Hi all! My name is Hayley Plante and I am really excited to be sharing my story with the Us4Hope team! Writing this blog couldn’t have come at a better time because I recently had the biggest breakthrough in my mental health struggles that I want to share with you. But first, a bit of background on myself:
All my life I have been involved in some sort of sport. Through extra curricular programs as a kid and competitive sports as I grew older, I found myself as a high performance athlete in Sprint Kayaking. I have now participated in this sport for 10 years and counting. My participation and development in this sport is how I define myself and where I find the most pride.
My experience through mental health and being physically active is a bit different than most with the Us4Hope team. It is different because most people use physical activity as an outlet for depression, anxiety or any other mental suffering, but in my world, sport is one of the biggest contributors to my stress and anxiety levels. It is an ironic situation because although being at such a high level of competition in sport creates stress, it is also the biggest outlet of stress and I wouldn’t know what to do without it.
At this point in my blog, you are probably confused because I am contradicting myself. Let me clear things up. At my level of sport, I am constantly pushing myself to new limits, feeling self inflicted pain that the average person would never do. For every race I win, I lose 100 times. Whether it is overcoming failure in my training, mental health, racing, etc. People only see athletes on their competition day and not the everyday struggle we put ourselves through to get to that competition day.
So now you’re scared right? “Why would I ever do sports if I am already struggling in my everyday life and Hayley is telling me how hard it can be?”. HERE’S WHY: only certain people are made for a high level of competitive sport, but EVERYONE is made for physical activity and an appropriate level of sport. Physical activity gives you an outlet from your everyday life, it gives you an opportunity to create and achieve goals, push yourself to new limits you didn’t think you were capable of, and most importantly, it creates a network or team of people who are excited to work with you and support you.
On top of the benefits of self-worth, there is also scientific evidence that physical activity improves your mental health. “Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good. Finally, exercise can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.” (helpguide.org, 2017) But starting physical activity is hard to do on your own, that’s why being a part of a team creates cohesion and motivation to keep going.
Now that you know a bit about me, here is a story that I would love to share with you:
This year I had a breakthrough with my training. I struggled my entire off season with my mental health and did not think that my racing season would be impressive in the slightest. Somewhere along the way I had a change of pace and was able to qualify for World Championships. This lead to training with a large group of girls, all on the national team.
Let me stop you there and tell you that life is not all sunshine and rainbows.
Everything seemed to be going great, I am going to world championships! Something I have dreamed about for a long time. But this didn’t mean that my mental health struggles were just going to be paused until I came home. While training with my team, I had to come to terms with a disorder that I have struggled with for a long time. I never understood the extent of it until I was training for world championships, life has a funny way of reminding you of your weaknesses when you’re having a great time. The situation forced me to be braver than I ever have been before by confronting my team members about my private life.
It is scary to open up to people when you have been hiding all your life. I did not know how my team would react and what would happen to my reputation after. To my surprise it took no time at all for my team to reach out with so much love and support that I didn’t know what to do with myself.
- “We are always here for you”
- “I am really happy you are taking the step forward to make yourself better”
- “I commend you for having the courage and strength to open up completely”
- “We are a team. Not only on competition. We are working to be it in everyday life”
- “We are all not perfect, but the positive point is that we can be better everyday.”
Everyday I have struggled on my own and fought by myself. I never could have imagined I had such a vast source of support right in front of me all this time. All it took was for me to be brave and stand up. Although this was not easy to do, it wasn’t too late. I am now on a path to becoming my best self, and not alone. I have only my sport to thank for this realization.
With this blog coming to an end, I want to be your “doctor” and prescribe you with my “orders”:
- Breathe fresh air for at least 1 hour a day
- Join a community sports team of your liking
- Experiment with yoga or other mediation practices
- Sweat once a day
- Push yourself
I hope that my story has changed the way you feel about getting outside and what you can do to improve your everyday.
To follow my story, I have a personal blog www.hayleyplantepaddles.wordpress.com
and a nutrition account on Instagram @theathletesplate or facebook www.facebook.com/athletesplate
To close, I would like to add my personal email for anyone out there that is struggling and would like to share their story or to even just say hello
Until next time!
The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise. (n.d.). Retrieved July 16, 2017, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm