. I have realized that I will never be “cured” of my anxiety or depression. These issues will forever be with me and will perhaps be passed on to my own children one day; these realizations are difficult to swallow. I have also come to grasp the paradox of being an elite athlete in a team sport. What I do is selfless, in that my lifestyle choices directly affect my teammates. However, to those on the outside, my actions are highly selfish, centering completely on my team. For this reason, it is easy to become isolated in the athlete bubble.
Finally, my struggles have taught me empathy, and ironically, despite my isolation, brought me closer to people. I’ve gone back and forth about writing these thoughts down, because I’m still afraid what others will think of me. In the sporting world there is little room for vulnerability, only a “suck it up mentality”. But pretending won’t change perceptions, and it certainly won’t bring understanding. It’s time for society to wake up and realize that physical and mental illness are one and the same. And that strength comes in many forms.
2 Replies to “Hi, I’m Hannah.”
Thank you Hannah for sharing your journey with us. I understand how difficult it is to do so. I would like to suggest that you read A Mind of your own by Dr. Kelly Brogan: http://www.kellybroganmd.com/amindofyourown/ I believe you will find a new and powerful perspective that might change your life to the better. Many blessings…