“It gets better,” Grace Gonzalez says reassuringly. “It may take years, but you would be surprised by the amount of times I believed I wouldn’t make it to the next year; yet, here I am today.”
Cliché and hard to believe when you’re in the thick of depression, many people believe this to be true. Gonzalez, a softball player for 14 years, agrees.
Gonzalez played two years of softball at Eastern University in Pennsylvania. She is studying mathematics at Eastern University while also taking chemical engineering classes at Villanova University. This rigorous program, as well as a traumatic brain injury and mental health hurdles, have forced her to take a break from the game she loves, she says.
Gonzalez calls softball the “love of her life” but has also realized that anxiety and depression are part of who she is.
As a young athlete, Gonzalez suffered with depression that she considered minor and anxiety that was controllable. More recently, however, she has been suffering from panic attacks.
“I handle it most days, but some days I have no clue where [the panic attack] came from or why it happened,” Gonzalez admits.
She had sought treatment in the past from mental health professionals, but wasn’t finding speaking with strangers as beneficial. Gonzalez also gave medication a try, but ultimately transitioned off it because of side effects. She did, however, find solace in a few friends.
“We were all dealing with the same stresses,” Gonzalez says. She believes some of her anxiety comes from worrying about her future. Besides some of her friends in the math department at school, she found her boyfriend to be a “blessing in [her] life.”
Gonzalez realizes that the support she has is not what all others with mental health issues have access to. However, she has also recognized that just because someone is there for you does not mean it is always going to be a positive relationship to have.
“My roommate and I are very similar people who have gone through similar experiences,” Gonzalez explains. This caused them both to “spiral downward together” and led to relapses.
But, for Gonzalez, her boyfriend was essential. “My boyfriend was always there when I needed a shoulder to cry on,” she says. “I truly feel like I wouldn’t know what to do without him.”
She may not think she would know what to do, but Gonzalez has fought her whole life to get to where she is today. If she could give herself some advice, she’d tell herself those same three words: it gets better.
While Gonzalez was a freshman at Eastern University, she dealt with a concussion and a coach who didn’t know how to handle it.
She says her coach didn’t believe her injury was “as severe as it was.” Her coach “held it against [her]” and benched her for many games as a punishment for what she thought was Gonzalez being dramatic about her situation. This, she says, caused her depression to worsen.
Coincidence or karma, Gonzalez may never know, but her coach wound up with a concussion last year and confessed that she didn’t understand the gravity of concussion symptoms. She later apologized, but it doesn’t excuse the pain Gonzalez felt.
This ignorance around traumatic brain injuries is also oftentimes seen with invisible illnesses, such as depression or anxiety. Although it shouldn’t take someone having to go through these invisible pains firsthand to show kindness and empathy to those managing their illnesses, it regularly does.
Gonzalez wants to change that. “People need to hear this,” she says.
What does “normal” mean to Grace Gonzalez?
“I always thought normal meant happy with no issues. Sometimes I still believe that. But, normal doesn’t exist. Everyone deals with something. Everyone has issues. We are all imperfect people living in an imperfect world.”