‘The only thing I saw was a swimmer’: Michael Phelps on identity and sanity

‘The only thing I saw was a swimmer’: Michael Phelps on identity and sanity

Michael Phelps has long been an advocate for the mental health of athletes and athletes sharing their emotional and psychological struggles.

In an interview with the WHOOP podcast, the most decorated Olympian in history added to this set of conversations. Phelps spoke for nearly an hour on a variety of topics on the podcast run by the wearable fitness and wellness company.

Among the topics he discussed was what part of his identity he derived from being a swimmer, to the exclusion of everything else. It took into account how and when he asked for help when he faced adversity, both personal and very public.

“Throughout my career, I’ve had a lot of calls for help and I didn’t really know what to say or how to do it,” Phelps said. “And at that moment [the DUI], I took the spiral staircase and the express elevator straight ahead. I got to the point where I didn’t want to live anymore. But I got to the point where I also learned to ask for help. All of these times that I have been through – whether good, bad or ugly – have all been learning experiences for me. …

“Before, I hated who I saw in the mirror. The only thing I saw was a swimmer. I never saw myself as a human being. Now being able to see myself as a human being – it’s a completely different outlook on life, and I love myself. I like who I am.

Phelps is happy to see how the speech has progressed since he retired, for the second time, in 2016 after his fifth Olympics. He cited how star athletes love Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka agreed to talk about the steps they need to take to maintain their mental well-being.

“When Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka spoke publicly about their mental health struggles, I was so inspired,” Phelps said. “It really brought me joy because for anyone to open up and talk about struggles like this, it’s so liberating. For so many years, we’ve all wanted to shove it all under the rug. Now, the band-aid came off the mat, didn’t it? People are ready to talk about it, make change and help others. I loved it when Naomi opened up because she did in such a powerful way. On her terms, in her words, on her platform. To be able to do it on a public stage, she showed vulnerability, and that’s a scary thing for a lot of people. i saw simone at the olympics go through what she went through it’s so crazy to see because it shows you that mental health can get worse at any time it doesn’t matter if it’s the olympics or your anniversary.

The link to the full podcast with Michael Phelps is available here.

Elizabeth J. Harless