The Buddha Mind And Fighting The Existential Anxiety
The Story Of An Olympian
Hello there. I hope you are having a wonderful weekend. In this week’s blog post, I wanted to share the story of the struggles and successes of an Olympian and the lessons we could learn from his life.
An Olympian’s Struggles
Born June 30, 1985, Michael Fred Phelps II is perhaps one of the greatest swimmers, if not the greatest all-time Olympians that the world has ever seen. To put this in perspective, he holds the records for Olympic gold medals, Olympic gold medals in individual events, and Olympic medals in individual events. Yet, it is well documented that he suffered from acute depression and suicidal tendencies throughout different parts of his career. It was right after the summer of 2008 that Phelps had contemplated retirement. He started missing practice sessions, put on more than twenty-five pounds, and many thought he was not taking his training as seriously. In an interview with Details magazine in August 2012, he admitted, “At that point, I didn’t have anything. It was weird going from the highest of the high, the biggest point of your life—winning eight gold medals—and then saying, ‘All right, where do I go from here?’ I wasn’t motivated. I did nothing, literally nothing, for a long time.”
Michael Phelps had seen it all. Having been born in a family of swimmers, Phelps had joined the prestigious North Baltimore Aquatic Club at the age of seven. At the 2001 U.S. spring nationals, he became, at age 15, the youngest world-record holder in men’s swimming when he posted 1 min 54.92 sec in the 200-meter butterfly. At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Phelps captured six gold and two bronze medals while setting five Olympic or world records. Phelps entered the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing to break Spitz’s record of seven gold medals at one Olympics. He took the gold in each of his first three events, and each victory took place in world record time. On August 13, he won golds to capture his 10th and 11th career gold medals, a new Olympic record. After achieving such a tremendous amount of success, Phelps hit a glass ceiling and wasn’t sure what he could do next. He started to feel somewhat lost in the journey of his life. This is the typical trough of despair that hits those who succeed once and are now on their way down. It would mean the end of a long, successful journey for some, while others may burn in the troubles of finding meaning in the abyss.
In some sense, this was order breaking into chaos, the devil sneaking up onto the angel and getting the better of it. Phelps found himself in the middle of controversies when photos emerged of the athlete smoking marijuana several months after returning from Beijing. USA Swimming, the governing body of swimming in the United States Of America, suspended Phelps from competitive swimming. Many people suspected that many of his sponsors would take away their sponsorship. While Kellog’s did cancel their sponsorship, most of the others remained by him. Phelps recovered from his mistakes and bounced back to win three silver and four gold medals in the 2012 London Olympics. In a July 2012 interview with the Associated Press, he contemplated, “It’s been a part of my life for so long, so walking away will be weird, but it’s something that I’m ready for. Eventually, it will hit me, and it will strike me that it is all over. Who knows what will happen then? I’ll take it all in steps and deal with it along the way.” After the London Olympics, he did announce his retirement, but keeping him away from the game would be complicated. Perhaps the vacuum of being away from the games led him to more misery. Phelps was pulled over in September 2014 after being clocked doing 84mph in a 45mph zone in Baltimore. He failed two sobriety tests and was charged with DUI, excessive speed, and crossing double lane lines. Phelps pleaded guilty to the charges and was given a one-year suspended sentence and 18 months of supervised probation.
Admittedly, he recalls himself going into an extreme depression to the point of contemplating suicide. He felt that he had lost his self-esteem and had no self-worth. He stopped eating, didn’t sleep, and didn’t want even to leave his room for some time. Just as life was about to lose the battle and death was close to winning in Micael’s story, Ray Lewis, former Ravens Linebacker, an old friend of his from Baltimore, intervened. He spent 45 days at The Meadows, a behavioral rehabilitation facility just outside Phoenix, where he was treated for anxiety and depression. Michael bounced back from the depression struggles, and at the 2016 games, he won five more gold medals. Today he is an advocate for mental health and is now on the board of Talkspace, an online therapy company, and is considered one of the greatest athletes of all time.
Lessons From Michael Phelps’ Struggles
Lesson #1: Champions suffer too. Everyone does.
Lesson #2: Loss of purpose in life brings chaos and destroys order.
Lesson #3: The brightest light follows extreme darkness.
“You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get.”— Michael Phelps.
Have a wonderful week ahead!