Reading up on depression
OK, I’m not the type who actively seeks and reads articles about depression and mental health. Yes, I am depressed. The topic interests me because of that. So, of course, I pause when headlines about it cross my path, whether it’s in the daily paper or my RSS feed.
Anyway, I’ve been absolutely fascinated by recent revelations from MLB players opening up, not only about their depression, but how they’ve responded to it.
It started yesterday when my local paper’s sports section led with a report on Andrelton Simmons’ decision to opt out of the final week of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season to deal with his depression.1 There was no explanation for his decision at the time, and players were allowed to opt out at any point in the season because of COVID concerns. But Simmons recently opened up about it and that made headlines.
What I’m taking away from Simmons’ story is that the past year of lockdowns, civil unrest, and unruly politics has indeed made it hard on everyone, especially those who are already deep in depression. I’ve felt the same pinch — and continue to feel it — but have questioned whether it’s really the culmination of all these things or… just me. It’s good to know it’s not just me. These feelings are real and they manifest themselves in all sort of ways. For Simmons, suicide was on the table. That’s pretty darn real, and I’m proud of him for recognizing it and fighting for his life.
The next story hit me minutes after reading the Simmons article. I walked over to my desk, flipped on email, and got a lead story about Drew Robison’s harrowing account of a failed suicide attempt in my Athletic Daily newsletter.2 Apparently, the article is based on a featured ESPN article about it and writes it from the perspective of the San Francisco Giants as an organization and how they responded to Drew in the aftermath of his attempt.
I don’t know what to say about Drew’s story. The whole thing saddens me to a point where I feel my heart sinking in my chest. My mind is stuck on what point depression sinks from thinking about suicide to acting on it. I have to imagine it’s a fine line between the two and that scares the bejeezus out of me.
But Drew’s story is also one about redemption, transformation, and how organizations are rising up to recognize mental health as personal health that deserves attention and preventative care as much as any other ailment. The Athletic’s article is peppered with amazing quotes from Giants Manager Gabe Kapler, but this one takes the cake:
I know this: one of the themes Drew has touched on is that he had a weight lifted off his shoulders. What if the one thing holding him back as an athlete and player was the heavy weight of what he was dealing with, and now that’s removed? Who knows? Nobody does. But I believe in powerful stories like Drew’s. I believe in the transformative nature of these stories.—Gabe Kapler
I’m also proud of the Giants — my life-long favorite team — because of what they’re doing to create an equitable environment and one that recognizes the role that personal development plays in on-field performance.
The Giants were already in the process of creating a mental health department beyond the sports psychologist or mental skills coach that many major-league clubs employ. Kapler had embraced alternative approaches while putting together a 16-person major-league coaching staff of unprecedented size and diversity. He planned to do the same in the mental health space. Maximizing on-field performance would be a goal, of course. But Kapler wanted to take it further. He was interested in mental health as a holistic concept. Personal development is player development.(Emphasis mine.)
If only every company, organization, government, person saw it that way…
One more. This morning, The Athletic sent me this article from their Texas Rangers beat writer, Levi Weaver. I mention this one because it’s sort of a response to Drew’s story and is part of this larger discussion. I also mention it because it introduced me to a new term I didn’t know: Anhedonia.
My crude five-minute study of anhedonia tells me it’s the name given for the depression symptom that prevents someone from experiencing pleasure. From Levi:
That’s the official word for what I wrestle with — the inability to feel pleasure. I think they gave it such a beautiful name because it steals all the beauty and joy and pleasure out of everything, packing it into a glass capsule you can’t break open. […] Give it a capital letter at the beginning, and now it has a name. The “nothing” I had been pretending didn’t exist now had two names: “Anhedonia, Depression.”—Levi Weaver
I’ve described this symptom to therapists and people close to me. But I never knew there was a name for it. I like having something I can point to. It makes the feeling more tangible, even if we can’t see it.
And speaking of visibility, Levi likens his depression to a black hole. I’ve heard that same thing many times over. But I love his description of it and how he deals with it:
When I’m at my worst, I’m not openly weeping in public or dramatically wearing sweatpants to work. In fact, it’s the exact opposite: I’m hiding. I’m disappearing. […] And when I’m visible — when we are visible — our light is still stronger than the black hole’s gravity. We can win, even on days that feel like a decisive loss.
Seems like a good note to end on.