Professional wrestling saved my life.
Yes, that sounds very dramatic and hokey, but it's true. Though a fan of the business since I was five years old, it wasn't until recently that I realized just how important the squared circle is to me. It's an escape from daily stresses. It's something that, regardless of the product's strength at any point, gives me something to look forward to week in and week out.
And believe me when I say that were it not for professional wrestling, I might not be writing this story you're reading right now. Thus, seeing as how we're nearing the end of Mental Health Awareness Month, allow me to share my story with you devoted readers as to how the wild and wonderful world of professional wrestling brought me back from the brink.
A brief history
To understand my story, it is important to understand who I am behind the words I write. After a particularly awful breakup in 2005, when I was 19 years old and a sophomore at Skidmore College, I sunk into what can only be described as a deep and draining depression. That combined with a hectic class schedule that provided little time to relax saw me see a therapist, albeit very begrudgingly. I wasn't really interested in or aware that I needed to work on getting better, I just wanted to vent about my ex to someone who wasn't a friend.
Sure, Raw and SmackDown were something to look forward to each week, but I was feeling so low that I had a hard time getting excited about each show's weekly broadcast. I felt even lower upon learning of Eddie Guerrero's death in November of that year. Though I was still watching wrestling, I was nowhere near engaged in the product.
It wasn't until a particularly bad afternoon where I nearly jumped in a frozen pond on campus that I realized just how bad my mental situation was. I went to the next appointment with my therapist and, for the first time in two months of sessions, I was honest with him. I couldn't go anywhere on campus without feeling I was under everyone's microscope. All I wanted to do was sleep. Nothing excited me anymore. At the end of that one session, my therapist took his glasses off and said five words that still stay with me to this day.
"You have Social Anxiety Disorder."
For those unaware, Social Anxiety Disorder is the feeling of dreading talking or even reaching out to people out of fear you'll be viewed as a burden. It's going to a party and feeling that every person in the room is thinking "Ugh, why are THEY here?" or "What's their problem?"
Thankfully, I was prescribed Zoloft and within a few months; I was slowly feeling like myself again. I even started paying attention to wrestling the way I wanted to and engaged in conversation with friends about it. Instead of just reading about pay-per-views, I would watch them with friends. After WrestleMania 22, specifically the Hardcore Match between Edge and Mick Foley, I begged and pleaded friends to put me through a random folding table that was in a campus parking lot, but they wisely declined. Slowly but surely, I was coming back around.
All in all, coming to terms with my anxiety disorder was a big help, and rediscovering my love of wrestling certainly played a big part in its own right. However, as is the case with many mental health stories, this was just the beginning. What I didn't realize was that the worst had not yet come, and I was not prepared for it at all.
Deeper and darker
After graduating in 2008 and getting a big-boy job, watching wrestling on a weekly basis got tougher. Combine that with me not having a DVR at the time, and I resorted to reading blogs and newsletters for TV recaps and prioritizing pay-per-views accordingly. Moreover, in entering the dating world as a recent college grad, publicizing that I was in my twenties and still watched wrestling didn't exactly work to my advantage, so it was something I kept under wraps.
Thankfully, in 2011, I started dating a lovely young woman named Caitlin, who I am proud to say became my wife earlier this year. When she went to bed early one night and didn't wake up to me going nuts over CM Punk beating John Cena for the WWE Championship at Money in the Bank, I knew she was a keeper.
Fast forward to 2013, and what I thought was my fairy tale turned into a nightmare. I lost a sportswriting job I loved thanks to underhanded tactics by a supervisor, essentially being forced out and set up to fail. I was all set to go to WrestleMania 29 at Metlife Stadium, only I came down with the flu the day before and had to give my ticket away. This was beyond disappointment because despite having loved professional wrestling from a young age, this would have been my first time seeing it live.
There's no way to sugarcoat what happened next. I sunk into a horrible depression and had no idea how to get out. Instead of making a concerted effort to find new long-term work, I bounced around from freelance gig to freelance gig. What I thought was just a casual habit turned out to be a terrible gambling problem. I was staying up until four o'clock in the morning playing video games and not getting up until past noon on some days. Somehow, during all this, in May 2013, I asked Caitlin to marry me, and she said yes despite not having a clue as to how rough things were about to become.
The one constant in all of this besides Caitlin was that, as low as I was feeling, I was still reading up on Raw and SmackDown results. The only difference now was that rather than prioritizing pay-per-views, I had downgraded to individual matches, like Undertaker vs CM Punk at WrestleMania 29 or the continued development of The Shield. Even though I wasn't watching the product regularly, it piqued my interest just enough that I didn't walk away fully.
The Miracle Kid
The story now fast forwards to the spring of 2014. I was still in a relatively dark place, but I was focusing on the wrestling world just a bit more this time. Randy Orton, one of my favorites, was the champion and facing a challenge from an unlikely talent in Daniel Bryan. A friend of mine loved Bryan so much that he vowed to not shave his beard or cut his hair until he won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, and that made me even more interested.
To be fair, I had paid little attention to Daniel Bryan up until this point. I read about him cashing in his Money in the Bank contract on Big Show at TLC 2011, only to lose to Sheamus in a humiliating fashion at WrestleMania 28. I actually watched his WWE Championship match against Cena at SummerSlam and while I was impressed with his win, I called Orton's cash-in right after the pinfall.
But now Bryan had my full attention. He was working his bearded butt off to be the best, and I respected that. People kicked him when he was down, but he got back up and kept fighting. That said, when I read he was going to be facing Triple-H at WrestleMania 30 and would earn a spot in the main event against Batista and Orton if he won, I knew what I had to do. Come hell or high water, I was watching WrestleMania 30.
And what a WrestleMania it was. Brock Lesnar beat The Undertaker's streak. The first-ever Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal took place. Bryan not only overcame the odds to beat Triple H, but he also got Batista to tap out and was crowned champion. It was the happiest I had been since Punk had beat Cena, or maybe The Montreal Screwjob (I was and still am a Shawn Michaels fan. Sue me).
The rest of the story goes exactly how you'd expect it. At age 28, I started watching Raw and SmackDown every week again. On nights I couldn't be home, it wasn't a problem because now I had a DVR. I reconnected with an old friend from college who also loved wrestling and we started watching the pay-per-views together again. One of my fondest memories from this period of my life is cramming into a small apartment with a couple of friends and watching Bryan retain his title against Kane in an Extreme Rules match.
And even when Bryan was forced to vacate his title a month later due to his neck surgery, I still watched because Seth Rollins turning on The Shield and allying himself with Triple-H made things even more interesting. Even as WWE's overall product suffered, I kept tuning in week after week because I wanted to know what would happen next. Would Bryan return and put Rollins in his place? Would something else happen entirely?
The point is that even in my darkest of times, professional wrestling was my light at the end of the tunnel. Everything else in my life might have been terrible, but the fact that Monday Night Raw was fast approaching and SmackDown shortly after kept me going. It was something to look forward to with each passing week. Slowly but surely, I climbed out of the deep, dark hole I had been in for nearly two years and got back on my feet, and professional wrestling is a big reason why. Were it not for Daniel Bryan renewing my interest, I don't know what would have happened.
A new day
Today, I'm in a much better place. In early 2015, I got a job that got me back into sportswriting and landed another supplementary gig a few months later. It was also during this time I finally saw my first live wrestling show, a WWE house show at Madison Square Garden. Both jobs have since ended, but I kept my foot on the gas pedal and landed on my feet fairly quickly after the fact. Caitlin and I are married and have a beautiful home together. It's not perfect and there's always room for improvement, but I get up every morning with a fresh face knowing I'm lucky to be doing what I love for work. Save for playing casual poker with friends once in a blue moon, plus a trip to Atlantic City for my 30th birthday, I haven't gambled or bet on a game in four years.
And throughout all this time, I still watch wrestling every week. The only difference now is that instead of watching because my emotional well-being depends on it, I watch as if it's a weekly correspondence with an old friend. We've had some great times together and even though we've both grown and changed over the years, I still want to know what's going on in their life. Wow, Sami Zayn is up to his usual shenanigans again? Sounds typical. Seth Rollins is excelling as Intercontinental Champion? That's great! Brock Lesnar is holed up in his room blasting Metallica? That boy ain't right!
I'm a professional wrestling fan because I love it, always have. Love just evolves and changes with time, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better. It isn't always easy to navigate, but things have a way of working themselves out, such was the case with Daniel Bryan bringing me back into the fold. When he came out of retirement earlier this year and opened up about how being away from the squared circle affected him mentally, driving him into a depression at one point, I knew I had to tell my story, so allow me to leave you with some parting words.
It's okay to not be okay. Everyone goes through these periods in life, though some may be stronger than others in navigating them. Even as the walls close in and the darkness takes over, remember you are not alone and there are people in this world who love you and would be devastated if you left us. If you need help, please don't be ashamed to ask for it. If you just need a hug, there are people who will gladly provide one, or two, or a thousand.
People are there for you and, in my case, those people just happened to be the WWE Universe.
Do you have a story of how wrestling has helped you? Let us know in the comments below!