My Setback… My Comeback

A person lifting weights

By Jeremy Golden

All I remember seeing is red. I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror.

We all have hinge moments in life. This was my hinge moment. My moment when I knew that anxiety and depression had taken its hold on me. The moment that everything I thought I knew about myself and the depression I had been dealing with for over 7 years became foreign. At this moment, I didn’t know who I was or where I was going. This was my crossroads moment.

I never understood what unhappiness or depression meant. They were words I threw out when I was having a bad day, or when I lost someone I loved, or even when one of my teams would lose. In other words, they were just words. Then, in 2014, my world came crashing down.

Already struggling personally and at a crossroads professionally, I reluctantly agreed to meet with a therapist, a notion that was preposterous to me at the time. I told my friend, “I’ll do it for you, but I promise it won’t work.” However, I agreed to go to 2 or 3 sessions. A few days later, I received a call that nobody ever wants to mother had been diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer that had spread to the bone and the brain. Wait...What? This is not real. This is not supposed to be happening, not to her, not now, not ever. I went back to therapy, and this time, I cried. I have never been comfortable crying or showing vulnerability in front of people I don’t know. cry in front of a perfect stranger, basically, someone I had spent an hour with my entire life, says something about that person.

That day, for the first time in my life, I decided to take a step and admit to myself what my therapist, as well as many others around me had been saying...that I suffer from depression. This was a battle I kept to myself and my therapist because it was one I wanted to face alone. I was tough enough to deal with this. Really, how hard could it be? It wasn’t long after posing that question to myself that I soon learned reality and my perception of reality were two entirely different things.

In 2015, I transitioned to a new job in a place I had never been. Everything was foreign to me. I left a town that I called home and people whom I considered my family behind. It was new. It was uncomfortable. And it hurt. They say you are supposed to do one thing that is uncomfortable every day, but this just seemed too much. 2.5 months after I left “home”, my mother passed away after a courageous, but brutal, 2-year fight. That left me without a parent in this world. My dad, who passed away in 2007, was the first of what had been 13 years of seeing many of my closest family members pass away.

When I returned to work after my mother’s passing, I felt lost and alone. I had an entire team counting on me to be a strong influence for them, but how can I be strong for an entire group when I can barely hold myself together? And there really is no answer to that question. For me, I did what I felt I had to do. I woke up, got out of bed, and went to work. Was it hard? Most definitely, but I did what I was expected to do. And not just what others expected of me, but what I expected of myself. See, the world of Strength and Conditioning can be very cruel and unforgiving to the people that are involved. It truly is one of the most rewarding professions, however, it can take away as much as it can give. Let me expand on this point.

Strength is a multi-dimensional word that carries many meanings. The definition that stands out most is where strength is defined as “the capacity of an object or substance to withstand great force or pressure.” Not many people discuss strength as being able to show weakness. And for many years, I have hidden what I have believed to be my “weakness” in fear of portraying weakness to the people I work for and the athletes I coach. I am expected to be strong. I am a Strength and Conditioning Coach, and we are the “strong” ones. But nobody teaches you how to be strong mentally. How to make what is considered a weakness a strength. That is just a given. So, during my struggle, I decided to use my strength to withstand the force and pressure of carrying this burden in silence. But the time has come to let go and discuss my battle, which has taken more strength than I ever thought I had.

Why am I scared to talk about this? Many reasons come to mind, but the main reason would be showing vulnerability and having the people around me look at me differently because I suffer from depression. But the truth is, I can’t hold it in anymore. I spoke to a colleague about this and when I mentioned my reluctance to go public was because of a fear of being judged and my concern of how people would look at a coach, the person who is supposed to be the strong one coming out and talking about this, her response was quick, simple and to the point. “Finally” she told me. “Finally” a coach coming out and talking about their mental health struggles.

We are living in a time of constant change, almost living day to day. The world of elite athletics is a world where we’re always preparing. Whether it be for a game or a practice or a training session, preparation is a word we always use. I’m still preparing, but for an unknown future. I know I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed at times where we lived through a global pandemic, one where coaching in it only heightened anxiety levels. But, like I said earlier, the first step is as simple as getting out of bed.

I’ve often asked this question to myself...can you be strong and weak at the same time? Absolutely. Is it ok to show vulnerability, even to the athletes you’re training? Once again, absolutely. My best friend, a person I trust and care for more deeply than anyone else in this world, told me that from vulnerability comes strength. A person can be as strong as they need to and must be at any given time. What I’ve learned over the years is that there are no limits to how strong a person can be, especially when there are no other options. I’ve thought about crawling in a hole and hiding from the world. I’ve had thoughts about isolating myself from everyone and crawling into a hole.

But, at the end of the day, I only have one option. And that option is to continue pushing through. However, you must be honest with yourself and admit you are dealing with something that doesn’t discriminate and doesn’t have a clear-cut solution. You must make time to take care of yourself. And you must be willing to put yourself first and take the proper steps to really take care of yourself. Most importantly, you must be willing to say “when” and walk away if it’s damaging you and the people around you.

I suffer from depression. I’ve been told by many people I should be on medication. After a discussion with my doctor and therapist, they gave me the choice as to whether I needed medication, understanding that having that choice helps me in my battle. Depression casts a lot of self-doubt and uncertainty. That is the battle that faces me daily. So, making the choice to take or not take medication, regardless of what others said or thought, helps me in my battle. It gives me a little sense of control where I would otherwise have none. Depression is a roller coaster and the horrible thing about it is you can go to bed feeling great and wake up feeling awful. That’s what it is for me. That’s the reality I face, never knowing how I’m going to feel when I wake up. Some days are better than others. But, no matter how I feel when I wake up, I make the choice to get up and move. Life is about choices and we have to make the choices that are best for us and the people around us. The key for me is to find something as soon as I start feeling this way that will make me smile and help remind me what my why is and what my purpose is for getting out of bed that day...and every day.

I stand at a crossroads. The answers don’t come easy. My instincts say “take action”, but not knowing what exactly those actions are make that a difficult task. The silence can be deafening and the sun, even on the brightest of days, can be darker than the night sky. Hopelessness is the only thought. The desire to isolate myself from everyone around me, too not accept the love that people have to offer, is as strong as ever. It is at these moments that I must stop. I must look deep within myself and understand that “It’s ok to not be ok.” As much as I don’t want to believe it, as much as I don’t want to call someone and say I’m not ok, I must rely on the trust I have in the people closest to me to admit that I need help and accept the support of those people.

The reality of depression is it’s a personal hell. It’s not debilitating every day. Some days, some weeks, even some months, it sits stagnant. But it never goes away. When you continue to incorporate healthy lifestyle choices and proper self- care habits, but the pain of depression is still there, the question becomes what do you do next? And as is the case with depression, the answer is there is no answer.

I have seen the best of people and the worst of people through this battle. I am considered to be a person who is happy and positive all the time, and that is not false. But depression isn’t about happiness and it’s certainly not about positivity. This is something that I battle every day, and I wish I could tell you that I’m winning the battle. But I don’t think it’s about winning or losing. It’s about showing up. Depression to me is all about the response...responding to how I feel and meeting myself halfway. It’s important to me that people know depression has many different faces. I fight a horrific battle every day. Some days are better than others and some days I just want to crawl in a hole. But I’m fighting the good fight. Every day I choose to fight and use what I’ve gone through to be a source of positivity for anyone dealing with this. My strength has come from my struggle and I’m ready to finally share that struggle with the world. Because I want to be able to help others. Help others to deal with what I and so many others have dealt with. It’s time to stand up and talk about it. It’s time to end the stigma.

This is my story. It’s by no way unique. Many people are dealing with this, some in public, some in silence. But this story is unique. It’s unique to me. Everyone’s struggle is unique to them and has its own backstory. My story is a roller coaster with an ending and it’s one that is only just starting to be written.

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