Tayla Jackson was unhappy, but she didn’t know why.
Those around her may not have noticed anything was amiss, but Jackson could not shake a feeling of uneasiness trapped inside.
The combination of stress and anxiety became so bad, Jackson walked away from the game she loved, basketball.
But when one chapter ends, another begins, and for Jackson, that means sharing her story and her struggles with other student-athletes facing similar issues through her new blog, Anxiety N Athletes.
The blog examines the battles that student-athletes face away from the game and offers a way for them to connect with others experiencing similar struggles.
Jackson, who turns 21 later this month, first noticed the signs when she began university following graduation from Langley’s Brookswood Secondary in 2015.
She was attending the University of California Irvine on a basketball scholarship following an outstanding high school career with the Brookswood Bobcats as one of the province’s top players.
From the time she began high school in Grade 8, Jackson played on the senior girls team, and did not look out of place, helping the Bobcats to five top-four finishes at provincials, including silver in Grade 10 and gold in the final two seasons.
However, after one season in California, she returned home to Surrey to attend Simon Fraser University and play for the Clan.
But something was still not right.
“I didn’t know why I couldn’t shake this stress of the everyday routine because every day was pretty much the same,” Jackson explained.
“I always had this little bit shortness of breath and stress deep inside my chest and I didn’t know why I had that feeling — I had never experienced that before. It was almost like I was freaking out over something I couldn’t figure out and what it was and it would make things worse.”
Jackson always knew playing her sport at the highest level would be difficult but she admits to having no idea what it would entail mentally and emotionally.
“I knew going into it that it would be hard but I thought as long as I put the ball in the hoop, everything else would fall into place,” she explained.
Jackson — who is studying to be an elementary school teacher — played a big role on the Clan this past season, as the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder at 11.9 points and 4.6 rebounds, respectively, per game.
But the past three years have been filled with stress and anxiety.
“I would wake up and throw up because the stress would put my stomach into knots,” she explained.
Even achieving on-court success did little to alleviate what she was experiencing internally.
“I was hitting all the milestones that I had imagined for myself but I didn’t feel satisfied whatsoever,” she said. “I still tossed and turned, not wanting to wake up in the morning and do it all over again … and I couldn’t explain what I was feeling or why I was feeling it.”
She also felt that the demands of the sport were transforming her from who she really is.
“I really lost touch of my spark,” she explained. “I definitely think it was hard to spend every day trying to be shifted and moulded into someone who I wasn’t naturally.”
So she quit basketball.
Whereas Jackson felt like she was walking on eggshells before the decision, she now feels free.
She also decided to launch her blog last month.
“Wearing your heart on your sleeve, putting it out there, you are making yourself so vulnerable to people, you don’t know how they are going to react,” Jackson said. “But knowing that someone can relate or understand, makes it all worthwhile.
“This is an expose of my experiences in hopes that others (can) deal with their own emotional struggles.”
Her message is simple.
“You need to know you are worth fighting for,” she said. “And you need to put your happiness first.”