Maana's battle of depression and insomnia

Maana Patel

Maana Patel smiles as she recollects the nine years she's spent in competitive swimming. "It's been a bit up and down since I've made my comeback," says the swimmer from Gujarat.

The 19-year-old was speaking after securing one gold and one silver in the Asian Age Group Swimming Championship here in Bengaluru. 

"I was hoping to go 1:03 late. I did a 29 in 50m back and was really confident. But I died in the last 10m. But I was faster than in Bhopal (Senior Nationals)," she says spotting the silver lining.

It's been a hard road for Maana, one in which she has learned to look and find, for the silver lining.

After announcing her arrival by breaking all three senior backstroke records in 2013 as a 13-year-old, she looked destined for great things.

Her performances in the subsequent meets only added more weight to her reputation until the swimmer, who had only seen the highs, was brought crashing down to earth with a labrum tear in her left shoulder.

Having shifted base to Mumbai in May 2017 to train at the Glenmark Aquatic Foundation, Maana, who had not raced since December the year before, was jarred to learn of her injury during a routine check-up. 

"I shifted to Mumbai to swim. But because of the injury, I had to keep going to rehab and not the pool. So, I had nothing to do in Mumbai. On top of that all the shifting, new coach, new house. I couldn’t handle that," she says.

"I would throw tantrums at my mother. I can't really express when talking so I used to write really bad letters to my parents. But my mom knew that life without swimming would be difficult for me. She just wanted me to hang up my suit after a good race."

Maana speaks about the dark period eloquently. She reveals she became an insomniac, refused to eat. "I was scared to begin my day," she says.

Luckily, she was smart enough to realise she needed help. "I told my mom that I need help, see a psychologist. I knew something was wrong with me. I was not clinically depressed or on medication but there was a phase of three months. So the psychologist also tried to move my attention away from swimming. She tried to make me do art and cooking classes. I didn’t, because I didn’t have the courage to start something new."

Ultimately, she says, it was up to her to get out of the rut. "Nobody (else) can help you be happy."

She returned to competition in February 2018, after almost 18 months. Her performance in the Senior Nationals in Kerala, where she won all three backstroke events, looked to have brought her back to form. But the results remained inconsistent.

A timely meeting with Michael Phelps proved instrumental. "He listened and told me that he knows what I'm going through and that if you've been out of the water for 18 months, then it will take 36 months to get back to the level again," she says.

Now, after once again dominating her stroke in Bhopal (she lost out in 100 backstroke gold due to a false start) and another decent performance here, she's hoping to make her Olympic dream come true. 

And as she said at the end of her Ted talk, "Even if I don’t achieve my goals, I know I have put in the hard work and I'll close this book and begin a new one, which I will hopefully enjoy."

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