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‘It’s just another fight I’m going to have to learn how to win, that’s all. I’m just going to have to keep smiling.’
-Serena Williams

Professional tennis player, Serena, has been ranked World No. 1 in singles on six separate occasions. What makes her success so remarkable, is not so much her victories, but her drive to win. She has become the definition of effort; a constant, undeniable determination. Her name has become synonymous with excellence. No obstacles, nor haters have stopped her. She plays to win.

Recently, I have been hospitalized for a week. I was experiencing a severe panic attack and my mind resorted to suicidal thoughts. Battling anxiety isn’t easy, and after a fifteen-minute, painful battle, I picked up the phone and reached out for help. I called my doctor and a close family member. I am lucky enough to have a great support system and I was taken to the hospital where I stayed for a while to be monitored and have my medications adjusted.

I spent some lonely hours in the emergency unit of the hospital in a room with nothing but a bed and bare walls. It gave me a lot of quiet time to calmly reflect and think about life, my choices and decisions; past, present and future. As I was thinking, the nurse handed me a big bottle of orange Gatorade to keep me hydrated. I was slowly sipping from the bottle when I saw Serena, in all of her glory, on the Gatorade label. Suddenly, Serena was my only connection to the outside world, as no cellphones or visitors are allowed on the unit. I thought about her image. I thought about her love of sports and her determination to go all the way. I thought about her willpower and her strength; how she never gives up. I thought of the battles she’s been through, her injuries, her haters; and yet she still fiercely plays and goes for the goal. She is not only an image in the sports’ world, but as a woman I admire her immensely. Her attitude and determination is what earned her a total of 22 Grand Slams. And when she says that it’s her hard work that made her a champion, I believe her. It’s not luck that has brought her this far.

We, Serena and I, play different games. I battle my own mind and strive to conquer my anxiety and negative thoughts. I aim for the championship. I want those 22 Grand Slams. And suddenly, right there on my hospital bed, I realized that it takes hard work, determination, and a willpower made of unbreakable steel. If I’m going to wait for my good luck to kick in, I will spend every other week in the hospital for another anxiety episode or panic attack. I stared at that black and white image and engraved it in my head. I engraved Serena’s message. Victories don’t come easy, but they are worth it. Serena is an inspiration to so many, and maybe one day, if I’m lucky enough my battles will inspire someone also. 

I embraced all the love and support I received and let my doctors help me, because this was the first step in my journey to stardom. And from here and on, I play to win. 

Thank you, Serena Williams. And thank you, Gatorade. (You know, just for keeping me hydrated.) 


Safety First!

During my first hospital stay in NYC, I was given numerous worksheets daily in regards to mental health. There was one for coping skills, another one for thought patterns and yet another one tracking behavioral responses. It was my adult version of homework. But unlike my school homework which I despised, I found those exercises engaging, thought provoking and extremely helpful.

My most important worksheet was my safety plan. In my safety plan, I identified my triggers, my stressors and helpful methods for dealing with anxiety. It also listed contact information for supportive friends and mental health professionals. I reviewed the worksheet with my professional team and had it officially nominated as my safety plan. For a while, even after I was released from the hospital, I kept this worksheet close by so I can refer to it should the need arise. 

Whenever an anxiety-triggering emotion rose to the surface, I tried to engage in one of the soothing activities I had listed or call one of my friends to talk about it. Slowly, one baby step at a time, I have learned to override those dangerous thoughts. My safety plan is in the drawer now, instead of being out, but I still call my friends to ask for support. The importance of having a support system can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. I am grateful to all of my wonderful friends who have been there for me and continue to do so. All of you are my safety plan. 

And to all of you, think about your safety plan. Not because you’re in danger, but, because it’s important to remember what our triggers and stressors are and what we can do about it. It’s important to know who the supportive friends in our life are and to whom we can reach out if we need to. The friends who are there for you in your tough times are your true friends. Love them, appreciate them and let them know how much they mean to you. They are your support network. They are your safety plan.

To all of my supportive friends, safety begins with teamwork, so thank you for being a part of my team. 

And you? You are the key to your own safety. Don’t let anything or anyone ruin or steal that key. Take care of that key, keep it in a safe place, nourish it, treat it nicely and remember your importance.