My heart is broken + angry + hopeful + so many things.
After a weekend of deep reflection and stillness, I hopped back on to social last night and at the top of my feed, a post from Team USA:
“Team USA mourns the loss of Olympic medalist cyclist Kelly Catlin. Our thoughts are with Kelly's family, friends, teammates and the entire cycling community.”
I felt my body sink as tears streamed down my face. I found myself staring at the picture of her standing atop the podium, hand on her heart, medal around her neck. Wishing so badly that our paths had crossed - so that I could have looked her in the eyes and let her know that I know.
An Olympian. World champion. Stanford graduate student. Achiever of so.many.things.
And, like so many of us, struggling with mental illness.
Beyond all of that. She was a daughter. Friend. Teammate. Classmate.
A beautiful human soul. 23 years young.
I don’t know the details of her story. I do know the darkness of shame. And the pressure she wrote about to do + be it all.
The post, under Team USA’s, from my friend Justine Froelker — divinely placed.
These words resonated deeply.
Because, I spent so much of my life hustling for my worthiness. Except, I didn’t know that’s what was happening. And it was that pull that drove me into the darkness of depression, suicidal ideation and an eating disorder by the age of 19.
While in it, I had no idea that somewhere along the way, my deep curiosity and dream-chasing got hijacked by the need to prove + please + perfect + earn my way to to enoughness.
I thought that the inner critic voice in my mind was just me.
Looking back, I can see clearly when the shame grabbed hold; It’s taken me years to speak openly about it. Certainly, I have a genetic predisposition to the grip of perfectionism. And its addictive nature.
Our experiences shape us - and how we see the world, each other and ourselves. They shape our inner dialogue and how we hear feedback.
Parents. Teachers. Coaches. Mentors. Play a pivotal role.
Our impact, massive. Our words matter.
I know now that the toxic environment cultivated by my age group swimming coaches contributed in major ways. Ways I’m still unpacking.
Cracking jokes. Talking about our female bodies. The shape and size. Using language so beyond what’s considered appropriate. For 12, 13, 14 year old girls.
For ANY girls. Or boys. Or women. Or men. Ever.
And, I internalized all of it. I felt exposed. Raw. Dirty. And so confused and conflicted. Because they believed in me as an athlete.
How could the people who believed in me hurt me?
At the time, I didn’t have the awareness or tools or skills or language to cope. And so, their words shifted the way I saw the girl in the mirror.
And even though I changed environments when I was 15, it didn’t uproot + undo the seeds that had been planted.
My default became >> there’s something wrong with me.
And, hence the constant, relentless need to hustle + push + perfect + please.
In all areas of my life. Hinging unspoken conditions to my worthiness. Believing, if I just got there, then I’d feel fulfilled.
If I just get straight As.
If I just get to the top of my class.
If I just drop enough weight.
If I just get my body fat down lower.
If I just get to the top of the podium.
I did those things. And more. Even stood atop the Olympic podium.
And, it still wasn’t enough.
Because, what I was seeking wasn’t anywhere out there.
Because, our enoughness isn’t something you can find on the top of any podium. Or in any relationship. Or promotion. Or number on the scale.
And the sense of relief that hits if/when you achieve is fast replaced with an emptiness because it didn’t quite feel the way you thought it would.
And, the pressure to do more gets greater.
Here’s the catch:
From the outside looking in, it seemed like I had it all together.
Olympic gold at 18. Graduated 3rd in my class. Full ride to Michigan.
Two parents who loved and supported me.
Two parents who had no idea how much I was suffering.
As is the case with so.many high-achievers, showing any sign of struggle is weakness. Forget asking for help.
And so the disconnect between who you are out there and who you are inside deepens. Until you find yourself navigating the darkest darkness. Feeling alone. Buried by the weight of it all. Exhausted by the too fast treadmill of trying to keep it all together.
We don’t have to keep running.
That’s a lie perpetuated by the inner critic.
Honestly, I thought it was just me. I really believed these experiences of feeling like a fraud and living with a relentless inner critic were unique to me.
What I know now, heartbreakingly: I’m far from alone; my story, far from unique.
Michael. Kevin. Dwayne. Missy. Gracie. Amanda.
And this isn’t just an athlete thing.
According to the CDC, suicide is the leading cause of death for our teenage girls.
And it’s not just a teenage girl thing.
1 in 5 Americans is affected by mental health conditions.
This is human thing. Affecting all of us, even if not directly.
Like so many, I believed these podium moments would fill me. And make me whole.
It took nearly losing my baby girl for me to awaken to the realization that
WE ARE ALREADY WHOLE.
No matter what we look like. Or don’t.
No matter what we achieve. Or don’t.
No matter where we come from. Or don’t.
No matter how many likes we get. Or don’t.
No. Matter. What.
For those of you with a roaring inner critic, telling you not to listen because if you stop running, you’ll never achieve:
I see you.
Who YOU are and what you do are not the same. In sport, and in life. That separation is everything.
YOU are not your mistakes.
YOU are not your failures.
YOU are not your successes.
YOU are YOU.
Your performance may not be enough to earn a spot a team or get into your top choice college or PR. Your actions might fall out of alignment with your values.
YOU are ENOUGH. Both can be true.
When we shed the perfectionist lens and release the grip of shame, we actually open up MORE space to cultivate greatness while experiencing deep fulfillment.
We open up to the present moment and start LIVING.
We are WORTHY of love. Without conditions.
Because, we’re human.
And that’s enough.
YOU are enough.
If you are feeling buried under the weight of it all. Move toward help. Asking for help is COURAGEOUS.
You are not alone. Even in the darkest darkness. Even when it feels like its all just too much.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 24/7: 800-273-8255
Ayuda En Espanol: 1-888-628-9454
Additional information and resources can be found at: suicidepreventionlifeline.org
24/7 Chat line: chat.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
If you are struggling with the grip of perfectionism - the constant, relentless need to push + prove + please + perfect, I’d love to pay forward some of the skills and tools I’ve learned (for free). Head over to www.samanthalivingstone.com/gift for a downloadable workbook.
If you’re struggling letting go of the things you cannot control, head over to www.samanthalivingstone.com/control for a free, mini deep dive.
As always, if this message resonates, please don’t hesitate to share it + pass it along. You never know who it might reach.
CHECK OUT SAMANTHA'S TEDXNORTHADAMS TALK, "THE WEIGHT OF GOLD: AN OLYMPIAN'S PATH TO RECOVERY"
Samantha Arsenault Livingstone is an Olympic Gold Medalist, high-performance coach and consultant, transformational speaker, educator and entrepreneur. She is the founder of Livingstone High Performance, LLC. and the Rise Free Academy - inspiring, empowering and equipping athletes, coaches and women who lead with the skills they need to cultivate high-performance - to achieve AND feel fulfilled along the way.
In addition to private and group coaching, Samantha consults with teams and organizations on athlete wellness, Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement (MSPE), leadership, courage building, rising skills and creating high-performance environments.
A mama of heart warrior and mama of twins, Samantha and her husband, Rob, live in the Berkshires with their four girls. To learn more about her offerings, go over to www.samanthalivingstone.com