Did you know, when someone dies of depression, suicide is what they write on the death certificate? Furthermore, It’s the second leading cause of death for people age 15-34 according to the CDC.
The first time I really thought about killing myself was during my last season of playing for the Seattle Seahawks. I had a terrible practice, and was feeling like a failure. Even though I had signed a new contract with the team, the years of battling depression and anxiety, which I had always been taught to be “spiritual issues,” had me barely hanging on. I had morphed me into an irrational, isolating, highly-agitated, addict, who could never pray quite enough to make the dark feelings go away. It was one of the scariest seasons of my life.
As I was driving home on the I-5 from the Seahawks practice facility, I reached for the door handle. It was the first time in my life that hurling myself out of a vehicle going 70 mph sounded better than living. I shouted a cuss word at the top of my lungs because I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. You see, the world of pro sports convinced me “you are either a “gritty” person or you aren’t.” It was the very thing we talked about as an organization the most. Grit is that inner resoluteness which gets stronger with each attack, and it’s also the number one indicator of success. And while we talked a lot about having grit, we didn’t talk enough about the things which rob our grit.
Playing in the NFL can feel like trying to hold onto a runaway train. It certainly did my last season. I hadn’t been playing too well, but more than that, I had started to notice people withdrawing from me. Coaches, friends, team mates. That isolation only made things worse, because that is what depression does: It creates symptoms, which create worse symptoms, that come across as a “lack of follow through and personal strength,” instead of the brain disease that it is. I told someone during the 2015 season about how I was feeling and his response was, “jeez, are other guys on the team mental midgets like you too?” He quickly apologized, but it just shows you how much misinformation there is out there about mental health. Add to that an industry that rewards people who can make their mind control their body, and all of a sudden, it isn’t hard to see why there is such confusion over a disease that takes away someones ability to control the way their mind works.
For years, I didn’t understand anything about mental health. Honestly, there is a part of me that still has an incredibly misinformed, harsh inner-critic, even as I write this. So when it comes mental health and suicide, here are four things you need to remember.
- It isn’t always spiritual– I can’t tell you how many times I have had a “spirit of depression and suicide” cast out of me. When the darkness didn’t leave, it created a ton of shame because now all of a sudden, I had to be doing something to give the enemy a “legal right” to be there. It put God’s character and existence on trial constantly. It is oftentimes an imbalance in chemicals that just needs some medicine. Like giving insulin to someone with diabetes.
- If you are a Christian, suicide doesn’t void your salvation– I don’t want to get into the theology of this right now, but that teaching came from the Catholic Church and is nowhere in The Bible. While it is possible that teaching has kept some people alive, it has also created a massive amount of shame. Jesus died on the cross for ALL sin, not some of them.
- You are not weak– If someone you know comes across as a pitiful, weak, attention-seeking, or pathetic, its because they might have a disease in their brain that has zero connection to their will-power. If you turn your nose up in superiority to people with depression, make sure you are treating people with other diseases like cancer with contempt as well. (kidding: just don’t be a jerk to people)
- Don’t fix a temporary problem with a permanent solution– Suicide takes all the pain you are feeling, multiplies it by a thousand, and hits every single person who has ever loved you with full force. Ride the wave and remember that it’s never as bad as you think it is. Breathe slow, and know it will pass.
The interplay between shame, depression, trauma, isolation, addiction, and anxiety, are an incredibly complex mix of debilitating factors, that make your feelings, very powerful liars. In essence, it makes your emotions weaponized, except you are the target. Had I not had the love and support during that time from my wife Matti, and our pup Bear, I’m not sure how it would have ended. So let’s be kind to people who are struggling, and get informed.
How has mental health affected you? Share and comment below, and make sure you go back and read my previous posts!
Here’s to “Loving the Process,”