Behind The Racquet: Nicole Gibbs

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Nicole Gibbs

I have suffered from depression since my early teens.

I finally shared my story in a Telegraph article at the beginning of 2018, but, by that time, I’d been grappling with whether to go public with my struggle for years.

Here’s an excerpt from a blog post I drafted (but never published) in 2016—the best year of my career to date.

I’m sitting in a busy locker room, facing the nearest wall, with a towel draped over my head so no one can see the silent tears rolling down my face. An anti-doping monitor stands nearby shifting awkwardly left and right wondering when will be a good time to ask me to sign consent papers for testing. She’s been standing there for thirty minutes and I haven’t so much as acknowledged her presence—even in my special state of misery, I feel guilty about this. All of the standard questions and doubts roll through my head with relentless persistence. ‘Why couldn’t you handle the nerves better?’ ‘Why didn’t you play your game?’ ‘Would a someday champion wilt under pressure that way?’ And perhaps the most haunting question, ‘At a career-high ranking of 71 in the world, competing at the French Open in Paris, how is it possible that you are this miserable?’

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Of course, an athlete is going to be in pain immediately after a three-set, two-day-long loss at one of the biggest events of the year.

But, in reality, I had not enjoyed a single happy moment in weeks.

While meditation, a healthy lifestyle, bouts with medication, and a solid support system have helped me immensely in the past three years, there are still days where it’s tough for me to get out of bed. Feelings of guilt and shame for “not being as good at tennis as I once was”, or anxiety about life after tennis still consume more of my mental energy than I care to admit.

I’m working toward being more honest with myself and others about when I’m feeling down, but it can be difficult to show vulnerability in such a competitive, high stakes profession.

— Nicole Gibbs (Stanford 2013)

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