We live in a world dictated by perception. As an athlete, pressure arises when we become aware of expectations. Will I let my team down? What if I underperform? What if I’m not perfect? Am I good enough? Strong enough? Tough enough? These are all questions that go through my mind and that I’m sure most people, whether you’re an athlete or not, can relate to. Victoria Garrick sure can.
Victoria is a public speaker and content creator whose work centers around mental health and body image advocacy. But, as her #RealPosts on Instagram reveal, Victoria is much more than that. She’s human.
Entering the University of Southern California as a Division I volleyball player, she began to feel the pressures that came from the expectations of the Division I athlete identity.
“I first realized I was struggling mentally during my freshman season at USC. 2-3 months into the Division I volleyball season, I really started to feel the pressure, the stress, and the change. I just wasn’t doing great, but I couldn’t even figure out what it was that was making me feel this way. It was almost as if I had so much going on that I didn’t have time to sit and think about the fact that I wasn’t okay,” Victoria admitted.
Unfortunately, this feeling that consumed Victoria during her first months of college holds true for a lot of athletes, and she wanted to do something about it.
“Having dealt with my own struggles, I felt super alone and also kind of ashamed of what I was going through. I definitely felt alone when it came to anxiety and depression because those things (especially as an athlete) I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone because it would make me seem weak or like I wasn’t good enough or I was worried I would lose playing time. With the body image issues, I honestly felt ashamed. I couldn’t figure out how to eat right. Once I started to get help for all of those things, I slowly started to realize how common it is to struggle with your mental health and how many people are going through the same thing. So, I really wanted to normalize that conversation and raise awareness and also let people know that it is totally okay to not be okay,” she said.
It was during her sophomore year that Victoria kick-started her career with what she describes as the moment that changed her life. She gave a TED Talk called “The Hidden Opponent,” where she described the mental health issues facing student-athletes, and exposed the truth about the real obstacles athletes overcome.
“At the time, I felt like the conversation around athlete mental health specifically was not as important nor was it happening as much as it needed to be. I really wanted to contribute to and raise awareness for the mental health issues pertaining to athletes.”
And that she did.
Victoria gained a following of not only athletes but also individuals who shared her passion for mental health and body image advocacy. She opened the door to a whole new world of conversations.
She has taken to social media to share her personal experiences with mental health issues and body image struggles. Her #RealPost let us all know that being human is no easy task and, contrary to what society has trained us to believe, we do not need to hide our insecurities behind social media. Her podcast, Real Pod, which grew from her #RealPosts, brings to life conversations with other influential figures who have struggled with mental health and body image.
As crazy as it might seem, those first few difficult months at USC were imperative to who Victoria is today.
“Failure has been important in the sense that I am able to learn from what I go through. All of the challenges that I have faced have been instrumental in me becoming who I am today. A lot of times, people will ask ‘Do you regret playing in college?’ or ‘Do you wish you quit?’ And, the truth is, no. Obviously, if I didn’t go and play volleyball at USC, who knows if I would’ve experienced depression or really struggled with my body image. But, had I not been through those things, I wouldn’t be the person I am now. Failure is a stepping stone to success and I think it is a really beautiful thing when you can get back up.”
The notion of “perfection” is essentially unattainable, but social media has us thinking this isn’t the case. In trying to attain it, we deny ourselves the opportunity to accept who we really are: young and figuring stuff out.
“To be young is to be curious and open to learning. That said, I think everyone can be those two things. You can meet people who are young at heart even though their age defines them as older. But I would say that to be young means to be curious and eager to learn.”
There are a lot of things young people can learn from Victoria, and speaking out about our personal struggles with mental health and body image is just a start. The truth is, most athletes (and non-athletes) battle the burdens of mental health issues and body image. We have made an enormous effort in the sports world to start having these tough conversations. Victoria is confident that prioritizing the mental part of the game as much as the physical part will carve a path to normalize conversations about mental health even more.
We are all battling our own demons. And, you know what? It’s okay. We’re human. We’re YOUNG. Victoria is just giving us the strength to talk about it.
This story appears on the December 20 issue of Mud, "Lisztomania." You can purchase a digital and print copy here.