Hillsboro’s Bisarek shares journey to overcoming severe anxiety

The CDC reports more than 4 million children in the U.S. between age 3 and 17 have diagnosed anxiety, and reports of anxiety especially in high school age kids have risen exponentially the last few years.

Kyra Bisarek, a junior guard for Hillsboro girls basketball, knows just how hard the condition can be. She started her battle with it around fourth grade, but her tipping point wouldn’t come until eighth grade.

“I was having a hard time staying in the gym during basketball workouts, and I couldn’t really understand what was going on,” she said. “I’d get super super anxious and have these panic attacks. It would be pretty difficult for me to get through the day.

“I had a bit of a rude awakening by a couple different family members and therapists, telling me you’re not going to get anywhere if you just let this consume you.”

They told her she needed a higher degree of care.

“I don’t want this to be who I am,” she remembered thinking. “I don’t want this to define the rest of my life and be the reason I don’t get to play basketball with all my teammates.”

So at 13 years old, Kyra spent nine and a half weeks at Rogers Behavioral Health in Oconomowoc, roughly a half-hour west of Milwaukee.

“Every day, 8 a.m. to 2:30, working on my mental health.,” she said. “I have obsessive compulsive disorder–that was what my diagnosis was–and I was obsessing over throwing up.”

Even saying the word “puke” was capable of sending waves of anxiety through her at her low point. At Rogers, health professionals would expose her to things that had made her anxious in the past and then teach her ways to cope.

“I learned that if you’re anxious in a physical situation, don’t think of it as your body is stressing. It’s your body rising to a challenge,” Bisarek said.

Her time in Oconomowoc didn’t just teach her to look inward. She says she also developed more empathy for other people.

“I was lucky enough to stay at the Ronald McDonald House in Wauwatosa, and I was living in the same house as children who were getting cancer operations across the street the next morning,” she said. “They didn’t know if they were going to make it out, and it made me realize yeah, what I’m going through really sucks, but look at what they’ve got.”

The lessons learned have stuck with her, and they’ve given her the confidence to share her experience with her teammates.

“They’ve been okay opening up because of what she’s had to say,” Hillsboro girls basketball head coach Scott Egan said. “It’s just really good to see her not just come from where she was at, but almost thrive and advance because of it.”

There was a time when she thought anxiety would take away not just basketball, but her ability to live a normal life. Now on the other side of recovery, she knows one thing is true.

“It’s cheesy, but it’s okay to not be okay.”

Since her experience, Kyra says she’s also engaged with school counselors on how to improve mental health care in schools. And if someone you know is struggling with something, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a helpline to provide some general guidance at 1-877-726-4727.