how you build a house of cards: living with depression
For the last 8 years, I’ve been openly and honestly talking about living with depression.
Depression that has affected me since I was 13 years old. Depression that came and went, came and went, came and went. It was depression that led to attempted suicide at 16 years old and twice at 27. Depression that still exists and still affects me to this day. Depression that doesn’t define me or own me. Depression that I own, embrace, manage, and talk about.
As long as I have air in my lungs and a voice in my mouth, I’ll talk about it.
Because I’m proud of my story. I’m proud of what I’ve been through. I’m proud of the lessons I’ve learned through the pain. There isn’t a fiber in my being that’s ashamed of the fact that I’ve tried to end my life, that I have a mental illness, that I’m not perfect.
This pride has taken much work, treatment, healing, and recovery to develop, but it’s real. I believe this is attainable for anyone struggling in silence with a mental illness.
We all hurt, we all struggle, we all suffer, so why should someone with a mental illness be shamed into a silent closet because they are “weak” or need to “toughen up”? Is the pain of a broken limb more credible than the pain of a broken upbringing?
I was raised believing that physical pain is real and emotional pain is temporary and shouldn’t last longer than the time it takes to “shake it off” and “focus on the positive”. This wasn’t my parents’ fault, nor was it my friends’ fault, or my teachers’ fault, or anyone’s fault. It was simply the way things were.
As an elite golfer for most of my life, this emotional pain would often come after a poor round of golf. That score posted next to my name was reason enough for me to think so low and poorly of myself and my worth, or lack thereof. I was told (and told myself) to shake it off and play better tomorrow. Playing better tomorrow would be the remedy, would be the solution to the emotional pain. Well, playing better tomorrow is much easier said than done. That’s like telling someone to wake up happier tomorrow. That sounds a little misguided and ignorant. But, I still subscribed to this ideology and would work so hard to play better tomorrow because, maybe, just maybe, I would consequently feel better. This, my friends, is how you build a house of cards.
Finally, in 2011 the house came crumbling down and I was hospitalized for my 3rd suicide attempt. When in that hospital, I was faced with two choices.
Recover and move on.
Recover and talk.
Talk about what I went through. Talk about suicide, talk about depression, talk about my health. If I had been in the hospital with a cancer scare people would listen, so why not see if they would listen to the story of a suicide scare?
My attempted suicide quickly became the catalyst for many people in my family to start being real and opening up about their mental health and the “shame” they had been hiding for fear of anyone knowing that they struggle.
A year from hospitalization I spoke to my first audience. My old high school. I spoke to a group of students that were walking the same hallways I walked as a pained, troubled, depressed teenager who thought he was the only one.
The response from those teenagers gave purpose to my pain, purpose to my struggle. In that hour I realized that my story isn’t rare, it’s far more common than anyone can comprehend. In that hour I realized that as long as I had a voice and a platform as a professional athlete, I will speak proudly and confidently about my struggles.
I liken it to sitting around a table with your closest friends and reminiscing over why and how we have the scars on our body. “This was the time I slipped off the dock and cut my leg”, “this was from a skiing wipeout”, “this is when I got drunk and tripped over a curb”. We can sit and laugh and cry at what we have been through and the marks we have to show for it.
In my case, I don’t have many scars to show for what I’ve been through. The scars I have are hidden from the world, but people still know about them. My closest friends can sit at that same table with me and hear me talk about them and relate because they’ve been there too. Maybe not as severe, but they’ve been there. They can sit with me, laugh and cry about the things I’ve been through, and never judge or think I’m weak.
I talk because I believe that scars are scars, whether we can see them or not. I believe that we can relate to each other far more than we realize. I believe that we can create a culture where all pain and struggle is acceptable dialogue. I believe that it’s okay to hurt, and it’s more than okay to talk about it.
That’s why I talk...and believe you should too.