This is our first blogpost for our Mental Health Initiative. To read more, click here.
I know I sound like everyone and their dog when I say that debate has changed me, but in all honesty, it really has. As it has with many other debaters, the activity taught me how to speak up for myself and painstakingly showed me what hard work really was. Without debate, I wouldn’t have truly realized the importance of looking at both sides or I would’ve never been able to understand the power of advocating for something that I believed in. All of which are lessons that helped me to grow in all aspects of life- from relationships to ordering food at restaurants.
Beyond self-improvement though, debate was also one of my first loves.
You see, I tried every extracurricular activity or hobby and never felt genuine purpose or happiness in what I was doing. Track made me feel like I was going to have an asthma attack every second, art made it known that I was just a cheap knock off of Picasso, and all I got from soccer was two black eyes.
On the other hand, debate was different.
The thrill of going into a round, the satisfaction of hitting someone with a round-winning turn, and even the anxiety of not knowing whether or not I won, are all things that I live for. Debate felt like my everything, like the Mr. Big to my Carrie Bradshaw.
Frankly, my relationship with debate was not always filled with sunshine and sunflowers. I would be a fool to act like it came even close to that.
Despite loving debate as much as I did, it slowly began to impact me more negatively than it did positively. Not because I began losing more or because I didn’t get to go to as many tournaments, but because I started to put debate over my own mental health for the sake of winning- a phenomenon not foreign to many.
For a few years, practice rounds, cases, cutting cards, frontlines, and blocks were more important to me than checking in with myself, taking a break, sleeping, and sometimes even eating. At many tournaments the only thoughts that ran through my mind were thousands of variations of “you aren’t good enough” or “you suck” or “why are you even trying?”. Eventually, thoughts like these, coupled with a lack of basic self-care, led to a period of sadness and exhaustion that lasted for months.
I was afraid to reach out though because I thought if I did I would be seen as “weaker” or “inferior” in comparison to my competitors and teammates. In my eyes, everyone that was anyone put everything in debate because that was just the way winners worked, which at the time was the only thing that mattered.
If you can’t tell already, this logic was, and still is, bullshit.
Although the conclusion that I came to may seem pretty intuitive, there is still a lack of resources and conversations that address mental health and speech and debate, and this deprivation is the reason why so many competitors (such as myself) fall into negative mental health habits.
However, this is the issue that Beyond Resolved’s Mental Health Initiative will begin to address. Our mission and goal is to open up discussion using personal experiences and providing accessible resources to anyone that may need it because the tax for participating in speech and debate should not have to be a deteriorating mental health. We understand, though, that mental health help is not a one size fits all, so we encourage you to not only participate in the actions of this initiative, but feel free to contribute as well.
Although I didn’t have a resource like Beyond Resolved’s Mental Health Initiative, I eventually worked to relearn how to balance my love for debate and the love for myself. The best thing for me was to take a break. I initially stopped working on debate all together during the weekends and Spring Break to get my physical health back to normal. Then, I made sure to not only work on debate, but to also do other things that made me happy. I read books, watched Hasan Minhaj and romcoms religiously, ate a lot of fries, and reconnected with friends I had distanced myself from previously.
At the end of the day, there will always be at least someone who brings themselves down for debate, and that is something that needs to change because nothing (and I mean absolutely nothing) should ever come at the cost of your own mental health. We preach cost-benefit analysis all the time, but it’s truly time to weigh the implications and consequences of our actions when we choose to put something, such as debate, over our own selves.