In Her Own Words: Nikki Sliwak
Below is a reflection written by University of Maryland women's lacrosse senior Nikki Sliwak about her struggles with depression and anxiety.
My name is Nikki Sliwak and I am a senior on the women’s lacrosse team. I am a student-athlete who suffers from depression and anxiety. And that is okay. Most people would not know that about me, and that’s the point. Everyone has a story to tell behind their smiles. Here is mine.
My story starts when I was three years old. I lost my dad on 9/11. I don’t remember the day, the weeks, the months, or the years to follow that tragic day. Most of all, I don’t remember my dad. Apparently he was this amazing, kind-hearted, sweet guy that made everyone smile. I so badly wish I got to witness that.
As I grew older, I found a connection to my dad through sports. He was a great athlete who played baseball and football in high school and went on to play football in college. I channeled my sadness and anger on the soccer field, the lacrosse field and the basketball court. I wore his number 34 in honor of him. It pushed me to want to be the best, almost to a place of perfection. In between the white lines, nothing was stopping me from making him proud.
My battle with depression started in late middle school/early high school. I had lost many of my friends to middle school drama and went into high school feeling alone. I was really starting to process the death of my dad and was sad a lot of the time. Traumatic events in life can really mess with you and I developed PTSD from my loss.
I saw these dads standing on the fence before games, so badly wishing my dad was standing there with them. I became obsessive about working out. I would run miles after practice and then still go to a CrossFit class. It was the only thing that made me feel good. It was the only place where I didn’t have to think about anything, I just had to listen to music and put hard work in.
On top of working out obsessively, in 10th grade I developed an eating disorder. Yes, I was an athlete who developed an eating disorder. My life felt like it was out of my control. I felt like nothing was going my way, and I couldn’t control a single thing. I could however control what I ate and when I ate, so I did. I dropped to under 100 pounds. I lost muscle and speed that helped me on the field. My mom and I argued daily about food. I turned into a different person.