Yes, you are on the right website.
You did not inadvertently click on a online news banner or some such thing. I am writing on a wrestling website about mental illness simply because I feel the two topics are closer together than you might imagine.
As long as I have been a fan of wrestling, I have read countless heartfelt articles from wrestling fans who have battled their mental health issues by enjoying wrestling. I love seeing these, as it shows how powerful this unique medium is, and how effective it can be as a tool of inspiration.
So, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I'm going to share my own story with you, in an effort show how wrestling has helped me in the ongoing struggle against mental health issues, and to say thank you to those who have helped me in this struggle.
I have suffered from severe depression since I was about fifteen (and probably before that, in truth). In my case, it was largely a case of genetics. I had, and have, a stable home life, loving friends and family, no substance abuse problems, and good grades. Unfortunately, I also had a family history of depression and anxiety, going back long before there was ever treatment for such things.
Despite what many would say was a perfect environment, I suffered from severe anxiety attacks, long bouts of listlessness, and a lack anything that could be described as self esteem. There would be good periods, such as my senior year in high school or just before graduating from college, but there were bad ones as well. The effect on my life has been immense. I have had to drop my military aspirations. Therapy and medication are always in the budget. Finishing my Master's degree was nearly an act of god.
Hardest for me to talk about are the attempts I have made on my own life. This may be the first time I HAVE talked publicly about them, truthfully. Suffice to say, I have attempted to do permanent harm to myself and, in my mental state, failed to think about the effect it would have on those who love me. It shames me to this day, but there is good news. The good news is I found a way to fight back and enjoy my life again.
This is were wrestling comes in.
To recount yet again, I came into wrestling in late 2013, following a bout of curiosity about Fozzy front man Chris Jericho. After checking it out and becoming hopelessly addicted, I found that wrestling was some of the best therapy I ever had. The effect was not instantaneous, however.
Early in 2014, one of those attempts on my own life occurred, the pressures of graduate school having become, in my mind, overbearing. Afterwards, I went into a long period of listlessness and inertia. I was functioning; walking, breathing, attending school, and working my job at Family Dollar to pay tuition.
But to say I was living would be a stretch. I didn't much care about too much that was going on around me, and strong emotions were simply non-existent. I still watched wrestling ever Monday and on PPV Sunday's, and it cheered me up a bit. Daniel Bryan and WrestleMania 30 was a great moment as a wrestling fan, but for some reason failed to elicit much emotion out of me for more than two days or so. Instead, it was another wrestling moment that made the most impact.
On June 2, 2014, my 25th birthday, Seth Rollins hit Roman Reigns in the back with a chair, betraying his brothers and destroying my favorite wrestling act ever, the Shield. I was shocked and completely distraught. I think I cried for most of that night and was a bit ill the next day. It consumed my thoughts for a couple of days, as I plotted with my boss about how Traitorface Seth Rollins should get his comeuppance.
I was stocking shelves later that day, muttering angry thoughts and placing cans of chili on the top shelf, when I froze mid-reach, realizing something. I FELT that. Son of a bitch. I felt that.
To be sure, it wasn't a happy emotion, at least at first, but I was experiencing real, human emotions for the first time in months. With all the ups and downs of graduate school, work, and family, the first man to get a reaction out of me was a guy in a wrestling ring, wielding a steel chair.
Things started looking up for me in the next few months, as I became more and more emotionally invested in the resulting Seth Rollins/Dean Ambrose storyline. The consistent stimuli of a good wrestling story helped me rediscover a lot of positive feelings as well as negative ones. It gave me the time to seek out better therapy and medication management, which, to this point, has turned me completely around.
All through 2014-15, I discovered new wrestling companies, new wrestlers, and new stories, and became more and more passionate about it with every passing month. I found websites like Cageside Seats, where I could talk about wrestling with other people who enjoyed it, giving me another kind of social outlet. I got out of the house to see live events with friends.
Consistently having to defend my fandom to non-fans amongst my family and friends taught me to accept who I was, regardless of whether people thought it was "cool" or not.
One year after I tried to end my life, I was a completely different person. In addition to finding my groove in grad school, I was starting to work out again, which I had given up a couple of years before. I was actually living a fulfilling life.
When Royal Rumble came around, I was actively rooting for Seth Rollins. I think, in hindsight, I wanted the guy who kickstarted my turnaround to hold the title over his head, because it would feel like I was raising the title with him.
At WrestleMania 31, Rollins did just that. I cried all that night, too, but this time, they were happy tears. After a one year battle, I had finally scored a victory over depression. Rollins, and wrestling, symbolized the start of that victory and hope for continued victory down the line.
Because the fight against mental illness is ongoing. It never stops. I know that one day, there may be another dark period in my life, and I will have to fight back. You cannot completely "cure" an illness such as depression. There are still some good days and some bad days, even now.
Now, however, I feel better armed. I know I can win. And that started with a thing as seemingly silly and meaningless as pro wrestling.
Are entertainers as important as health professionals, first responders, or soldiers?
No. I'm certainly not suggesting that. Those people actively save your physical life, and I certainly owe my share of debt to these people. (I cannot give all the credit to wrestlers. Therapists, doctors, and, most importantly, my family and friends, take the lion's share of the credit.)
However... what an entertainer, such as a wrestler, can provide is a REASON to live your life. They provide inspiration, motivation, pathos, and so much more. As I found, it was not much fun merely functioning without a reason to do so. (Why do I feel like I've just managed to quote Dead Poets Society? Hm.)
So, to anyone reading this: If you have ever had a hand in a wrestling show, large or small, as a wrestler, referee, announcer, commentator, ring crew member, tech guy, hell, even as someone who sold programs, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You gave me back the ability to live a happy, fulfilling life and I owe you a debt I can never repay. Know that you have played a part in saving at least one life, if not a lot more.
Mental illness is a very real problem, and one that is much maligned among the general populace.
Take the time this month to recognize the struggles those with mental illness suffer on a daily basis, and help them if you can. If you suffer from mental illness yourself, you're not alone, and you CAN fight back. There are resources out there, and one of them, surprisingly, may be the very website you are on, and the very topic you like to read about.
So, as a final thought, Seth, thank you for hitting Roman in the back with that chair.
Thank you for taking it.