Opinion | Venus Williams on Mental Health: Being Tough Means Taking Care of My Whole Self

I’m sitting at my desk after having to tug out of this yr’s U.S. Open with a leg damage. Managing bodily illnesses is at all times tough, however it’s half of an expert athlete’s job. I’ve at all times understood this.

But my physique is just half of it. I nonetheless keep in mind the primary time my mom advised me this: If I needed to thrive on this sport — and in life — I wanted to take care of my “whole self.”

We had traveled to Oakland for my first skilled tennis match. I used to be 14. She was conscious that I used to be getting into a brand new part of my life, one that will carry heightened visibility and extra intense calls for. She noticed the pressures gathering on the horizon.

Until then, placing myself ready to carry out at my greatest had at all times meant bodily coaching, bodily preparedness and bodily well being. The extent of my understanding of the psychological facet of issues was to be mentally powerful on the courtroom within the identify of profitable. I made positive by no means to indicate any weak spot.

What my mother was telling me that day in Oakland was that none of these parts of profitable would work until I additionally tended to my psychological well being. I wanted to have a balanced life and never establish myself solely as a tennis participant. Even although I used to be starting to have success as a younger professional, I needed to stay dedicated to my schooling, to remain related to my faith, and to benefit from the expertise of enchancment — not be so pushed that I might miss all of it.

In different phrases, my life wasn’t nearly how effectively I hit the ball. And neither was my success on the courtroom. We’ve all seen skilled athletes whose efficiency has fallen off as a result of of issues taking place to them off the fields of play that mess with their psychological state.

A number of years in the past, I used to be identified with an autoimmune illness. There was no ebook I might learn that advised me how I might handle and overcome this sickness. There was not, and isn’t, a straight line to the answer.

But after years of pondering holistically, I knew the way to get began. I set about working not solely with medical doctors on the bodily elements of my illness, however I additionally sought out psychological well being professionals to assist me see extra clearly — to not let my fears distort my actuality — and to develop my capability to be taught to remain within the second. Also, and maybe most essential of all, I discovered to be form to myself every single day as I confronted this new impediment.

I could also be an expert tennis participant, however I truly don’t suppose I’m that completely different from everybody else. All of us face psychological well being challenges ensuing from the inevitable setbacks and uncertainties of life. We additionally dwell in a tradition that glorifies being a workaholic, the place the dangers of burnout are sometimes ignored, and the place, let’s face it, whether or not you’re on or off the courtroom, profitable is the whole lot.

It doesn’t matter who you’re. You want assist. You can’t divorce psychological well being from something you do. It impacts your bodily well-being, your decision-making, your capability to deal with tough moments.

I grew up operating down each final ball on the new, onerous courts of Compton. My sister Serena and I have been taught that we’d should battle tougher than different gamers to get the respect we deserved. That’s what I assumed “tough” meant.

But admitting you’re weak isn’t any joke. It isn’t straightforward to ask for assist or open up to folks about having emotional struggles. I’ve been fortunate to have a sister who has gone by means of related challenges; we’ve at all times been capable of share our experiences and assist one another.

Paying consideration to my psychological effectively being has allowed me to like the sport of tennis for this lengthy. I suppose you can say, it’s the factor that has actually made me powerful.

I’m lucky to have household and coaches who let me lean on them. For me, open and optimistic communication is important. It has been great to see so many athletes, similar to Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles and Michael Phelps, speak about the necessity to are inclined to the inevitable psychological points that bubble up for all of us.

But it’s extremely irritating to me that solely an estimated half of those that have psychological sickness get the remedy they want. As we confront the devastating affect of the pandemic, assist for our psychological well being is extra pressing than ever. I might think about that for those who’re studying this column, you understand somebody who has or is struggling emotionally. I do know I do.

I’ve partnered with the remedy service BetterHelp and the Women’s Tennis Association, who’re offering $2 million towards free remedy to anybody who indicators up and are supporting efforts to take away associations of disgrace connected to psychological sickness.

I’m excited to lend my voice to destigmatizing psychological sickness, and it begins right here: Let’s present up for ourselves and for one another and acknowledge what it takes to be really sturdy.

Venus Williams is an expert tennis participant who has received seven grand slam titles and 4 Olympic gold medals.

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