Hope Athletes’ Journal: Aubrey Wilson

My name is Aubrey Wilson, a sophomore at Hope College. I was a member of the Hope College Women’s Volleyball Team until my world turned upside down. I no longer play but here’s a little piece of my story. Just when I thought I had an upper hand on college, the joke was on me. My freshman year volleyball spring season had just started. Going into the season, I was hesitant if my heart was in it. I decided to play because I always had. Little did I know what was going to hit me. First Friday practice, we were in a drill. The pass was shanked. Doing what I was supposed to do, I chased down and laid out for the ball. After diving and rolling through it, I had knocked the base of my head on the gym floor, but I kept playing. I thought it was just another knock on the noggin until my strength quickly declined. From that point on, I would experience the scariest few hours of my life. It started with “I’m going to be fine, I just need to sit down” and quickly jumped to little to no vision, an inability to keep up with conversation, generate responses, or verbalize my thoughts. Then the trip to the Athletic Trainers changed to a trip to the ER when I started to “posture.” In layman’s terms that means my limbs (in my case my arms, hands, and fingers) were stuck in a crippled position yet it did not hurt. In fact, they were numb. Jenna VanderLaan (my teammate) and Camden (my brother) stood by me, trying to keep me calm. They were the first of many to stand by me through this. Despite being told I was one of the “top worst 20 cases” my specialist had seen (and I was “zombie like”), I still thought this would only be a few days setback, then I’d be back at it. There were three main components to my head injury; concussion, occipital neuralgia, and vestibular deficit. My symptoms ranged from speech loss, memory loss, a lack of emotional regulation, zoning out with no control over when I came to, neck pain, and heightened noise sensitivity. My thinking had to stay at surface level, otherwise I would lose ability for the rest of the day to function. Not all symptoms were noticeably present within the first week. Within the first month, I came to the realization my world had been rocked. For the next five months, I would be retraining and strengthening my brain. Immediately I started physical, cognitive, and occupational therapy. Because of my state, my doctor, therapists and specialists urged me to not follow through with my plan to be a Camp Geneva counselor that summer. They left the final decision up to me but strongly advised against it. I was left with no job for the summer and no longer playing the sport I had always played. I was unable to have a conversation as a typical 19-year-old would, unable to remember simple tasks, or stay awake for more than a few hours. Everything I had known was none of what I knew now. One hour of activity came with at least two hours of rest. A shower or lunch trip would require a two to three hour nap. It wasn’t until a month into therapy when I was able to stay awake enough to drive myself anywhere. Communicating was more difficult than ever before. Asking for the remote once came out as “Can you hand me the iron?” Sometimes I would notice my slip-up, but more times than not it would not even register. Not being able to keep up with conversation and social environments took another toll on my emotional state. My frustration over the simplest thing led to hours of tears. Specifically, on the Fourth of July, I hit my head on the side of a boat – nothing severe — but it shook me. Not choosing to, I began to relentlessly bawl for no reason. Who cries on a boat on the best day of the summer? It just isn’t logical. That started to become me: not logical. I was not somebody who forgot conversations. I didn’t cry in front of people. I managed myself well. I always smiled. I remained composed. But none of that was true anymore. I started to become not me. I began to fight my own body. Accompanied by these physical struggles came mind struggles. With my own anxiety and depression rising, every step forward felt like two steps back. Those who have known me for a while know I struggle with more than just anxiety, eating is a battle I face daily. As this season of despair took over, so did my weight loss. I began to lose weight. Losing weight is a blessing for many people, but for me, it’s the opposite. Having seen a number of dieticians previously, I had started to become okay with reaching out for help. But this was going to require a whole new type of help. Luckily I had a doctor who helped me see the ease of taking daily meds to help with my anxiety, depression, and ability to eat. The thought of not being able to manage myself by myself was difficult to grasp. From April 6, 2018 to September 2018, I was destroyed and made new within a series of five months. My heart, mind, and perspective was changed. It did not hit me at first, it took a long while. But there were a few moments that I was shifted. In the early weeks, I listened to “Blessings” by Laura Story. I had listened to it countless times, but this time it hit me different. She says, “What if blessings came in raindrops? …What if your trials of this life is His mercy in disguise?” That is exactly what I was enduring; trials that were His mercy. His mercy was showing up through people as well. Coach Mitchell (he most likely doesn’t know this) gave me the biggest compliment somebody could ever tell me. “You are looking healthy,” he said. Healthy is a feeling I had been missing for a long while. A few weeks later, I began sharing how I was doing physically and mentally with those I was close with. Unsurprisingly He showed up through them. Through opening up, I met more of my friends. They were friends I already had; in fact, some of them had been in my life for years and years. But I saw sides of them I had never seen before. My eyes were opened to the number of people, and more specifically, Hope students who fight the same battle. Yet, every story is a tad different.   It wasn’t until a few raindrops hit my life and turned into a full-fledged downpour that I found God’s mercy. The sport I thought that made me also destroyed me. The schedule I built up and perfected was left in ashes. The people that cheered me on were now standing by me. The body that carried me 19 years forced me to carry it. The depression and anxiety I hear in other testimonies took ahold of mine. It took ahold not only of me but of my life. I was left face to face with this lie: “Everything I ever knew was no longer.” But the one thing I needed to know was this; God was there. He is there. And He always will be. God handed me this life and is fighting for it too, just as I am. No matter how much we pour into our own plan, we sometimes do not get to pick our own battles. But how we chose to fight is a daily testament to God’s faith in you and your faith in God. — THE HOPE ATHLETES’ JOURNAL MISSION STATEMENT The mission of the Hope Athletes’ Journal is to provide Hope College student-athletes with a platform to express their challenges and joys in order for coaches, peers, prospective students, and fans to relate to, understand, and appreciate their stories beyond their games. This project, initiated by Stephen Binning ’19, encourages and invites Hope student-athletes to write vulnerable, principled, honest, and respectful stories that ultimately knit our college even closer together. If you or someone you know has a story that could be shared on the Hope Athletes’ Journal, please reach out to Lindsey Engelsman (engelsman@hope.edu) or Eva Dean Folkert (folkert@hope.edu). If you or someone you know is in need of help, here are some resources both on and off campus: Hope College Office of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): 616-395-7945 Hope College Campus Ministries: 616-395-7145 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673