Today was a migraine day. I’ve had a headache since 8am this morning. Probably longer, I was just too asleep to feel that throbbing pressure in the front of my head.
Today, it hit me how much I’ve lost this year. There is time I cannot account for, memories I know I have but it doesn’t feel like I was actually there, life I’ve lived that feels like a blur. It’s like I’m waking up from a trance, where I had these experiences and interacted with all these people and I was just a shadow of myself and now I’m trying to figure out what was real and what will last. I know some of you know all too well what I'm talking about.
I took an acting class this weekend. It was so much fun. But it was hard. Harder than it used to be. I used to be able to look a script, a speech, a vocab list, you name it and have it memorized almost immediately. It wasn’t like that this weekend. It was me agonizing over lines, rehearsing in front of mirrors, writing and rewriting, speaking and re-speaking the words over and over again and still never getting the lines I was supposed to memorize quite right. That was hard. It was a wakeup call that got me thinking about how much I’ve missed without even realizing it.
It’s like I’ve been alive, technically, but half asleep, at times half dead, and while I’m profoundly grateful to be standing on two feet, out of the thick of it, alive and well, I am having to face the fact that my current me is a new me, broken in some ways and better in others. It’s weird, meeting a new version of yourself. It’s a fascinating learning experience. It makes life interesting. You get to meet a part of you that was always there but has been hidden behind a knack for memorizing and the daily rigor of athletic discipline. It’s not really a new me, I guess, it’s just that my brain works a little differently now. It might not be forever, but I’m glad I get to meet this part of me that was hidden beneath the life I was living. It’s created space for me to exist differently.
Sometimes, change is hard because it happens over time but you become aware of it in increments. It can be exciting and it can be terrifying and it can be sad.
But, you deserve to take up space. Just because you’ve changed doesn’t make you any less worthy. It doesn’t take away your right to show up and try your best. Let go of expectations and enjoy the struggle, the journey, the triumph of transformation.
For those of you that are interested in what I've been up to in the U.K. these past three weeks, my classmates and I have collaborated to create a website cataloging our field trips and academic studies. Learn more about Anglo-Saxon culture, history, and landscape here!
I am female.
I am a woman.
I am strong.
I always knew I’d need to protect my body.
I’ve always known that my body would be objectified.
It isn’t fair, but it is known.
I am blonde.
I would be called dumb.
I would never believe those words. I knew better than to that.
It is something I was prepared for.
I was brought up to believe that my mind is my greatest weapon.
I was raised in a place where girls and boys had equal opportunity to education.
I was told that I could study anything I wanted.
I felt like school was the most even playing field I had.
Even at recess, I was stronger than most of the boys. But, it wasn’t about that. We were children, we were people, we were built differently and each of us was unique, but I was woman, I was fierce, and I was capable. There were no men standing in my way.
And still, I often felt freest at school. Equal. The playing field was level.
“Never hit a girl.” But, there were no such rules concerning intellect. If you could do the work, master the learning, then the world was your oyster, no matter your gender.
A man’s brain is not stronger than a woman’s brain. I could do anything in the classroom that a boy could do. I was always the top of my class.
And so, when I got hit in the head, I never thought my brain would be marginalized by the iniquities of gender inequality.
Male and female brains are different, in fact. Not intellectually, but structurally.
Female concussions are understudied, undertreated, and more serious.
I felt the sting of being concussed and getting funny looks because volleyball players, girly sports, don’t have concussions. It’s not like football.
But we are female.
It’s like we’re not tough enough until we get hurt, and then we have to be tougher than any man would ever be asked to be.
We can bear children. Of course, we can tolerate pain.
So, when we get hit in the head, we are concussed, more concussed than a man would be, and yet, we are given less time to heal, a lethal dose of snide remarks and judgmental looks, and poorer treatment because we are not male.
We are told our greatest treasure is our brain.
And still, we are exploited.
Mind the gap.
When in the U.K., good coffee is hard to come by. Here is the first iteration of my Ode to Coffee inspired by our travels thus far.
Ode to Coffee
Pitcher&Piano, a church converted into a very aesthetically pleasing pub in Nottingham. 'Twas a great place for an afternoon of paper writing and research.
Castle ruins in Clun, England. We had a picnic amidst the memories of times past.
View from the hilltop upon which the ruins of Montgomery Castle sit in Montgomery, Wales. It looks out Eastward over the Welsh/English border.
We have reached (approximately) the half-way mark in our seminar, Lost in the Myths of Time. While learning about the landscape, language, and identity of the Anglo-Saxons, I’ve been struck by the depth of our discussions on borders and our constant attempts to define identity. It’s fascinating, really, how deeply place influences how we define ourselves, how language can shape our worldview and culture, and how landscape, location, and language can serve as barriers between entire people groups. Exclusion is often rooted in religion, sure, but I’d argue that landscape and language have even more comprehensive, subtle, and profound effects on how people view themselves, talk about themselves, define and treat ‘the other,’ and make sense of their roles in this crazy world. What is identity? What does it mean to live in the in-between? What is home? What is freedom?
This last question is something our seminar group discussed at length over a very British dinner of roast and potatoes. Consider Wales, for instance. It is a nation resentful of being marginalized and mistreated by the English, a people that feels in many ways displaced and oppressed despite being politically “free.” I’d argue that slavery is absolutely rampant in our modern world. We are afraid to recognize it for what it is. What is it about being human that makes us constantly justify our own iniquities? Why are we always trying to make ourselves feel like we are better than such-and-such and have every right to be angry at so-and-so? We are not free. We live in a broken world. Except through Christ, we are bound to this brokenness no matter how hard we try to forgive, be kind, forget prejudice. We are enslaved to ideologies. We are enslaved to our sense of rightness, to our opinions. We are enslaved by institutions, occupations, expectations. We are physically enslaved still, too. In no way do I wish to discount the terror of America’s history of perverse institutional slavery with these remarks, but merely recognize my own shortcomings and call attention to my own blindness in failing to fully value others.
I also want to draw attention to the fact that bodily slavery still exists in America (and other places) today. Sex trafficking is slavery. It is being bought and sold, being owned, being a product. And, I encourage each reader to pause for a moment and think of someone you know who is effectively owned by someone or something that you can recognize and to which you can easily give name. It may be a relationship, a job, a belief system, or an organization that owns this person you are imagining. It’s a bold claim to call this slavery, but I think it is. We do the very things we try not to do and submit to people or ideas or systems that hold some power over us. Slavery still exists. It is a by-product of sin, of a fallen world.
We are incredibly selfish creatures, often squashing others without even realizing it in order to further our own sense of security. It’s engrained in our human experience. And it is wrong. Traumatic. Terrifying. And yet, life can still be so so good. So sweet. So lovely. So beautiful. And it is this dualism that I have grappled with whilst on this trip. Nothing is perfect. Much is beautiful. Everything is complex and complicated and confusing, and yet, when we digest moments, slices of profound experience, flickers of glory, I know there is a God, I know that striving is worthwhile despite my failures, and that it is worth going on. We must not despair, but take the time to recognize that we are free in Christ, but sojourners in a world corrupt and tainted by selfishness and sin. And all this was stirred up over dessert and a discussion of Offa's Dyke.
“Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” –C.S. Lewis
*These are just my thoughts. I’m reading Mere Christianity right now and C.S. Lewis has a great section on free will if you’re interested in further reading.
I have arrived at the University of Nottingham in Nottinghamshire for a three week Stanford seminar covering medieval language, landscape, and culture. The campus here is beautiful, and local students have claimed that Nottingham is the Stanford of the U.K. While I'm assuming this comparison has to do with the slightly sprawling campus layout, the University of Nottingham is nothing like Stanford. Here's why--
First off, we are living in a dorm building in which every room is a single bedroom with a private bathroom inside. We all know Stanford could never grant its students this remarkable level of privacy. Secondly, dining hall food here is altogether lacking in kale and quinoa. I have not seen a single avocado nor tasted a drop of coffee even 1/100th the strength of a cup of Philz. Thirdly, they have not drained their beautiful boating lake here in the name of salamander salvation. Fourthly, in true British propriety, Nottingham is essentially a conference center--it's a tad more mature than our beloved Camp Stanford. Fifthly, there are bars on campus. And by on campus, I mean in residence halls (these are closed for the summer session, though). One would not describe a party as "lit" here but rather as "popping." Additionally, a flask is a water bottle, not a carrier for alcohol. Also, while Stanford's mascot may be a tree, the Nottingham campus is actually well-forested with beautiful foliage. A tree mascot would be quite fitting. Situated near Sherwood Forest, beware that wandering around Nottingham may inspire thoughts of stealing from the privileged white rather than further perpetuating upper class entitlement. In the case of heavy rain, no need to suffer the embarrassment of soaked trouser-seats from riding a drenched bike through El Nino--they have tunnels connecting the main academic building in the heart of campus. What a concept! Also, there is no need to even mention quiet hours at Nottingham. If anything it's too quiet. However, one must beware of lengthy days in the summer. The sun set at 10pm last night and rose at 4:40am. Lastly, beware of it raining marshmallows if you ever visit Nottingham. I thought it was hailing earlier today, and looked out my dorm window to find a bunch of stale mini-marshmallows falling from above. Apparently dumping things out the window is an acceptable form of food disposal here. Stanford environmentalists would not approve of such actions, nor would they be pleased with the shattered glass bottles that line the footpaths throughout campus. Overall, it's very lovely here. But, to those who believe Nottingham to be the Stanford of the U.K., I can assure you that Stanford is nothing like Nottingham. Each is beautiful and unique in its own quirky way.
And now you must excuse me, for Beowulf awaits.
(PS, my apologies for typos. I've been up since 4:40am thanks to the ridiculously bright and early sunrise, it is now 10:40pm, we had six hours of class today, and my mind is muddled by today's rapid submersion into Anglo-Saxon history and Old-English etymology)
^This is the idyllic on-campus lake. You can rent kayaks and paddle boats an feed the swans.
^The Downs , as they say.
^Neither a cactus garden, nor the Papua New Guinea Scultpure Garden, but a real garden with green plants.
Hello from London!
After a whirlwind two days of travel and exploring London, my friend and I have successfully worn out our feet, Oyster Cards, and Sherlock Holmes fandom. We started with a bird's eye view of the city from The London Eye, walked through Westminster admiring architecture, took a photo outside Buckingham Palace, and then marched through Hyde Park to get back near our hotel. We ate a pub called the Monkey Puzzle. God bless the Brits.
This morning, we made our way to Abbey Road where we risked our lives while dodging traffic in hopes of snagging the perfect Abbey Road crossing picture. We wanted to go shopping, but decided to get off the tube at Baker Street and check out what Sherlock Holmes' home address had to offer. We ended up waiting an hour to get into the museum which you can thoroughly enjoy the entirety of in ten minutes. Dedication.
Afterwards, we shopped our way through the heart of London (beware of the the Liberty department store because it is giant and enticing in every way), we continued on what became a sort of Sherlock themed day and ended up in West End to see the new production of Hamlet starring Andrew Scott. For any Sherlock fans out there, Scott played Moriarty in the latest BBC television show and his quirky, passionate, wild style of acting suits him well for the role of the semi-deranged Hamlet. The production is contemporary but maintains Shakespeare's original text, integrating modern technology with classic British theater. It was a magical day. Tomorrow we head to Nottingham to begin a three week seminar studying medieval British literature, language, and landscape. Shall be interesting.
Twelve years ago, I picked up a volleyball and learned to play a sport with which I would soon fall in love. It would bring me some of my happiest moments, a sense of peace despite the awkwardness of adolescence, a chance to travel to so many interesting places, the honor of getting to represent the USA, and admission to Stanford University. But, despite all these good things, playing volleyball has not been all fun and games. While training with the USA Women’s National Team during high school, I suffered my first two concussions. Hit first in a USA scrimmage, and then the next morning at a club tournament, I went two days before realizing that the ‘in-a-fog’ feeling was actually a concussion. I recovered after about a month, but not without complications that included a CT scan and a trip to the ER. However, I was told that concussions were no big deal and that I could return to play without fear. So, I did.
A little over a year later, I received another concussion during a practice at Stanford. I was asked to play defense on the 8-foot line and defend the hits of our super-talented middle hitters without a block to protect me. I received a ball to the side of my forehead, unable to react in time to a hit of such high velocity coming from such a close distance. I tried to protect my face by turning to the side but instead, received my third concussion to the exact same part of my forehead that had been hit twice before. Stanford’s aggressive concussion protocol had me on a plane traveling to our away games in Washington the following day, working out 48 hours later, sitting courtside in a loud, visually stimulating gymnasium for our match vs. UW just four days after the initial impact, and playing in a televised match on day six. I was pressured into believing that I was okay and put on a court while still cognitively compromised. I didn’t realize it, but I never really got better. When I got hit in the head while blocking at UCLA two weeks later, I looked over at the sideline where my coach and trainer stood and realized that they weren’t going to sub me out despite the ball that had just ricocheted off my head into the rafters of Pauley Pavilion. So, I shook it off and got ready to serve-receive. I listened to what my coaches, trainers, and doctors told me was right and I pressed on. I was the kill leader and couldn’t let my team down. Or so I thought.
Hindsight’s 20/20, but that doesn’t mean that things couldn’t have played out differently. Looking back, I know that I immediately showed signs of impaired concentration, sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety but attributed these symptoms to the stress of my role on the team. It didn’t quite make sense, though. I completed high school online to train five days a week with the National Team. There was no one in the game more prepared for high stress and the intense demands of student-athlete life than me. I had taught myself both levels of AP Calculus when I was completing high school online. School wasn’t the issue. Yet, towards the end of my freshman season, I found myself struggling to study and concentrate. After we devastatingly lost to LMU in the second round of the NCAA tournament, I fell into a slump that I never really recovered from. I remember asking friends to force me to eat, to sit with me while I studied, and make sure that I at least made an attempt to sleep each night. I was irritable, distracted, and miserable—and I didn’t understand why.
Fast forward about two months to February 2016. By this time, I had a case of shin splints that had not healed at all over three months despite the rest, low-impact exercise regimen, physical therapy, and footwear adjustments that had been made. I wasn’t sleeping. I was overeating, constantly energy-deprived. I dreaded having to go to weights and beach practice. Ask anyone who knew me well—I used to love nothing more than deadlifts, Versa Climbers, beach sprints, and volleyball practice. I was getting severe headaches about three times a week. One day, I nearly collapsed at the student union due to vertigo. I reported all these symptoms to my trainer, was prescribed anti-inflammatories and sent on my way. But, things kept getting worse. Having no experience with mental health issues of any kind and no clue that my symptoms could be linked to concussions, I was totally in the dark as to what was happening to me.
To keep it short, I won’t go into the details of the following months. But when August 2016 came around and my sophomore season began, I was still on a downward spiral and was utterly lost, confused, and stressed. Everything was getting worse and people kept telling me I seemed fine, which didn’t help, as you can imagine. By mid-September, things hit a breaking point. I had what I think was a sort of post-concussive panic attack on the court, just a few weeks into my sophomore season. I’d now had shin-splints for a year and, overall, was in pain and absolutely miserable. I was doing everything I could to be dependable and do my job. I was trying to be Hayley, the 2015 National Freshman of the Year, trying to be the leader that my role as co-captain demanded, but I couldn’t do it anymore.
When I got back to my dorm after a game one evening, I collapsed. My mom came to check on me and for three hours I cried, immobilized and despondent. She called the sports psychologist. After a lot of demanding and begging, I was finally referred to Stanford Psychiatry. The next day I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression and handed a prescription for Prozac. Days later, I ended up in a boot with a very swollen foot. I had a stress fracture from having played on shin splints for so long, except they told me I’d be fine within 48 hours. In actuality, it took me three months before I could walk without pain. At this point, I was mentally getting worse and was utterly non-functional in life. My mom basically did not leave my side for weeks, travelling with us and staying in a hotel near campus because I couldn’t do anything for myself anymore. Making it through each day was the most daunting and challenging thing I’d ever faced. It was like running a marathon every single day and never being able to recover. With my mental health deteriorating and my physical health hindered by my injured foot, I asked my family to intervene. I realized that if I tried to keep pushing through all this pain, juggling school and practice and travel and games and college life, I wasn’t going to make it to the end of the season. It was a terrifying realization, yet one that put a lot into perspective. So, on October 3, 2016, I took a medical leave of absence, supported by the Stanford psychiatrist, team doctor, and my family. It sent a ripple of gossip through the volleyball world and left me rather estranged from my team and most of the Stanford community.
The next six months were lonely and hard. It consisted of me trying to figure out what was going on with my health and why I had become depressed. I cheered my team on from afar as they won a National Championship. My own reality was dark and still didn’t make any sense to me. I had no idea what might have caused this perfect storm of misery and injury. I went to physical therapy three times a week, tried to preserve my athleticism as best I could, went to a psychologist three times a week, and checked in monthly with my physician. But in March, the pieces finally all fell together. I was diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome, a diagnosis used to describe post-concussion complications that linger weeks and months after the standard recovery period. Symptoms include migraines, dizziness, insomnia, impaired concentration, anxiety, and depression, all of which I had. When I returned to Stanford in March of 2017, I met with neuropsychologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists and was advised to medically retire. In total, I had five doctors look at me and tell me that there was no way I should be on a court due to my impaired reaction time and concentration. Each also asked me to consider the risk of continuing to play a sport in which I was likely to receive another hit to the head. After four concussions and who knows how many sub-concussive hits, my health and life have already been affected and I am looking at a future riddled with complications. So, I decided to medically retire.
After a decade competing at a high level in volleyball, I’m stepping aside to allow myself the time and space to heal, pursue new passions, and protect my long-term brain health. The more I learn about concussions, the more I realize that there is still a lack of education about them, especially when it comes to women’s brain injuries. It is a harrowing reality that I have been forced to face. I never asked for all this to happen to me. The course of my college career has been changed, my potential pro career stripped from me, and my long-term health jeopardized. It’s quite scary, actually. That being said, I don’t regret a minute of my volleyball journey and am thankful for everything it taught me.
To every coach, teammate, parent, and fan that has been a part of my career, wished me well, believed in me, supported me, befriended me, and cheered for me, I want to sincerely thank you. You are the people I will remember and cherish forever. I’ve traveled the world thanks to volleyball and some of my happiest memories were made while wearing the red, white, and blue representing this great country with some of the most inspirational and kind teammates and coaches I could have ever asked for. While I won’t miss wearing spandex, I’ll miss getting to be a part of moments like winning the Junior National Championship with my TStreet Team after facing and overcoming seemingly every obstacle. I’ll miss running into a locker room of wonderful, wacky teammates who are always there to make you laugh and help push you towards your next goal. It’s those moments of camaraderie and unified ambition that I’ll miss the most. I cannot even begin to express the gratitude I feel when I look back over the last ten years. Playing volleyball has truly been a gift.
While it’s sad to have to walk away from this sport so much sooner than I’d ever planned, I do have things to look forward to. I’ll be embracing my academic passions as I study abroad at Oxford University in the fall. I’m cultivating my creative side and taking advantage of some of the really cool summer programs that Stanford has to offer (also, if anyone works in film production and wants to mentor an aspiring screenwriter, let me know). As I step out into this next chapter of my life, I feel like I have a responsibility to tell my story and raise awareness for brain injuries, female concussions, and student-athlete rights. There’s a lot of press about football and CTE, but did you know that in the NCAA, women’s volleyball has the 5th highest rate of concussions? I’m 18 months out from my last concussion and am still dealing daily with symptoms. Concussions have changed my life and Post-Concussion Syndrome is no joke. Treasure your health and protect your brain, please. Now, I’d like to invite you all to join me as I embark on new adventures…
I recently happened across an essay that I had written during my freshman year of high school. I was astonished to find that even as a 14-year-old, I was ideologically committed to what I now understand to be "the growth mindset." People often think I'm a perfectionist. I have the symptoms of being meticulous, driven, goal-oriented, and high-achieving. But, I do not want to be perfect. Perfection is constricting, stagnant, suffocating. Success as a product of learning, not performance, is what I believe in. Excellence is not perfection. Learning is essential. Focus on growth and aim high. In my opinion, perfection is final. It is an absolute cap on achievement. But, if you are a perpetual learner, there is no limit to how far you can go, how high you can reach. Anyhow, here is my writing from a much younger me...
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”–Aristotle
To me, there is a great deal of truth in these words of
Aristotle. Raised in a world of wrong and trying to live a life of right is no easy feat. It seems that everywhere you turn there is some impurity threatening the beauty of life. In that sense, Aristotle’s words ring true to me. People put on a happy face, fake innocence, or simply live a double life. At school, they may be smart and friendly, but what do they say and do online at night? To their coaches they appear driven and dedicated, but
how do they treat their bodies? To their parents, they appear to be charming when in reality they make everyone’s lives miserable. Aristotle is saying that excellence is achieved by practice, much like other things in our lives. When preparing for a test, you should put your full effort into your studies and homework so that when you get to the test you are prepared to do what is being asked. In sports, practice the same way every day and you will play that way in your game. In life, practice kindness and
character consistently, because what you do and say will reflect who you actually are. It is fine if your parents think you are nice, if that is all that matters to you. But if you really want to be nice you have to practice
kindness everywhere. We all make mistakes and may say a mean thing or two every once and a while, but it is repetition and correction that shapes
excellence. Aristotle isn’t demanding perfection, but a pursuit for perfection. Never can perfection be reached, but you can try and the result will be great. In my life, I am surrounded by many two faced people. I love
many of them but they simply aim to look good on paper. They have good grades, awards, community service, athletic participation, and have a group
of smiling friends. However, when you see their actions after school and on the weekends you realize their true character. My goal is to be genuine. In
no way am I perfect, even on paper. I have many flaws and make many mistakes, but I try to practice what I preach. I want to improve in volleyball, so I practice the proper way. I want to get good grades on my
tests, so I study for them instead of cheating. I want to make the right choices so I hold fast to my beliefs and avoid people or situations that
would influence me otherwise. Aristotle is simply saying that you play how you practice. Excellence is simply decision making. You control your actions and what comes out of your mouth. Given the opportunity, only you can choose to make someone’s day or break it. In the end, if you make good decisions they will add up. Your consistent actions will become your habits, and soon enough you will not have to think to be the person of character that you want to be.