Share Your Story Series: It's okay to ask for help
“It’s not whether you get knocked down. It’s whether you get up again.” - Vince Lombardi
MY Name is Cam Thoennes and This is My Story.
NCAA DI Volleyball Player
Trigger warning: Themes of self-harm and suicidal ideation.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an athlete. I grew up around athletes. My mom was a star basketball player in high school, and my father was a star football player at his high school, at least they were stars to me. The real star was my big sister Jess Thoennes. She was not considered a “natural” athlete, but she had the drive. Which eventually would lead to her row at one of the best schools in the country for Rowing, the University of Washington. From Washington, she went onto row for the US national U23 team and eventually, she made it to the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo. As you can imagine this didn’t make my athletic experience “normal.” I would constantly be compared to my sister by coaches, friends, even family members at points. Nevertheless, seeing my sister go through it I was prepared for student-athlete life, or so I thought. I thought I knew what college athletics would be like. I had been around it for so many years by the time I was getting ready to go to Saint Peter’s University.
I knew that depression and anxiety were both issues that ran in my family and my sister had experienced them within her first years of collegiate competition. I think that if I had not had those experiences with my own sister I would not have been as proactive with my own mental health as I was. Around March of 2021, I began to have some very dark thoughts. I lived on the fourth floor of Millennium Hall at Saint Peter’s. I had a roommate, however, she didn’t spend much time in the room. I felt low, helpless, useless, and ultimately not valuable. My life had become, what felt like, a bottomless pit of self-hatred, negative self-talk, and worsening body image as I was gaining weight from having undiagnosed hypothyroidism (which essentially throws off all the regulation within your body). I felt out of control. I waited around two weeks before I contacted my doctor or told anyone, I didn’t want to be “overreacting” from not being able to adjust to my environment as a freshman in college across the country from their family. I called my parents and told them I wanted to have a discussion with my doctor to see what the next steps would be regarding diagnosis and treatment.
Ultimately, I was placed on antidepressants. I slowly began to feel less sad. However, the antidepressants I was on, I noticed, began to make me feel numb. I wasn’t sad, but I also wasn’t happy and really was unable to feel any sort of joy. Although this was good for a while, I realized that I couldn't function the way I needed to or wanted to without being able to feel emotions. So, I began to experiment with my dosage as well as the medication that I was on. It took three changes in medication and multiple different dosages to make me feel like a human being again.
Towards the end of 2021 leading into 2022, was when my mental health really took a turn for the worst. Even though I had gotten out of a toxic relationship, and everything looked okay on the outside, I felt like I was slowly suffocating on the inside. After going through so many medications and dosages I was feeling discouraged. I resigned myself to the fact that I would continue to feel like this because I did not want to continue messing with medication and having to have my body become accustomed to something, only for it to not work. It was frustrating and exhausting.
At the time, the only thing I thought I could feel was pain. I leaned into that feeling and turned to self-harm using derma blades on my left wrist where my watch band would hide my cuts so nobody would ask questions. Unfortunately, the one person that did notice my cuts, used them against me on multiple occasions, which in turn furthered my need for self-harm. This continued for several months until February 14th, 2022. This was the last day I had used self-harm. This was also the day I had cut the deepest, three long cuts within the folds of my wrist. I had decided that I no longer wanted to live the way I was. I didn’t want to hate myself anymore. I knew it was going to be a long road and quite frankly one I felt I had to take on my own.
At this point only two people had known about my self-harm, one of my teammates, who even though she’d just torn everything in her knee would still find time to check in on me, and the person who used it against me. My family was unaware about my self-harm until a year later in 2023. I had decided that I would do better and be better for myself. I started going to the gym more and keeping a rubber band on my right wrist that I would lightly snap whenever I felt the urge to cut. I also decided that I needed an unbiased third party to talk to about my issues rather than keeping them bottled up or in journals, so I called my mom and asked if I could look into getting a therapist. Luckily, my parents were in full support. It took two different therapists to finally find one that felt like it fit, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have continued to work with her for nearly two years now.
Therapy changed my life. I know that this is something that is often said, however, the coping mechanisms that I’ve been able to develop and the personal insight that I’ve gained have been invaluable. It has officially been one year and six months since the last time I used self-harm. I am incredibly proud of how far I’ve come. Although I know that my mental health will always be an unexpected journey with roadblocks and mountains to climb, I know that there is a place for me on this planet now, my life is worth something and it’s a matter of finding people who can help enhance that journey and cutting off people who hinder my growth. In this past year, I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to look out for those around me, having been through these issues on my own and understanding that even though everyone’s mental health is different, and their journey is their own to take, I want them to know that I’m on the sidelines cheering them on. One thing my dad has always said that has always stuck with me and in a way become my mental health motto if you will is, “Nothing is ever bad enough that you cannot talk about it." Understand that these discussions take time and an insane amount of delicacy and care, but there is nothing and or never will be anything that your mind is making you believe that you cannot go to those you trust and have a conversation. You are worth the air that you breathe, even when it doesn’t feel like it.