Walking into my first day of high school at Padua Academy was nerve-racking. I was worried about the transition from my small middle school to a big high school, whether or not I would fit in, and what life would be like as a freshman. While I knew the anxiety I felt was pretty relatable for most freshmen, I was still excited about meeting new girls and meeting all of my teachers. After finishing my first week of school, I knew that I was definitely part of the Padua sisterhood. You couldn’t walk down the halls without feeling the love of the other girls and the support from teachers. I felt like I was a part of a family at Padua and I learned quickly why Padua is often called “The Big Box of Love”.
My Padua family extended once I decided to join the basketball team. I couldn’t wait for the first practice! As a freshman, I knew it would be tough to balance life as a student-athlete. I felt stressed about managing my grades, but as the season continued, I felt myself becoming more and more comfortable with managing my stress and time as an athlete. Being able to take a break from school and do something I enjoy, like basketball, has been a great way for me to manage my stress. But managing life as a student-athlete isn’t always as easy as a lay-up.
I always looked up to my brother Sean. Not just because he was 6’4 and ten years older than me, but because he was the type of student, athlete, and person I admired. I loved watching him on the court with all his teammates. He would sprint up and down, making everything seem so easy. He made life as a student-athlete look easy. Everything he did on and off the court was perfect in my eyes.
The thing I loved most about my big brother was our “little talks”. Conversations with Sean could be about anything from our love of basketball to him giving me dating advice. Sean would always say to me, “Patty, you aren’t allowed to date before you’re married,” and of course, my response was “Well, I’m already married to Tom Holland”. You could find us singing church songs together, with Sean pretending to play guitar as I sang into a karaoke microphone. If Sean had a costume party to go to, I would pretend to be his personal stylist. When thinking about Sean, I just replay our funny and goofy conversations.
But… we never talked about mental health. Looking back, I thought Sean was perfectly fine because he would laugh with me. He didn’t seem like he was battling depression, he didn’t seem “sad”. However, like so many of us, Sean was trying to manage his mental health through a mask. Behind that disguise was my big brother, my best friend, suffering from depression. His depression didn’t make him less of an amazing big brother. Maybe he didn’t talk to me about it because he felt like he wasn’t supposed to feel that way, maybe he thought I was too young, but I can’t help but wonder how my life would be different if he talked to someone about his mental health.
Sean was always there when I needed him. If I wanted to laugh, cry, or rant, he was there. He would always protect me and give me the best advice. He was my go-to-guy.
I know that talking about mental health can be tough and difficult, but seizing the awkwardness can help student-athletes- and teenagers in general- manage their mental health without a mask. Suicide is a sticky conversation sometimes, but it’s not something that should be avoided. Everyone has mental health and the way we manage it can either help or hurt. I truly believe that if our community can help remove the stigma around mental health, we can help students take off their masks and feel comfortable in their own skin.
When Sean passed away, my family had so many people helping and supporting us. But the people that really stood out to me are my teachers. At Mount Aviat, my STEM teacher, Mrs. Dymowski would talk to me like I wasn’t just her student but a friend whose feelings she cared about. She would help me whenever I needed to talk or just take a break. At Padua, there are so many teachers who support you and validate your feelings. Mrs. G, my Health and Wellness teacher, shares her own stories and creates joy every day in the classroom. You know when you step into the gym that Mrs. G is on your team and loves you. She wants you to be your authentic self, without the mask. Padua is known as the Big Box of Love and I’m almost positive 50% of that love comes from Mrs. G. My basketball coach, John McMenamin, helps me feel very safe and welcomed me to the team when he opened up to me about losing someone in his family. This short talk helped me know I was always able to go to him if I needed some help.
. Teachers and coaches have a big impact on mental health because they are with their students and players all the time. Teachers and coaches should continue to be supportive and shouldn’t be afraid to talk about mental health with their students. As a Delaware community, we need to not just watch out for our friends and family, but to be proactive in our conversations around mental health. We need teachers and coaches, like Mrs. Dymowski, Coach John, and Mrs. G, to continue to be lighthouses for their students during dark periods.
My family will never be the same without my brother Sean, but the hope is to help others so they don’t have to suffer. I want to make sure that I make Sean proud by doing something that came so naturally to him, making others feel accepted and full of joy.
If you’re interested in ending the stigma surrounding mental health, please join my family and me on February 8th for our memorial basketball tournament at the 76ers Fieldhouse in memory of my brother Sean.