Due to the operation to fix the ulnar nerve, Monica Puig will not play at the start of the 2020 season. At the 2016 Summer Olympics, Puig won the first Olympic gold medal for Puerto Rico in any sport. She also became the first Puerto Rican to win an Olympic medal.
She was the first unseeded player to have won the event since tennis returned in 1988 to the Olympic competition. In a 'Behind the Racquet' appearance, the Puerto Rican player opened up on dealing with depression after winning gold in the 2016 Olympics: “I have been clearly struggling for the past three years, dealing with all that pressure and expectation that came after winning gold in the 2016 Olympics.
It's probably been the hardest three years that I've ever faced in my entire life. There is trauma after winning something that major that pushes you flat on your butt. I had an entire country watching me, which was extraordinary, but they didn’t see the darker side.
As I became more upset I saw that depression was inevitable when it was tough to get out of bed. At one point you're on the top of the world and all of a sudden it ends and you just don't know what just happened. It's like whiplash.
I couldn’t find ways to motivate myself to play. I just didn’t know what to do with myself. There were many times when all I wanted to do was cry every day, in bed, in a dark room. You just continue to question where all your motivation and drive went.
That's when I started realizing that something was wrong and needed to be dealt with. I'm usually when it comes to my feelings, an introvert, but it’s tough because people normally see me as a social butterfly, very much an extroverted person.
When it came to talking about my feelings it wasn’t easy. It was only when I was able to accept it for what it was, that I was able to deal with it. I had to tell myself, ‘Hey I have a little bit of an issue and I need to take care of myself.’ It took a lot of soul-searching for me to finally realize that there was something going on and to not think it was just a figment of my imagination.
It has taken me until this point now, October 2019, to get my feet back on the ground and find myself back on the right track. All of these moments come with a tremendous amount of self-shame and self-criticism. Social media is also something that has affected me since I’ve received so much backlash and negativity.
Everybody's just always waiting for you to screw up. During these tough times, I've really had to rely on my family and my team, that I now have re-established these past five weeks. One day I was thinking to myself if I was the only person going through this situation.
I was actually surprised to know that many others felt the same way, especially Olympians. Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps have also dealt with these stresses and pressures, where they go through long stretches of depression and anxiety.
Usually, through social media, people portray this perfect life but seldom post pictures in a bed full of tears with the curtains drawn. You never really know what is going on. There's always a light at the end of the tunnel and there's always going to be an open door or opportunity for you to improve upon things.
It helps (to know) that this is common and not just something athletes are struggling with. Many people in our world are struggling with being ashamed for having anxiety, depression or anything else. It just puts things a little bit more in perspective to know that there are other people who are going through the same struggles and that if they can get past it, so can you.
I started enjoying tennis a little bit more in these past five weeks. I've enjoyed putting in the hard work and it hasn’t been to just clock hours but it's actually wanting to be out there. Two and a half hour practices seemed like 15 minutes sessions and I just wanted to be out there and more and more.
This is when I truly realized that I was starting to turn the corner when only months ago playing an hour was difficult. Sometimes you need to stop and take time for yourself first. I feel we give so much time trying to feed other people's egos, minds, and happiness that we forget about our own.
I certainly did. Self-care has now become very important in my life because of it. Take a breath, take time for yourself and do things because you want to do them not because other people tell you to do them”.