“I don’t want you to be depressed anymore.”
I don’t want me to be depressed anymore, either, but it ain’t that simple.
The first statement was uttered a bit ignorantly by someone, albeit genuinely, during one of my trademark Italian dinners.
Depression isn’t a light switch that can be turned off and on voluntarily. Nobody wants or chooses to be depressed. Some may dwell in it and refuse to help themselves, sure, but nobody wants to be clinically depressed.
I don’t choose to suffer from cerebral health. I don’t wake up on any given day and decide to be depressed.
I also don’t decide to have suicidal thoughts.
But, fortunately, I’m being treated for both.
See, cerebral health for me, is like shingles. When it attacks my system, it takes over my body.
So, when The Sporting Tribune co-founder Arash Markazi mentioned to me earlier this year that he wanted to republish an article I wrote for my personal website nearly three years ago, discussing my battles with suicidal thoughts, I assured him there would be a time and place for an updated version.
Mental Health Awareness Month is in May.
Suicide Prevention Month is in September.
I chose to write this in October.
We should be discussing mental health and suicide prevention every month.
Granted, we’re currently in observance of Mental Illness Awareness Week, but that’s actually sheer coincidence that I chose to write an update on my own mental demons for this week’s column.
Last week the Chandler Jones saga came to a head when he was arrested for allegedly violating a domestic violence temporary protective order. The former Raiders defensive end had been showing clear signs he was battling mental health, with a steady stream of social media posts that were troubling.
Forget the accusations he leveled at numerous people, including Raiders owner Mark Davis and coach Josh McDaniels, it was the erratic behavior with his Instagram stories and X posts that triggered my empathetic side. When he broke down in tears during a live video, it was never more clear he needed help. My first thought was concern from a suicidal standpoint.
I don’t know Jones outside of the few times he’s been in the media workroom at the Raiders’ facility, or the couple of times he’s granted me an interview at his locker after a practice. But I can recognize when someone is in pain and needs help.
Shit, it’s like looking in the mirror.
I’m not afraid — or ashamed — to admit that. Never have been.
There are ruthless individuals everywhere — friends, family, the media — who I’ve witnessed mock mental health and those who battle demons, especially in Las Vegas, but I’ll never not take accountability for my own mental shortcomings, or be sympathetic toward those who also have them.
It’s what’s made me stronger mentally, is to be out front about it and divulge my vulnerability.
After seeing, reading, and listening to Jones, it’s why I knew it was time to grant Arash his wish for me to share my battles with his readers.
OCEANS IN JUNE
As Linus narrates Terry Benedict’s daily activity to Rusty in Ocean’s 11, it’s quite clear they’ve picked quite the mark for a high-stakes robbery.
“You guys really can pick ’em,” says Linus, portrayed by Matt Damon.
“You scared?” asks shrimp cocktail-eating Rusty, played by a rather smooth Brad Pitt.
“You suicidal?” Linus retorts.
Rusty, smirking, replies: “Only in the morning.”
It’s the last line I relate to.
My therapist, Kim, calls my suicidal thoughts “intrusive” — temporary mental blocks from whatever is sending me into a downward spiral.
Temporary or not, they’re real and they hit hard.
I actually thought I had escaped the severity of those thoughts more than a year ago. I still had bouts, but I was able to fight them off and used my mental strengths to defeat any cerebral illness I couldn’t control.
Then came June.
My brain felt like Raiders rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell in his NFL debut this past Sunday, and my mental demons resembled Chargers linebacker Khalil Mack. Every time I caught my breath from the previous attack — BOOM! — here came another one.
The thoughts were so severe that aspects of my work began to suffer, I felt I was underperforming and bringing those around me down, my mood swings were vicious, and ultimately, I was back to seeing one way out.
Feelings of worthlessness, both personally and professionally, can be overwhelming. There are those who help you feel that way, especially in my line of work, while others bring camaraderie and genuineness. I stress the word “loyalty” more than anyone I know. I stand by it. I’m triggered when others aren’t. But that’s not their fault, it’s mine. It’s what happens when you drown in your thoughts.
Fact is, one minute you feel a part of the world, and the next you’re ready to leave it.
I’ve always explained that I don’t have a bottle of pills on my nightstand or never actually was a threat to put the barrel of my gun in my mouth. But in June, for the first time ever, I found myself searching the Internet about what might happen if I combined every medication I take. Roughly 30-40 pills of four different prescriptions.
I could never bring myself to typing those words into a search field.
Then came June.
It hadn’t been that bad in a couple of years.
Yes, turning to a handgun would be quick. But, of course, my first thought was for others, in particular my son.
He’s a grown man now. A business owner whose sole purpose is to bring out the best in others. But I’d never want him to find me with my skull blown in half.
Instead, I turned to Internet searches for mental health retreats, getaways where you’re isolated in small towns or lakes or mountains. I found ones that required you to be on their schedules, and where you had to room with others. If I wanted to stay alone, the cost went up, but was still on their schedule for group therapy sessions and numerous activities. I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted for 8-10 hours a day.
I even researched Sky Cave, where Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers went during the offseason. But I wasn’t prepared to spend the end of the mission getting my eyes used to the sunlight again.
Nonetheless, my mind was made up that I needed to go beyond my therapist and leave town for an undetermined amount of time.
TIME TO HEAL
With what it was going to cost me for an actual retreat, and to board my dog for however long I’d be gone, I chose a different route. Instead, I folded down the backseat to my SUV, loaded it with luggage and coolers, buckled my pup in his seat to my right, and headed to a small remote town situated on a lake in upstate Michigan. It took three days to get there, all of which I consumed myself by streaming The Sopranos, which was more like listening to an audiobook since I’ve watched the series more than a dozen times.
I gave myself a month to heal, including 2 1/2 weeks away from Las Vegas and the toxicity my life was suffocating from. Toxicity I was creating, and toxicity from others I allowed to infiltrate my mental game.
I wrote an email and sent it to numerous media vendors, explaining that with the digression of my mental health it was time to put myself first and that I would be taking a leave of absence from my career. Most of the people understood and reached out personally, ones I could count on, including Arash, a couple of associates I’ve been contracted by for nearly 20 years, and the lead radio host of a show I was doing and who had stood by my side through the process.
The two or three who didn’t reply at all, I wasn’t surprised. As it turned out, they were part of the problem.
Oddly, the one thing I was looking forward to returning in time for was PowerSlap 4. Imagine that, with the Raiders’ preseason getting started, the Las Vegas Aces making a run at their second title and sports abuzz throughout Southern Nevada, the one thing I geared my return around were strikers slapping the shit out of one another on Aug. 9.
Thanks to my therapist — whom I was able to chat with via teletherapy while I was gone — I dove deep into the book The Untethered Soul and was able to use mental health exercises to determine exactly who and what created anxiety starting with myself, how the anxiety led to depression, and how depression led me to want to end my life – again.
The unruly thoughts I couldn’t escape in 2015 obnoxiously returned after covering the Vegas Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup championship in June.
How ironic that it was right before they played in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final during their inaugural season that I first opened up about my suicidal thoughts, three years after they initially started.
This time they were worse.
And what’s truly sad was the only thought that followed the suicidal ones, the only question I had every time: “Who would take care of my dog?”
They’re mental demons that will always be there.
I honestly can’t say with certainty what would have happened had I not left town when I did. I mean, those Google searches about prescription cocktails lasted hours sometimes.
BACK TO WORK
What I do know is since I’ve returned, my mental clarity has been much better. The suicidal thoughts have dissipated to some degree, and when they try to fight their way into my mind at times they’re not as severe. Or, I’m just that much stronger.
Which takes me back to the media vendors and people I found myself having to deal with daily, weekly or monthly. Through the mental health exercises I employed while sometimes kayaking on the lake, or drifting into thoughts over a fire pit, or during 4 a.m. gym sessions at the nearby facility I found in a town of about 1,600, I figured out who and what needed to be eliminated from my life – both professionally and personally.
It cost me financially, that’s for damn sure. Admittedly, it’s been quite some time since I’ve looked up and seen .01 cent in my bank account. But even on Sept. 14, when the balance on my ledger read that exact amount, I wasn’t sorry one bit for the decisions I’d made because I had finally put my mental health in front of work and money. Imagine the dichotomy there, as looking at next to nothing in a bank account and knowing this was how it might be for the near future should have brought on deep, dark depressive thoughts.
Am I embarrassed to say that?
Eh, maybe at the fact that 36 years after my first professional byline was published I’m back to living paycheck to paycheck, kiting my funds, and scrapping for work. But I’ve scratched and clawed most of my adult life. It’s how a freelance sports writer survives, praying you hear back from media outlets off story pitches, or from a team’s PR staff member when you have an outlet interested in a story idea, or even a professional athlete you’ve texted in hopes of a five-minute interview.
You’re not as credible as the mainstream, big-league reporters, or certain TV types with the “don’t you know who I am?” persona.
And that can be frustrating.
But I’d rather be frustrated than suicidal.
The WNBA Finals are fast approaching, and covering the greatest women’s basketball players has always shined a light. As big as their fanbase is, they have their detractors and overcome the negativity. They’re inspiring. I’m particularly happy for Aces players Kelsey Plum and Kierstan Bell. Knowing and learning the paths they’ve taken, and what they’ve endured, they inspire me at times.
The Golden Knights will raise their banner on opening night and will provide a bit of enthusiasm for me. I’m actually looking forward to seeing goaltender Logan Thompson remind people of how great he can be between the pipes. Another inspiring story where unless you know the mental anguish he endured, watching Vegas win the Stanley Cup from high above T-Mobile Arena in a year he was an All-Star, then you don’t understand. Inspiring.
And when it comes to the Raiders, I can’t say enough about Maxx Crosby’s journey to sobriety, becoming a husband and a father. Fans see an in-your-face menace on the field, whereas I’ve gotten to know this young man off the field. Every story or video that comes out about the path he’s taken, I’m reminded of the wild 21-year-old dee jay named Willie Will I once was, spending countless nights with strippers and an 8-ball of cocaine. Maxx is another inspiration.
Oh, and PowerSlap 5 is on Oct. 25. Whether or not anyone is interested in a story or two, it doesn’t matter. I know for at least four nights in October my frustration will subside thanks to Games 1 and 2 of the WNBA Finals, the Golden Knights’ home opener, and a night four PowerSlap championships will take place.
Then again, I’d much rather be frustrated while grinding and hustling, instead of feeling bogged down with suicidal thoughts fueled by anxiety thanks to toxic environments and the people who make them that way.
Ignorance and a misunderstanding of depression will always leave some wondering how and why I deal with these intrusive thoughts. But those who know, know. You don’t control how depression arrives, you only try to control it once it does.
“I don’t want you to be depressed anymore.”
I don’t want me to be depressed anymore, either.
But I am.