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How I Manage The Darkness Of Depression As A Pro Athlete

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ANDREW JENSEN
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In my previous blog, I wrote about depression.

Depression that I openly live with and openly talk about.

Depression that I'm proud of.

Depression that doesn't own me or name me.

I laid out how I see things, and how I choose to encourage others to talk. I'm glad that I paid attention during English class when we learned about the power of a good analogy!

It's one thing for me to paint a picture of my story and use it as inspiration or encouragement to people, but I would be remiss if I didn't follow it up with some further insights into my story and how exactly I got to this place of confidence in being the "depressed professional golfer."

It wasn't easy.

It still isn't easy.

In fact, in September, when my first blog was published, I was in the middle of one of my darkest and lowest times. A dark time that has lasted upwards of two months now. A dark time that I hope is coming to its end.

So how do I deal with these times?

How do I manage this wonderful thing called depression...

Humbly and meticulously.

The key to my mental health isn't just one thing. It's a combination of many factors all playing an important part in keeping me healthy. Contrary to popular belief, strong mental health isn't just "toughening up," "smiling more," or "staying positive." Let's give the brain a little more credit; it's a far more complex machine...

I manage my health, physical and mental, the way I manage my golf game. The key to great golf isn't just one thing. It's not just a great swing, a strong mind, a fit body, or a strong putter. It's all of these things and more.

The key to my mental health isn't just one thing. It's a combination of many factors all playing an important part in keeping me healthy. Contrary to popular belief, strong mental health isn't just "toughening up," "smiling more," or "staying positive." Let's give the brain a little more credit; it's a far more complex machine than something to solely run on cliché and ignorance.

Imagine a bike wheel. Now imagine the many spokes to that wheel, spokes that keep that wheel rolling on the line. That is the key to my health... the spokes of the wheel.

There isn't too much emphasis on one spoke over another, and if one spoke is a little bent or shaky, the other spokes are there to pick up the slack and keep things rolling smoothly. The spokes to my wheel are as such: medication, mindfulness, therapy, diet, sleep, physical fitness, vulnerability, and above all community.

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When things aren't going well, I can take stock of the last few weeks and see just what areas have been lacking. This is the same way I manage my golf game.

When I've been playing poorly, I can look at the statistics and be honest with myself about what areas need practice. Maybe it's the driver, maybe it's the sand play, maybe it's the rest (or lack thereof), maybe it's the preparation, or maybe it's just the self imposed pressure to perform. I could go on and on, but I think you catch my drift.

The spokes to my wheel are as such: medication, mindfulness, therapy, diet, sleep, physical fitness, vulnerability, and above all community.

So let's look at the last few months off the golf course. Months that have been hard... really hard. Let's take a look at all the factors I lean on to stay healthy, and see if there's anything we can learn (I've already done this, and that's why I'm able to write about it). Here we go:

- I changed medication in June.
- I took on way too many commitments and burnt myself right out.
- I neglected my mindfulness practice for the entire summer.

These are the three easiest things to pick out. Sure, there's some more complex and detailed issues I've been dealing with, but for brevity's sake, let's stop at three. Pinpointing these factors has motivated me to get back to a mindfulness routine, slow down my commitments and enjoy my rest, and above all be patient that the medication switch will fully settle in and be alright (which it has).

It takes time, just like my golf game, but I'm willing to put in the work on and off the course.

Being able to look back and honestly evaluate things has helped me so much in the last five years.

Being able to look at things more rationally and systematically is my key. I wouldn't have that luxury if it weren't for my support community of family and close friends. I can have these raw conversations with them and they help me realize that the sky isn't falling, that things will get better, and that my story is far from over. So as things have been "falling apart" around me, I've been strengthened and encouraged by the people I have in my corner.

Knowing that there are people that will face the struggle with me is why I get up and get moving. I have to make the first step; no one can do it for me.

All that being said, I wouldn't have known they were in my corner if I didn't make the first move by opening up five years ago. So as much as it's about systematically managing my health through many avenues and resources, it all starts with talking. We can't escape that truth. We can't medicate, meditate, sleep, diet, or workout ourselves away from the importance of opening up to a trusted ear and leaning on the power of community.

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Speaking at We Day Toronto with Gwyneth Richardson. (Photo: We Day)

My mental health is just as much mine as it is my mom and dad's, my roommate's, my sister's, or my best friend's. We are all in this together and we are all standing in each other's corner ready to pick ourselves up should we fall.

So yes, it takes work.

It's not always easy.

It sometimes feels better to stay in bed all day then face the struggle.

Knowing that there are people that will face the struggle with me is why I get up and get moving. I have to make the first step; no one can do it for me. It may take some poking and prodding but I do it nonetheless, and I get out of bed. It only takes one step.

But once I (we) do, there are countless ways to face the struggle and come out the other side.

Being able to appreciate that the struggle didn't beat us.

That our story is still going.

Frame Of Mind is a new series inspired by The Maddie Project that focuses on teens and mental health. The series will aim to raise awareness and spark a conversation by speaking directly to teens who are going through a tough time, as well as their families, teachers and community leaders. We want to ensure that teens who are struggling with mental illness get the help, support and compassion they need. If you would like to contribute a blog to this series, please email cablogteam@huffingtonpost.com

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