He’s a world-renowned swimmer, a father of two, and now, Michael Phelps is using his famous name to spread awareness about mental health and the importance of water conservation.
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Spending the majority of his life in a pool, the 33-year-old athlete has been partnering with Colgate on their Save Water #EveryDropCounts campaign, a cause he feels everyone should be a part of, and for good reason.
“Water is a part of my life and it has been a part of my life for so long,” he shares with LIVESTRONG.COM. “Did you know that when you’re brushing your teeth and you leave the water running, you could be wasting up to 64 glasses of water? That number alone is something that should automatically be able to get people onboard.”
In the interview, Phelps also opened up about his ongoing struggles with depression, and shared tips on how he manages his mental health while raising two boys under the age of 2 with wife, Nicole Johnson.
On Choosing to Open up About His Depression
One way that Phelps deals with his depression? He talks about it. The swimmer credits communicating with others as a way to keep him honest about his emotions. “Depression is something that is a part of me,” he tells LIVESTRONG.COM. “I think it’s so important to be open and to talk about the struggles that we have. I’ve struggled for years and now, communication is something that is so crucial when I’m going through a depression spell.”
Earlier this year, Phelps opened up for the very first time about his mental health in a shocking interview with Sports Illustrated. In the piece, the swimmer revealed that he contemplated committing suicide after the 2012 games in London. “I didn't want to be in the sport anymore," he told the magazine. "I didn't want to be alive."
But since that devastating moment, Phelps has been increasingly aware of his mental state, making sure to be as open about it as possible. “I don’t know why I chose to open up when I did, but for whatever reason, I felt like that was the appropriate time to unload and say whatever I wanted to say,” he continues to LIVESTRONG.COM.
“And really, not only did that moment of vulnerability change my life, but it saved my life. For a long time it was a struggle for me to look at myself in the mirror because I didn’t like who I saw. I saw myself as a swimmer and that was it. I didn’t like who I was as a human being, so I had to learn to love myself. It wasn’t until I turned 30 that I started to truly like myself again.”
He adds, “Being able to open up and just talk about my struggles to show people that I am human and that I do struggle from the same things that other people struggle from was so empowering. I’m not superman, I’m not untouchable — I’m a human being and I have weaknesses and I have things that I need to improve on and things that I need to grow from. It was just important for me to talk about it.”
On Dealing with Social Media in the Public Eye
Being in the spotlight has it’s fair share of drawbacks, including the fact that everyone has an opinion on social media. But Phelps realizes that it’s not just celebrities who deal with trolls and negativity on apps like Instagram.
"I think social media is a great tool to be able to stand up and talk about things that you think are important, but it’s sad to see what social media can do to people because it really can cause added depression and anxiety,” he shares. “But at the end of the day, who are these people? They’re taking time out of their day to bring you down, and the more you ignore it, the more you’ll drive them up the wall.”
He continues while on the topic, “I have people who comment on photos all the time and they are so ridiculous and so frustrating. But the truth is that I’ve learned so much during my career and I understand that there are always going to be people out there that want to see you fail, that want to try and knock you off, that want to get under your skin. My wife and I, it’s something that we chat about all the time. We are who we are, and as long as you don’t take the comments on social media personally, the negativity and hurtful messages can’t break you.”
On Having a Strong Support System
While it’s important to not let other’s opinions get in the way of your own happiness, it’s just as crucial to have a strong support system near you for when you need it most, according to Phelps. “Even though I’ve had depression once or twice, it doesn’t mean it’s over,” he says of his mental health. “It’s going to rise again whenever it wants. For me, I understand what makes me tick, so I just have to be more prepared and have my tools sharpened.”
So what are those tools exactly? His family and educated specialists, for starters. “My wife is amazing,” Phelps says. “Whenever I’m going through a depression spell, my wife is my glue, she’s my rock, she holds me together and I’m very lucky to have somebody who I can trust and talk to about anything. There are times, though, where I don’t want to go to my wife and talk about things, so for me, it’s also so important to make sure that I have a therapist who I can call or go see when I need to. These are tools that I sometimes don’t want to use or that I sometimes don’t want to do, but I know the importance of learning and getting better and that these things are going to help me.”
He adds, “I’m a little kid from Baltimore that had a dream of wanting to win a medal — I’ve been to five Olympics and won 28 medals. I still don’t know when I’ll be able to fathom that,” Phelps continued. “I’ve had a very successful career, but I still struggle today with anxiety and depression. And you know what? That makes me who I am.”