Mental Health and Disc Golf – My Journey

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Which of my feelings are real? Which of me's is me? The wild, impulsive, chaotic, energetic, and crazy one? Or the shy, withdrawn, desperate, suicidal, doomed, and tired one? Probably a bit of both, hopefully, much that is neither." ~ Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

John Doe

TL;DR: In case you have an attention disorder and cannot finish the whole story. I am here today; I suffer from mental illness, and I am a disc golfer. Disc golf therapy ultimately saved my life.

My daughter asked me just yesterday, “Mom, how do you know so much useless information?” My response was, “Because I’m bipolar.” I did not say sick, crazy, or just because; I said bipolar. For some, this may not seem like a big deal, but it means the world for me. I’ve accepted that my disease is never going away, and it makes me the person I am today. However, I was not always as open about my mental health.

Before I got help, I would hide the deep depression as the flu. I could rarely hide my mania or psychosis, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t try. But trying to hide it was exhausting.

I tried so hard to fit into society and be what was considered “normal.” I didn’t want to be thought of as someone who belongs in an asylum. I truly believed that society would never label me as “normal” if they knew what was going on in my mind.

Society creates these stigmas for people with mental disorders such as crazy or weak-minded. Those stigmas also carried over into the way I viewed my mental health, called self-stigma. I was ashamed, embarrassed, and struggled with life in general for years in silence.

Remember the saying ‘Fake it ’til you make it?’ Yea, that was me. These stigmas resulted in me trying to mimic the emotions of others every day. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to feel like I was like everyone else too.

After some time, it became harder and harder to figure out if I was okay. I would wonder if I was about to be manic or about to face the black dog (aka depression). I didn’t need to feign emotions too.

What It’s Like to be Bipolar

Being bipolar may not be what you think it is. It’s not simple mood swings, it can’t be cured, and we’re not crazy.

When manic, I am reckless, sexy, and entertaining. I am a child with no rules. I do what makes me feel good. I don’t think about other people’s emotions. I lash out at those who try to help. The first signs of an oncoming manic episode for me are racing thoughts and rapid speech.

Watercolor painting depicting Bipolar Disorder

When I’m full-blown manic, I will ramble my theories and musings and draw my thoughts on paper. I have visions and see things that are not real. I refuse to sleep because I do not need sleep anymore. I am delusional and will recount a story from a book as my own and honestly believe that I’m the storyteller. I am highly compulsive and self-destructive physically. It’s never a happy ending.

The episode concludes with me crying for days, depressed, guilt-ridden, hurt, embarrassed, suicidal, with no way to explain my behavior. Sometimes I feel like it was not me but another person who ruined my reputation. If only I could stop the identity thief who used my body and mind.

I would swear to give everything I have to redeem my soul as I cry in bed, begging to be “normal.”

It’s Never Too Late to Get Help

Finally, I had had enough of the roller-coaster I was on, which changed my life for the better. Getting help from a professional and asking for help from friends were two of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

I was admitting something was wrong with me, and it was my brain. How terrifying is that? My brain does not produce the correct chemistry for me to be “normal” without medication.

The doctors over the years have added labels to my diagnoses, such as bipolar disorder (BP1), general anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and manic depression.

With therapy, I learned to control many aspects of my thought process and develop new coping mechanisms. My doctor prescribed me proper medication to help me finally focus, slow down, and be optimistic again without the fear of extremes. Medication, good doctors, and therapy saved me. But want to know something crazy?

Occasionally, I miss my delusional mind. Yes, I miss the sensations and delusions. I would feel invincible. I had no fears or worries, no sadness in my world. During a manic episode, I had unlimited energy. I was a lunatic at night. I would become obsessed with the moon and night sky. It would draw me out of my house, and I would sit out all night under the stars.

I gave up the roller coaster to be a better mother and friend to those around me and be an example to my children and friends. I accepted my condition in hopes of the light at the end of the tunnel.

I gave it up to save my life. So, what does that all have to do with disc golf?

Finding Disc Golf

One day, my doctor suggested I find an outdoor activity to clear my mind and help with the various triggers to my condition. “Have you ever played golf?” she asked. I immediately told her about my costly habit of traditional golf when I was younger. I loved golf but did not have the money to pick it back up again. That’s when she mentioned Frisbee golf.

With a little bit of research, I found a whole disc golf community. It was perfect and similar to golf rules. It became a daily habit for me. It was inexpensive and a walk in the park, literally. Soon I found it was indeed the best therapy that I could have given myself.

Sherry Cato in Throw Pink shirt

I picked it up and played disc golf tournaments regularly for the entirety of 2017. I cannot think of a weekend I was not playing in a tournament or league. Like in traditional golf, leagues brought together all skill levels and introduced me to so many new people. For example, it introduced me to our local putting league. I fell in love with the sport and caught on quickly because of its similarities to traditional golf. I rarely won a tournament or league event during that year, but overall, I had the most fun.

To be honest, I never really cared to win. Sometimes it was more about watching other players grow. It was fascinating. The following year, I went to the United States Disc Golf tournament (USDGC) to spectate and support my boyfriend, who was playing.

As I wandered around, I remember meeting one of the friendliest disc golfers. She was passionate about promoting the sport for women and raising money for women’s initiatives. She gave me a Throw Pink flyer for a clinic, and it made me feel welcome.

Later, I ran into her again, and she remembered me. She asked if I was going to make it to the clinic. From that moment, I knew there was a place for me. I could now help in the community that had helped me.

That disc golfer was Sara Nicholson. She started my journey in charitable causes and, unbeknownst to me at the time, was one of the founders of Throw Pink. It had its ups and downs, but I had mine. What happened is something I did not expect from this sport – a support group, a community, a sport that accepted the loser into the winning moments.

I walked away victorious my first year playing the sport. I found my therapy, my tribe. I was rarely the winner on paper, but the winners were all around and shared each moment of their glory. Disc golf saved my sanity and my life.

My Quirky New Normal

I regularly share the stories behind these labels with others during rounds of golf, if asked or the subject comes up. I am no longer ashamed and believe my stories can help someone else who is struggling themselves.

Life happened, and my brain stopped making certain chemicals and could not deal with trauma and stress. In combination, I am a physiological mess and a real pain in the ass to treat. Treating bipolar disorder takes priority for me. On occasion, my doctor will give me something to help with the other mental illnesses, but with mania and depression under control, I can enjoy my quirky new normal.

Today, I am a proud Innova Ambassador and Throw Pink team member. I strive daily to give back to the disc golf community what it has given me, a new lease on life. Thank you to everyone who has been with me for this journey. If you ever are on the course and want to talk about mental health, please join me for a round and discussion. I am not immune to mania, anxiety, depression, or even suicidal thoughts, it is a part of me, and we should all keep the dialog open and talk to each other. By promoting open dialogue, we can fight the stigmas associated with mental health.

Sherry Cato

Sherry Cato

I wish someone would have shared with me when I was younger that getting help wouldn't be the end of the world. It takes some very open conversations to fight these stigmas. Helping just one person feel they may just be a different normal and not alone makes everything worth it.

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3 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing!
    I have some family members who struggle with mental health. I’ve taken them disc golfing and they loved it, but were also frustrated with how difficult it initially was. The pursuit of “perfection” is something they battle with and patience is not their strongest trait, but once I take them a few more times my hope is that it becomes therapeutic for them as well. Having fun is what matters most!

    1. Thank you for helping your family and understanding their frustrations. I’ll be completely honest that it can be extremely frustrating when you are new or suffer anxiety to go out with experienced players. Don’t count strokes or score. Play it completely casual, a doubles match, or one of the dice/card games. Also try going with just one or two disc each next time. Remove as many elements that you can, while playing the course. It helps with eleminating overthinking and adds to the enjoyment. These things work for me to this day. Watching and walking along are just as relaxing.

  2. You are so amazing in so many different way Sherry. I feel very privileged to have spent a few days with you when I travelled from Aus! You story is something else and us touched my heart. Keep shining! You are a super Star 🌟

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