Madeline Banic, Courageous Student-Athlete
In her freshman year of college, Madeline Banic, a member of the University of Tennessee's swimming team, was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. With that diagnoses she felt a sense of relief. In high school she had been struggling mentally for a couple of years. She was a leader in her school's band, a member of the swim team, and carried a 4.0 GPA. It was a tremendous amount of pressure. Even though she would be attending her dream school with an incredible swimming program, she felt worthless and empty inside. When she arrived she started to take steps toward becoming healthy. Madeline began seeing the team's sports psychologist everyday, and the sports psychiatrist every week. She began taking medication, changed her diet, took yoga and learned breathing exercises. Unfortunately, over time she got worse, causing her mental illness to affect her physical wellness.
Unable to cope Madeline began drinking as an escape from the pain. She drank during the week, weekends, with or without her friends, even if she had practice. Her teammates tried to help her as she suffered from anxiety attacks, but she did not want help and cut ties with those who tried to help her. With that, she lost the support of her teammates and friends. At her lowest point she decided she no longer wanted to live. After crying out for help, her roommates busted down her door to stop her. It was at that point that she knew she had to give up half of her swimming season, drop all of her classes, and check herself into a treatment center.
Madeline explains her experience at the treatment center as scarring. While working toward managing her own mental illness, she was surrounded by others who were doing the same. She witnessed someone trying to take their life, a person going through their own tragic loss who needed support from her, and emergency medical situations. Things that Madeline had never dealt with before, but she wouldn't trade the experience. She learned an incredible amount about herself, how to love and to feel more human than she ever had. She also made life-long friends.
After her treatment she was set to return to school. One thing that is stressed when leaving treatment is to get into a normal routine and surround yourself with a strong support system. She had neither of those. She lost her friendships with her teammates and was unable to regain them. She was no longer a full-time student, which made her unable to be part of the swim team, or attend practices. However, Madeline was not going to give up on healing. She worked around the NCAA rules and joined a local club swim team. She practiced in the pool every day, cycled, ran stadiums, and did weight sessions at the YMCA. She continued on this path for three months before returning as a full-time student in the spring semester.
Madeline's hard work paid off. She made the SEC team after only a half-season of swimming. She participated in two gold-medal winning relay teams, and helped her team place 7th at the NCAA Championships. She carried her team to Nationals that summer as a leader.
Mental illness does not go away, but it is controlled. Madeline recognizes that. She has some bad days, but she is not just surviving, she says that she is thriving. She is the incredible person she never thought she could be, helping to make change for people facing mental illness.