I am really struggling to cope at the moment. Throughout my life, I have been training as a professional athlete. This has meant that I have had to sacrifice a great deal in order to train, particularly during my childhood and teenage years. I have missed birthday parties and well, all social events for as long as I can remember! I have never had what anyone would consider a normal daily routine. I am approaching my mid-twenties now and have multiple recurring injuries that I have been unable to recover from. A visit to my doctor recently confirmed my worst fear, that I will no longer be able to play my sport at a top-level.
Being a professional athlete has always been my dream. I feel like I have let everyone down. As you can imagine I have experienced a real sense of sadness and anger. I have been taking my emotions out on my family and friends in order to keep them away, as I much prefer to be on my own at the moment. I have also been in a lot of pain due to my leg and back injuries, which of course does not help matters. Because of how upset I have been feeling I am trying to stay away from prescribed pain killers as I know that can trigger further problems. In fact, I am trying to stay away from alcohol and unhealthy foods. I have spent the last month doing my best to look after myself but whatever I do, does not seem to lift my mood.
I do not know what is next for me. I feel completely lost. I never had a back-up plan. Sports is all I ever knew how to do. Do you have any advice as to how I should handle this situation? Any help is greatly appreciated.
I am so sorry to hear what you have been going through. You have sacrificed so much for your dream and for it to end in this way is truly devastating.
Firstly, it is okay to feel like this. As you mentioned, your worst fear has been realised and it is only normal that you feel anger, confusion and deep sadness. Added to this is the physical pain that you are currently enduring, which will only heighten the emotional strife you are contending with. You are in the midst of a life transition and you are most likely to be grieving at this stage. By grief I mean for the sporting life that you have lost, a life that you have always imagined for yourself and have endeavoured so very hard to attain. It is essential that you allow the necessary time to process this grief and take the space you need to recover. One positive note here is that you do not seem to be in denial about what is happening to you, which is a common reactionary response when faced with a situation such as this. I know it feels incredibly overwhelming right now, but you should be proud of how you are confronting your experience and in trying to take good care of yourself.
You are right to try to maintain a healthy lifestyle and remain aware of the medications you are taking for your pain. Adopting a mindfulness as to the range of emotions you are experiencing, be it anger, bitterness, sadness, or shame to name but a few will be key for you moving forward. Countering emotions such as this with acts of self-care such as gentle exercise like swimming or walking if you can manage it, or perhaps reading, meditation and of course extra sleep are all examples of ways to look after yourself during difficult moments.
It is a natural response to want to isolate ourselves from those close to us when we feel that we have failed. That is a customary part of any transitional process, however, you must remind yourself daily that you have nothing to be ashamed of and that what has happened is not your fault. Say it aloud to yourself if need be. If you feel that your need for isolation continues, or that you are sinking into a depression, do not hesitate to speak to a doctor or attain professional counselling support. You are not alone. It may also help you to research some literature either autobiographies or online accounts of professional athletes who too, went through this. It will reinforce the notion that is so very important for you to maintain in the forefront of your mind; if you had the strength to fall, you have the strength to rise.
When you are ready to start thinking about the future, be kind to yourself. Do not doubt yourself, nor underestimate the fact that you have so much more to offer aside from your sporting abilities. This is a brand new period of your life. Yes, it marks the end of something, but remember it also signifies a beginning. You don’t have to have all of the answers right now, it is okay to feel lost. This is an opportunity for you to consider what your next dream shall be and how you are going to make it happen. Refrain from putting too much pressure on yourself. The discipline it took for you to become a professional athlete in the first place, speaks volumes about the strength of your character. If anything, it should tell you that you are capable of achieving whatever you set your heart on.
Above all else, have patience with yourself Nicole and take one day at a time.
Wishing you happiness,
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