Struggle Into Strength

Struggle Into Strength

When I became an advocate for OCD and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health, I changed my way of thinking from “Why me?” to “Why not me?” I felt empowered knowing I was educating people.

Written by Tom Smalley

My battle with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) became debilitating at age 15; everything I did had to be done until it felt “just right” and my compulsions would last up to 12-14 hours a day. At the time, I had no label for the excruciating feelings that plagued me. It took roughly 8 months for me to sit down with my parents and discuss the importance for me to seek out professional help. My parents worked extremely hard to find somebody who specialized in OCD. I had visited two therapists before I met the right one, and received a definitive diagnosis.

At the time, I was in my sophomore year of high school. I had to fight to get out of bed every morning and many days I questioned if it was worth it. I had never felt more hopeless in my life. Even as I began treatment, I battled suicidal ideation and was still searching for my will to live. My form of treatment is known as Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy, and it was no easy task, but it gave me hope that I was taking a step in the right direction.

ERP treatment meant purposefully triggering my intrusive thoughts and subsequent anxiety. It was extremely difficult for me endure in the beginning. My elevated anxiety levels made my OCD worse however, slowly but surely, it got better. The combination of ERP and medication helped me begin coping with my OCD.

During treatment, sacrifices had to be made. I had to give up the sports I loved and grappled with feeling like a burden to my family while they supported me through my OCD journey. There was nothing I could do to repay them for all the time and effort they had given me, but I was determined to try. The support of my family and my faith in God continued to motivate me.

Struggle into Strength is the mantra my mother and I created during my time in intensive treatment. It is all about showing the world that struggle can be turned into something uplifting and positive. We as a society can show that vulnerability can actually be our biggest strength.

“My dreams and aspirations became motivators to keep fighting.”

When clinicians and other professionals told me that going away to college was not an option, I took it as a challenge. I worked tirelessly with my therapist to learn ways to cope with my OCD. She instilled a belief in myself that I could pursue my goals and overcome my doubts.

A year after my diagnosis, at the age of 16, I had the honored of sharing my story and bring awareness to others through an awareness event at Yale University. After that I began speaking at many of the amazing IOCDF conferences. For some time, I felt sorry for myself that I had to deal with OCD daily. When I became an advocate for OCD and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health, I changed my way of thinking from “Why me?” to “Why not me?” I felt empowered knowing that even if it was one person at a time, I was educating people about mental health and OCD.  I realized I was put into this position for a reason.

Now I am on a mission to combine my work, as a coach and mental health advocate, to break down the stigma of mental illness in athletics and provide hope to those that are struggling. I strive to break the negative stigma around mental health by showing that internal struggle does not make you weak, and that our struggle can actually be turned into our greatest strength. 

My Core Values

Having worked with so many different athletes in a variety of settings, I’ve seen firsthand the negative stigma around sharing how we feel. Being emotional in athletics is often frowned upon and labeled “soft” and It is time to break that mold and connect with people using compassion and empathy.

There is no denying in life that there will be challenges thrown our way. However, life is truly 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond. There is no success without struggle. Teaching people who are struggling how to push through and become resilient to challenges is always at the forefront of who we are and what we do.

You are entirely custom-made and allowed to be yourself. Being vulnerable and showing others who you are creates stronger relationships and will get you further with your personal development than pretending to be someone else. There is strength in vulnerability and authenticity- always be yourself.

It is tough to wake up every day feeling 100% and ready to attack your goals. You won’t always be motivated. That is why we must rely on discipline and continue to show up. Focusing on being 1% better each day will accumulate into substantial progress over time.

Holistic Health
Performance should never be limited to just the physical capabilities. As somebody who has endured a long mental health journey, it is vital to pay attention to all areas of human performance. Using a Holistic approach, I strive to elevate athletes and people of all ages physically and mentally while helping them reach their goals.

Learn more about Tom's work here:
Listen to Tom speak with Ang and Melissa about ALL IN on his podcast here
Watch the first episode of an OCD Documentary from "Hear My Story" featuring Tom here

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