Dash’s Mana Shim tries to shine a light on her bipolar disorder
August 24, 2018 | By Jenny Dial Creech
She was ultra-competitive, extremely driven and fiercely motivated.
She also struggled to get out of bed some mornings, found dread in the act of simply showing up for whatever was scheduled that day.
Mana Shim knew there were conflicting parts of her personality and they’d constantly play tug-of-war. She grew to be an expert at hiding the depression, at putting on a front and at functioning so well that no one knew about her internal struggle.
Last summer after a few heartbreaking events, that changed.
Shim was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has been working on treating her illness ever since.
Now, the 26-year-old Dash midfielder is sharing her story with others in hopes that conversations about mental health won’t be taboo anymore.
“If I can help bring these issues to the forefront and make it easier for people struggling to deal with them, that’s important to me,” she said. “There’s so many stigmas out there, and I think it’s important that we break those.’
Shining a light on illness
Last July, Shim wrote about her diagnosis on her blog.
She researched online about other athletes who had the disease. She couldn’t find many, let alone another professional women’s soccer player.
“I’m not surprised, as there aren’t many benefits to revealing something about yourself that holds little more than a lifetime of struggle and heavy stigma,” she wrote. “I’m here, sharing it with all of you because … I want to live an honest and authentic life.”
Shim is one of a handful of athletes who are sharing their stories about their personal challenges to deal with mental health disorders.
Last year, NBA players Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan both came forward to publicly talk about their depression issues.
It’s not common to admit those issues as they come with unfair assumptions.
“I think sometimes people assume you are lazy when you can’t get out of bed in the morning because the depression is overtaking you,” Shim said. “You worry that if you tell people you are depressed, they don’t really understand. They think it’s something you can just get over, and it’s not like that.”
Shim hit a low point in January 2016 after her father Sri died in a tragic boating accident near her childhood home in Hawaii.
Shim lived in Portland at the time. When her sister called with the news, the last flight to Honolulu already had taken off. She’d have to wait until the next day to get home to her family.
On the flight there, she found herself in the back galley of the plane with a flight attendant sobbing most of the way there.
“We were really close,” Shim said of she and her father. “It was a really, really tough time.”
When she was back in Portland, a close friend killed himself. The grief weighed on Shim heavily and her girlfriend at the time suggested she start seeing a psychologist to deal with her depression.
She started driving two hours from Portland every other week to meet with a woman who specialized in therapy for athletes.
“She eased me into it and was very gentle,” Shim said. “She told me, ‘I think you have bipolar disorder’ and gave me some material to read on it.”
Shim went into denial. She had some knowledge of the disorder because her older sister Lauren had been battling it for several years.
“I didn’t think I had it,” Shim said. “I was mad she thought I did. I skipped my next appointment because I was mad.”
After the initial shock, Shim started researching the disorder. She eventually realized the description of the disease fit. And she decided to face it. That was more than a year ago.
After accepting her diagnosis and working on finding a medication regimen and finding her balance, Shim decided to go public.
“I’m an open book,” she said. “I’ll talk about anything if anyone asks.”
Support of teammates
She’s having a very important conversation and bringing issues to the forefront.
Her team is supporting her the whole way. The Dash hosted a group from the National Alliance on Mental Illness on Saturday night and Shim met with them after the game.
“It says a lot to play for an organization that cares about this,” she said. “It means a lot to me.”
She said several teammates and her coach have asked questions about her illness. They’ve asked how they can help.
She’s been honest and open. That’s important to her.
“I spent years hiding who I was,” Shim said. “This isn’t an easy journey and it’s harder if you have to pretend all the time. I think we need to be able to talk about this openly and take away the fear people have about mental disorders.
“This is who I am and I don’t have to be ashamed of it.”