Michael Phelps in The Watershed article on his mental health that inspired a new NFT series
It’s been seven years since Michael Phelps first publicly acknowledged the debilitating mental health issues he had been battling throughout his legendary swimming career. The news came out in a November 2015 Sports Illustrated Cover Story: The most decorated Olympian of all time struggled with anxiety and depression, and had contemplated suicide.
“I still don’t know why I let it all out right then and there,” Phelps says today. “For some reason, the time and place were perfect and it was like, ‘I’m ready, buckle up.’ Looking back, that’s the moment that probably saved my life: being able to let out those things that I’ve been compartmentalizing for decades.”
To commemorate that watershed occasion, Phelps and Y are coming together on a collection of digital covers that will be released on December 6 through the company Web3 One of. The collection is a nod to the original sports collectible trends of yesteryear, with action figures reinvented for Phelps’ ninth. Sports Illustrated cover. Phelps will donate all of his profits to the Foundation established in 2008.
“It was one of the most significant stories of my career,” he says. “Mental health is very important to me and this will help us with what we are trying to do to reduce the stigma around mental health and give people the help and care they need.”
The narrative of Phelps’ mental health journey and the ways he uses his influence to help others is ongoing. Her chapters continue to evolve through the work of the Michael Phelps Foundation, through its partnership with the online therapy company. conversation spacejust being Michael Phelps.
“Through everything I’ve been through, I saw a huge opportunity to make an impact on mental health. I have stared suicide basically in the face. I saw myself as a swimmer and not as a human being. I had a swim cap on and a pair of goggles and people saw me as a kid who wins a bunch of medals,” he says.
“And now I am on this side where I was able to find the help I needed to be able to look in the mirror and like what I see. I have feelings just like everyone else, and the struggles I have are just like what everyone else is going through. So my thing is, ‘How do we help?’ ”
Phelps’ own path to healing began at a residential treatment center, where he was first introduced to therapy.
“I will say that therapy has saved me and helped me process life on dry land a little easier. When I started seeing a therapist, I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this, it looks uncomfortable.’ Then I walked out of my first session and I was like, ‘Wow, that was amazing. The complete opposite of what I thought,’” she says.
“When I was in treatment we had basic emotions that were on the wall and every day we talked about them. Some days were harder than others, but being able to understand how you feel and communicate it is important to all of us.”
The Talkspace partnership was a perfect fit for Phelps, who was used to being on the road for long periods of time and understood the danger of postponing a session because it wasn’t convenient to show up for an appointment in person.
“For me, it’s covering up and being prepared in any situation,” he says. “If I’m traveling and having difficulties, I can make a phone call, have a Facetime, send a text to my therapist. It’s just having these tools ready at any opportunity. That’s what I did when I was swimming. I was ready. I want to be prepared if there’s ever a situation where I’m going to go around and shoot myself, so for me it was just perfect.”
Not surprisingly, he has also deeply tapped into the mind-body connection, and still exercises in various capacities six or seven days a week.
“If I’m really in a dark place, I need to go swimming. That’s the only place that’s quiet. I don’t have a lot of quiet time in my life and if I need that escape, that’s the place where I can go and shut my mind off because it’s so natural.”
Phelps also does his share of the journal. “I still write a lot, and I like to go back and look at it,” he says. “I’m pretty detailed about what’s going on. Whether I didn’t get enough sleep or didn’t drink enough water…throughout my career, I’ve gotten used to paying attention to every little detail, and I just want to give myself the best opportunity every day to be my best. Obviously some days are more difficult than others, but if I can get 5, 10 or 20 percent out of that day, then it’s a win.”
Through his foundation, whose flagship IM program is a multi-faceted life skills curriculum focused on water safety; physical, social and emotional health; and goal setting, partners with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (the program has reached more than 35,000 participants) and Special Olympics International.
“Whether it’s the kids getting over their fear of swimming and becoming more confident, and then their grades going up in school and everything starting to move forward, I love being able to hear the stories,” she says.
In fact, Phelps thrives on feedback. “If someone reaches out and becomes vulnerable and shares their story because I’ve shared my journey, that’s bigger to me than anything else,” he says.
“For a long time I felt like I was standing on top of that mountain screaming and no one was listening. And now we’re at a point where more people are putting their hands up in the air trying to get people to listen. We’re not closing these things down and holding onto them and hopefully that in turn will allow people to become themselves.”
Of course, there are comments and comments.
A few years ago, a man approached Phelps at an airport and asked what he had been wasting his time on. Phelps responded that he is focused on helping to destigmatize mental health. “He said, ‘So you’re telling me you talk about your mental health and you think that’s going to help people?’” Phelps recalls. “And then he says, ‘I think that’s almost a sign of weakness.’ And at that point I took off both headphones and said: ‘Dude…’”
After some more hindsight during which the man insisted that neither he nor anyone close to him was battling PTSD, anxiety or depression—”I listed 10 different things,” Phelps says—Phelps finally closed the door. conversation. It was a frustrating moment, but this is a man who knows how to channel frustration into opportunity.
“Honestly, I couldn’t believe it, but at the time I was like, ‘East that’s exactly why I’m doing what I’m doing,’” he says.
“I want our foundation’s mental health division to continue to evolve. Each person needs something different, so I want to be able to give all the options to try to save a life. Saving a life is much more important than winning a gold medal.”
Mind Reading (formerly Hollywood & Mind) is a recurring column that lives at the intersection of entertainment and wellness, featuring interviews with musicians, actors, and other cultural influencers who are elevating the conversation about mental health.