I just wanted to recognize some of the people who have inspired me during my battle with mental health. Apologies that most are sports-focused – I see and hear a lot more about those folks because of my job.
Rose Namajunas, UFC champion
After handing Joanna Jędrzejczyk her first career loss to claim the UFC stawweight title, “Thug” Rose delivered one of the most inspiring speeches I have ever seen/heard from a professional athlete, staying unbelievably humble after a mentally treacherous build up to the fight.
Rose’s words inspired me to write a piece for SickNotWeak, which was better than most of the sports writing I’ve done for my job.
Jack and Arun, friends
While many assume working as a sports writer is an awesome lifestyle, the reality is that working in a field you are passionate about provides some pressures and difficulties you can’t properly prepare for. I know that first hand and I’ve seen many others frustrated by similar circumstances in the world of sports media.
I was very proud to see two of my closest coworkers begin to get the help they need in the past few months. Hats off to Jack, Arun, and anyone else who has made the decision to join the fight against mental illness.
Carrie Fisher, actress
Carrie Fisher is so cool. I always thought of her first as pretty Princess Leia who needs help rescuing, but since her death in late 2016, I started reading more about her battles with mental health, how open she had been about it, how ahead of her time she was, and how perfectly she expressed her feeling about all of it.
“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.” – from Fisher’s 2008 memoir “Wishful Thinking”
I’d recommend perusing this quick list of her best quotes on mental health from Entertainment Weekly.
Ricky Williams, former NFL star/marijuana advocate
It is so rare to find professional athletes who truly think and talk differently from the rest. They come in similar environments from a young age and are told a lot of the same things from coaches and mentors, but Ricky is on his own. His thoughts on struggling to understand himself, struggling to understand what makes him happy, and rejecting a career in the NFL (somethings thousands would blindly sign up for a glimpse of) because he needed time away are very relatable for me.
Ricky, who suffers from social anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, and avoidance disorder, had some of his struggles put on display in the fantastic 2010 ESPN documentary “Run Ricky Run” that I found to be very brave and inspiring.
Jim Carrey, actor/comedian
Carrey was my favorite actor/comedian in the world throughout my childhood and I will always love him. Carrey, like many comedians, deals with depression and has been open about it for several years. He was willing to accept medication for a while to help fight depression and eventually worked to not needing any stimulants at all to combat his mental health issues. Some may say he’s crazy for his beliefs and actions that are often contrary to typical Hollywood rhetoric, but I see a man unafraid of what others think of him – someone who has defeated depression.
Steve Gleason, former Saints player/ALS fighter
Like my grandfather who passed away in 2001, Steve Gleason suffers from ALS, which has gradually been paralysing him since his diagnosis in 2011. Gleason’s battle is obviously very different from my own, but I have drawn continual strength from watching him keep living his life, raising his son, and raising funds for ALS research.
Gleason played 8 seasons for the New Orleans Saints (my favorite team) and blocked a punt in the team’s return to the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina in 2006, one of the most dramatic moments in franchise history. A documentary called “Gleason” was released in 2016 about his fight and I have to admit it was so emotional and intense that I could only get through the first 30 minutes.
Stephane Richer, former NHL player
If you follow the mental health community in Canada, you know Michael Landsberg, the former Off The Record host who helped found SickNotWeak and is a face of #BellLetsTalk day. What you may not know is the story that inspired him to get so involved.
It was former Montreal Canadiens forward Stephane Richer who Landsberg first spoke about depression with on television, having a short but open discussion for less than two minutes on an episode of his show in 2009. The response from viewers who finally heard public figures discussing depression openly on television was the major reason for Landsberg to go on to build SNW.
While I respect Landsberg and his work, I have always deeply admired Richer’s decision to let the host ask him about his struggles with depression. Richer was not nearly as accustomed to speaking on TV, years removed from the spotlight, and spoke English as his second language at a time when no one – especially hockey players – spoke about mental illness.
Joanne Rowling (aka JK Rowling), author
I didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer. It something I was better at than most in school and eventually I just stumbled into this career. I often struggle with my confidence as a legitimate writer given that I’m fairly new to the game.
Long before she would publish the astronomically-successful Harry Potter franchise, Rowling was diagnosed with depression and considered suicide, she admitted in a 2008 interview, as a divorced writer in her twenties with a child. Just having the knowledge that one of the most successful writers of my lifetime went through her own struggles when she was my age is inspiring and comforting.
Brandon Marshall & Kevin Pierre-Lewis, NFL players
Marshall was one of the first major NFL players to admit to his own mental health problems (borderline personality disorder) and publicly push the conversation to end the stigma while also starting his charity, Project 375. In a world of macho-tough guys afraid to show any weakness, Marshall has been confronting his issues head on since his diagnosis in 2011.
In October 2016, Pierre-Lewis opened up about his struggles with depression to the Seattle Times when he was still a member of the Seahawks. He took a risk as a player without much notoriety and admitted that he was nervous about reaction from media, fans, coaches, and teammates, but the 26-year-old felt he needed to express himself and share his story for anyone who could relate.
He doesn’t get talked about much, but ever since reading the piece, I always think of him as a hero.
Chester Bennington, artist
Bennington, the former Linkin Park frontman who committed suicide last July, was the voice of angst and frustration for a generation. He made millions of teenagers, and probably those older, feel less alone with his lyrics in songs like “Numb”, “In The End”, and “Somewhere I Belong”.
I had tickets to see him play for the first time just a couple weeks after his death. He will be missed.
Roberto Osuna, MLB player
Admittedly, I don’t really care for baseball, but when Blue Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna told reporters he couldn’t explain why he’d been feeling “anxious” and “weird”, and that he wouldn’t be playing in a few games because of it, you can bet your ass I gave a damn.
It was rather heartbreaking to see some of my own coworkers question Osuna’s toughness and say he shouldn’t be admitting that in public, but also made me realize his words were even braver than I first thought as many baseball pundits shared those same (wrong) opinions.
If you think that because a person makes millions of dollars to play a game then they are exempt from mental health issues, give your head a shake and come back to me once you’ve figured out your mistake.
It would be remiss for me to make a list of my mental health heroes and not include my friend Jess – you wouldn’t be reading this right now if it weren’t for her.
Jess was the first person to really reach out, listen, and make me feel less alone. After about a year of being classmates and slowly becoming closer friends as the semesters rolled along, I opened up in a facebook post to my class that I was suffering from depression and they had done a lot more than they knew to help me get through it. Jess reached out and told me she was getting involved with a new site called SickNotWeak that would share people’s stories about mental illness.
We spent a few hours talking about my story. I lost count of how many times I said something out loud for the first time, but the best part was the amount of times I said something that had made me feel so alone in the past only to have her complete my sentence or be on the exact same page.
I left our conversation that day with a new outlook on life. It was a scary feeling to share at first, but since that day I have written rather lengthy confessionals on BellLetsTalk day each of the passed three years, had four pieces published for SickNotWeak (with a 5th on the way), and regularly have conversations with friends, family, coworkers, and even a couple strangers about my mental health and theirs.
Please share your Mental Health Heroes below in the comments.