Michael Phelps On His Past Depression: “I Didn’t Want to Be Alive”

Michael Phelps On His Past Depression: “I Didn’t Want to Be Alive”

By Bryan Le 12/18/17

Today, the prolific Olympian is happy with his wife and his son and another baby on the way. But things haven’t always gone so swimmingly for Phelps.

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Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, during a press conference after having visited the Olympic village of the Complexo do Alemão community in the city of Rio de Janeiro.
Now that he's beaten depression, he wants to pay it forward.

Even one of the world’s most recognizable and accomplished athletes is not immune to depression, Michael Phelps revealed to Today. Phelps conquered the world of swimming by earning 28 Olympic medals—23 of them gold medals—but has only recently beaten his own depression, and only with the support of loved ones. 

In 2014, Phelps received his second DUI arrest after police pulled him over, noticeably drunk and driving 84 mph in a 45 mph zone. The arrest earned him a six-month suspension from USA Swimming. After this chain of events, Phelps locked himself in his bedroom for four days.

“I can tell you I've probably had at least half a dozen depression spells that I've gone through. And the one in 2014, I didn't want to be alive,” Phelps said. “But going through my all-time low, you know, kind of seeing where I was and then seeing what I have now, I'm so thankful for my family and friends around me who were able to help me and were able to communicate with me.”

Reflecting on his experiences, he realized he had been pushing down these negative thoughts and feelings rather than talking about them and working through them.

“After years, and years, and years of just shoving every negative, bad feeling down to the point where I mean, I just didn't even feel it anymore,” he recalled. “It was a long, long, long road and I just never wanted to deal with it. And for me, that sent me down a spiral staircase real quick and like I said, I found myself in a spot where I didn't want to be alive anymore.”

Now that he is better, he wants to pay it forward. He appears in Angst, a documentary about how anxiety affects youth, and created the Michael Phelps Foundation, which aims to help young people deal with mental health issues.

“You know, for me, I basically carried just about every negative emotion you can possibly carry along for 15, 20 years and I never talked about it. And I don't know why that one day I decided to just open up. But since that day it's just been so much easier to live and so much easier to enjoy life and it's something I'm very thankful for,” he shared.

He credits his family, especially his mom, for the support and communication he needed to bring him out from depression, and plans to raise his own children by the same playbook.

“I think for me I'll share every experience with my children. You know, I get the question from time to time now, 'If I could change anything in my life, would I?' And no. You know, yeah, some of them have been absolutely miserable and brutal and haven't been the funnest experiences to go through, but they've made me who I am today and they really have helped me grow as a person,” said Phelps.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter

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