The story of Mikaela Brewer, a Canadian athlete, author, and mental health advocate.
Over the past two years, I’ve done everything except play basketball. I sprinted towards work and writing opportunities to escape the fact that athletic retirement feels like I cheated on my math test.
I played for Stanford University (which won the National Championship for Women’s Basketball in 2021) and Team Canada. I was told I had Olympic potential. So what stopped me, dead in my tracks? Basketball, unfortunately, wasn’t a bandaid, or even a balm.
I’ve had this deep, harrowing, haunting ache since I was young. Depression. I’m still frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t control its rapid evolution as I got older. It relentlessly burrowed further into me, dulling, weakening, and emptying my soul. In 2017, my freshman winter at Stanford, suicide felt more reassuring than life. I quickly found myself in the hospital, on a 5150 hold.
In the weeks leading up to that moment, I had wandered numbly every night, to the beat of the last plan I ever intended to make. When I was released from the hospital, and my thoughts were slightly more clear, I accepted that my life as I knew it was over, the height of which was my basketball career. To avoid pain, I ran (sprinted) from the part of me that was a hooper.
Regardless of whether or not it was said, I still feel the weight of “it’s a shame that she didn’t accomplish what she set out to do.” I allowed myself to believe that my brain didn’t work anymore. And I let many people ‘inform’ me that I was now incapable. I accepted that I wasn’t me anymore.
On the surface, I know what the words “be better than you were yesterday” mean. Yet, like anything, the perspective from the surface is limited by the iceberg that strikes the vessel, in contrast with the velvety, thick, and opaque water.
Being better is a bit arbitrary. When we strive to be better, rather than grow, we blind ourselves to how the past is very much a living part of our mind, body, and spirit. Though we only have one current self, our former selves are beneath the water, lifting us. This doesn’t make them inferior. In my case, one specific former self scares the hell out of me. I forced her under the weighted waves simply because I didn’t believe she could breathe the toxic air anymore. I believed that the passage of time deemed me better than her. Perhaps I wanted to spare her. Perhaps I wanted to swallow all that air so that she didn’t have to breathe it in.
I knew this was coming — the fork in the drive that I’ve been fumbling, falling, and failing toward for about 5 years now. I didn’t know how I was going to navigate it until I realized how tightly wound subsections of my life were. Now, I’m tearing down my house of experiences, and reconnecting recycled bricks into a path forward. It’s interesting which bricks fit seamlessly with others.
It takes years of combing through pain in a path’s past, present, and future to understand that resurfacing and reshaping it is often more painful than the initial wound. Sharon Salzberg says that “The healing is in the return … not in not getting lost in the beginning.”
The last time I held a basketball, my fingers were rough, worn, and padded by callouses. I smiled. I could feel more of the grooves and stipples in the leather now because my fingers were smooth. They’d healed. I stood, walked over to the net, and took a shot — my first shot in 15 months. It went in.