In 7th grade, when my Language Arts teacher asked the class what we wanted to be when we grew up, I excitedly answered, “WNBA player!”
I first started dreaming about playing professionally around the age of 10 when I attended my first basketball camp. I constantly looked at the Varsity roster and imagined my name sitting up there. It was a dream, and I knew it would take a lot of work and discipline. I continued attending the camps, joined the local recreational team, and practiced on my own in my backyard. Ten practice shots turned into 50, and those turned into 100. I would practice in the heat of the summer or in the rain. I practiced constantly.
In 2009, I finally got to see my name on a Varsity roster board: Jeniffer Abdullah, #22.
Basketball became a positive outlet for me in a period of darkness. In a time when my walk with depression and self-harm was the most difficult, basketball was the shining light of hope. But it wasn’t enough.
At the end of my volleyball season, I immediately went into basketball conditioning. One day, I felt a pain in my chest that I had never felt before. After going to the doctor, I was assured that it was a muscle strain and that it would resolve itself in a few days. One week later, at the beginning of November 2010, I received a call from the hospital – my right lung was partially collapsed. I had a spontaneous pneumothorax.
In that moment, all of my hard work and dedication seemed worthless. After years of working hard, my dream of playing basketball post-high school was crushed. Coming back after the collapse, I had the opportunity to be a team captain and made the best of my remaining time playing at a competitive level.
One year later, during my freshman year of college, my right lung collapsed again due to a cough. After a week of hospitalization, my parents and I made the decision to have surgery on my 19th birthday since my lung would not fully re-inflate. Following the surgery, I faced the lowest and darkest moments of my life.
In February 2012, I finally asked my parents for help. Coming from a Guyanese background, mental health is not often spoken about, but I began the conversation with my parents, and it was the best decision I could have made. My parents helped me into treatment, and although it took a lot of time to get me where I am today, help was real.
I was able to find mental health professionals that helped me work through a lot of the painful times I dealt with, and I began the process of healing. In asking for help, my fear was met with love and compassion from my parents. It wasn’t easy, but we are now in a place that we can talk about what it means to be healthy. I now know I have their support even on my lowest days.
Today, I can say that walking through depression, self-harm, and my lung surgeries have ultimately opened up my heart to the love and support of family and friends. They have not only walked alongside me, but they have also loved me unconditionally. There is so much hope in my heart, and my story has the room to include so many lighter, happier chapters.
From the simple acts of smiling and making jokes to the bigger joys of being able to intern at To Write Love on Her Arms and play an active role at my university, I can say that I am now in a great place. Although it is a day-by-day process, I am so thankful that I was able to begin the process of healing by taking the step to get help.
Basketball was one of the best outlets for me growing up, but reaching out for help has given me the opportunity to see hope in every day. Although I cannot play basketball the way I used to, there is hope that I will be able to one day. For that, I am grateful for every breath I take.
As for today, I appreciate the fact that I can play basketball with my friends and find joy in playing a sport that is not about the points scored or who is winning. The joy is in having fun and having the people out there with me – on and off the court.
If you haven’t thought about exercise as a healthy way to relieve stress, why not sign up for our #RunForIt5k on April 18?