As I look back on my life, I remember that younger me experienced a roller coaster of emotions — I was either on top of the world or feeling like the world was ending. Growing up as a boy actively involved in sports from a young age, I never witnessed discussions about mental well-being or managing emotions.
My focus was on trying to keep up with my older brother and my friends in sports, but somehow, I always felt like I was a little bit behind or “less than” as a person. As I progressed into professional baseball, those feelings stuck with me. Even during my most successful times, it was still hard for me to feel worthy; I felt like I was constantly letting myself, or others, down.
The emotional pain and depression became unbearable, and in April 2020, I attempted to take my own life. Waking up in the hospital, one of my first thoughts was, “I survived for a reason. My mission is to help other people, so they never have to get to this point.”
Since then, I’ve learned so much about myself, about mental health and about treatments I didn’t even know were available, like transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). I don’t claim to be an expert, but if my experience can help even one person, I want to share it.
Strength Is More Than Physical
While I grew up prioritizing physical strength and athleticism, I have since learned that there is strength in vulnerability. The courage to ask for help and take control of your struggles is a whole different kind of strength. Understanding this has allowed me to find a level of confidence I was always missing. At first, I was afraid people would see me only as someone with mental illness. That’s all they would expect me to talk about.
Somehow, I believed I would lose myself, and mental illness would become my identity. Now, I realize that labels are not important. People still appreciate me for me, and my illness doesn’t define me. It took strength — emotional strength — to work past that fear.
Mental Health Can Be Preventative
Perhaps most importantly, I have learned that getting help early is critical. Don’t wait until you’re in crisis. I wasn’t suicidal until I was, and by then, I couldn’t think clearly or logically anymore. Focusing on your mental health as an empowering, preventative practice instead of as a reactive, crisis response can help you learn about techniques and treatment options to manage your health. Having self-care routines and coping strategies in place would have helped me get through that difficult time before it became unbearable.
Now, I have what I call my “trifecta” in addition to my therapy work — which consists of regular exercise, meditation and journaling. In particularly difficult situations, I seek out TMS therapy. This noninvasive procedure, which uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain, has been proven to alleviate many symptoms of depression.
This is what happens to work for me. What’s important is finding what works best for you. We plan for other things in our life like, physical health and financial well-being — so why not be proactive about mental health?
There Is Always Help
Mental illness can be an isolating experience; often, you may feel like you’re the only one battling this kind of pain. But what I’ve learned on my mental health journey is that you’re never alone, no matter how much it may feel like you are. When you do seek help and voice your discomfort for the first time, you’ll find that there are people and tools ready to support you. These last two and a half years since my attempt to take my life, I’ve pushed myself to be open-minded and committed to getting the help I need. Ultimately, I found that people were incredibly supportive — my family, friends, teammates, doctors and therapists.
This encouragement and support allowed me to wholeheartedly pursue recovery. I was even excited to try medication. Although it ultimately wasn’t the right choice for me because of the side effects, I know it is a huge aid and a very important part of the process for many people. Fortunately, my doctor told me about TMS therapy, which was a lifesaving practice. This treatment option allowed me to find more stability and feel hopeful as I continued my mental health journey. I wish I had known about TMS sooner, so I didn’t have to go through as much trial and error with medications.
While the process of finding the right treatment plan can be frustrating, discovering what works best for you is lifesaving. Personally, I’ve found I do best with a combination of weekly therapy, daily self-care routines, deeper social connections and giving back by being a mental health advocate.
Embracing The Journey Can Help You Give Back
Mental health is something I’m always working on, and it will be a lifelong journey. As I’ve progressed in my recovery, I have come to understand that mental health conditions are treatable and manageable. There are resources available, and my responsibility is to commit to being healthy.
If I stick to my treatment plan and celebrate my progress, I have the opportunity to encourage others to get help too. Healing work is empowering, necessary at times and even cool. When I brag about going to therapy, I hope anyone who overhears will feel moved or more comfortable to start their own journey of becoming their best version of themselves. Connecting with people and encouraging them to open up about their feelings and experiences has become my mission. I know first-hand how transformative it can be to take that first step toward finding out that strength isn’t always physical.
Drew Robinson is a former Major League Baseball player and current mental health advocate. All Drew ever wanted to do was play baseball, but depression got in the way of his dreams. After attempting to take his life, Drew’s new purpose is to help others. Learn about Drew’s experience in the ESPN documentary, “Alive – The Drew Robinson Story.”