'I am extremely thankful that I did not take my life': Michael Phelps opens up about his personal demons

As a citizen of a country where the 10th leading cause of death is depression and suicide, Michael Phelps discloses his own story of his struggles with depression to help Americans deal with theirs. He reveals that instead of being ecstatic on reaching the peak of his career and after winning the gold in the 2012 Olympics, he was depressed enough to contemplate suicide. 

He discussed his depression for the first time this week, on Tuesday, in an interview in Kennedy Forum in Chicago where he discussed his decade-long battle with depression since he first started feeling it's symptoms after every major tournament since 2004. The 32-year-old ace swimmer admits to having undergone an agonizing battle that threatened his mental state enough to convince him to want to take his life on several occasions.  

Phelps only sought professional help to recover from his depression in late 2012 after the two DUIs and news of drug abuse began biting its way into his image as a champion swimmer. He reckons that the professional assistance was a boon in disguise and lifted him up from his depression in the most miraculous ways. He now is the father of one and along with his wife Nicole Johnson looking forward to the birth of their second child.  

The renowned swimmer decided to open up about his mental illness to help raise awareness about the reality of mental illnesses and how they can be overcome. He emphasized his belief that anyone who might be battling with depression should get immediate professional help.  

He discussed his life's trials and tribulations while talking of what pulled him down and what gave him the motivation to rise again. He credits therapy for saving his life. He directed his conversation to the political strategist David Axelrod at the conference in Chicago which was a part of the national summit that focused on depression and other similar mental health disorders.

His first bout of the "depression spell" he says, he experienced in 2004 when he was 15  and had won his first gold medal at the Athens Olympic Games. "Really, after every Olympics I think I fell into a major state of depression," he said. He was also seen smoking from a bong in 2008 after he took home eight other record-breaking gold medals. What baffles most people is how and why he would feel so incredibly low during his highest points of his achievements.  

"It would be just me self-medicating myself, basically daily, to try to fix whatever it was that I was trying to run from," Phelps said, talking about how he recovered before he began therapy. 

Phelps who has been arrested twice for DUI, said that his lowest point came after the 2012 Olympics which made him spend five days in a room without the basic necessities of food or sleep. He says, "I didn't want to be in the sport anymore...I didn't want to be alive." He goes as far off as to admit, "You do contemplate suicide." 

When he reached the brink of giving up, he looked for professional help which ended up being the cure to all his troubles. What did the trick was years of practicing how to "compartmentalize his emotions," which helped him open up about what he had been keeping in for all these years. Whilst recalling his first day of therapy he says that he was a bundle of nerves because he wasn't too excited about the change that was forthcoming.  

He says compartmentalizing his emotions helped him recover from depression.

"I said to myself so many times, ''Why didn't I do this 10 years ago?'' But, I wasn't ready," he contemplates on his past. Phelps has since been an advocate of seeking professional help when mentally troubled. He ensures his Michael Phelps Foundation promotes "healthy, active lives for children through swimming [and] offers stress management programs." He says that helping others through their lows and mental issues have been more rewarding a feeling than any of his swimming career-related achievements.  

Phelps would feel lowest after his highest achievements. (Pexels)

"Those moments and those feelings and those emotions for me are light years better than winning the Olympic gold medal," he concludes, "I am extremely thankful that I did not take my life." 

The CDC, states that suicide rates in the US increased by 26.5 percent between 1999 and 2015 and encourages every individual to seek medical professional help if and when feeling abnormally low or mentally disturbed. 

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Aradhita Saraf


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