Wrestling Mental Demons

Malibu landscape

When you see the men in football pads and eyeblack on your TV, you might be forgiven for thinking they’re some sort of super human. Truthfully, they may have won a genetic lottery, but that doesn’t preclude them from the same mental anguish we all experience. They must learn the lesson we all do – when life has beat you into a corner, fight your way out by taking good care of yourself.

Those athletes are human beings first, people in the unenviable position of having to hide their struggles for fear of appearing soft. When they find themselves in a weakened state, they must rely on support like the rest of us.

An elite pro athlete, we’ll call him “Flash,” recently reached out to me.

Bro, do you think I will find happiness in this life and do you think I deserve it?

This particular individual is a freaky athletic, whip your ass if you met in him an alley kind of dude. The level of introspection and expression is unique. Most men, when on the mat with a mental demon, don’t have the strength to reach out to a friend or loved one, and this shortcoming only multiplies their troubles. This guy will be okay. He’s found a place to drain instead of creating a toxic internal environment. Without that place, an implosion would be imminent.

This isn’t dissimilar to my philosophy on indulgences, even when you’re training or eating with purpose. It is my motivation for scheduling over the top decadence. You either plan to spill some liquid out of your vessel or there will eventually be a flood.

Flash continued:

I still think about what I did to “Grace” and wonder if I even deserve another good shot at love and success in my sport? Truthfully, this year in many ways has been a really sad one for me.

Okay, so some background is necessary. Some time ago, Flash was mired in a relationship lacking in communication. He didn’t plan for the rising water levels and found himself wringing out his clothes. He was unfaithful and dishonest.

Quite frankly, Flash is a young man. His desire to sleep with more than one woman is not shocking, or, at least, it shouldn’t be. His inability to articulate this to his belle at the time was the ultimate issue, not any acts in particular. Lest you think I’m going to turn this post into my philosophy on monogamy, I will not. I’ll save that one for later this week (kidding; it might take me two).

Flash sees his weakened state as stemming from his perceived failures with Grace and his chosen sport. Before I can begin to help him, I have to deal with that. I start by speaking his language.

“Yes. I think you’ll find happiness. Yes, I know you deserve it.”

This isn’t really about what Flash “deserves.” He needs someone to tell him, truthfully, that behaving like a normal (albeit immature) young man in his twenties doesn’t make him a bad person. He wasn’t truthful with a loved one. That makes him like every one of us. If you have not lied, you have not bled.

More importantly, Flash’s current mental struggle runs deeper. He is exhausted by travel and schedule. He’s stressed by his lack of career certainty. I know Flash’s habits. He grasps healthy concepts, but abuses himself for stretches of time. He smokes weed regularly. He goes out late and gets liquored up, losing sleep and becoming dehydrated. These decisions in a vacuum can be spontaneous indulgences during the best of times, but turn into coping mechanisms during our lowest points.

Flash compounds these issues by punishing himself for these actions. Ultimately, he feels shitty in body and mind, and he seeks to pin the toxicity on something external. In this case, it’s Grace, but it could be anything. Grace happened a long time ago. Is that really why you’re fucked up right now? Nope. I needed to move him forward.

Flash, it’s not such a bad thing that you still think about how you managed your relationship with Grace. It will serve as a reminder going forward of how you prefer not to behave. Yes, you deserve a shot at love and yes, you deserve to be athletically sublime again. I’m sorry this year has been sad for you. You sound like you’re struggling through a tough time, brother.

My willingness to play his game opened him up.

Yeah, man, this year has been a struggle. Obviously, with that comes the compounding of feeling lonely and missing Grace.

This begins to ring true. Flash isn’t missing Grace so much as experiencing the hardships of a current state of solitude. Our lack of contentment is almost always internal. I told him my philosophy in different words.

I would think it’s the idea of Grace you miss. I’ll remind you that you were restless when you were with her. I don’t believe your experience has anything to do with anything outside of you.

It’s unequivocally more difficult to navigate a maze in an exhausted and emotional state. All you see is walls. An outside perspective helped Flash to see his path from a bird’s eye view.

Yeah, I think you’re right. What do you think my best approach is to make positive movement?

There’s what I wanted to hear. Flash’s last word, movement, is the key. For me, the answer is always the same. Control what you can control, and take the first (and easiest) step.

I gave him a list of actions that most folks can accomplish without their full batteries:

  1. Choose healthy foods and eat lots of veggies.
  2. Stay hydrated
  3. Avoid supplements
  4. Avoid alcohol (this is specific advice for a weakened state)
  5. Keep reaching out to loved ones
  6. Get to sleep at a reasonable hour tonight
  7. Get a massage
  8. Write
  9. Devour content with positive vibration (think a documentary about perseverance)
  10. Find someone else to teach, coach or mentor
  11. Do volunteer work
  12. Eat at new restaurants
  13. Take a class
  14. Study a language

Action and productivity breed confidence. We are unable to flip a switch to make ourselves feel better instantly, but we can sure as hell stand up to grab a tall glass of water. We can seek out a struggling teammate or colleague and offer support.

It’s empowering to put one foot in front of the other. If nothing else, your steps move you out of your corner and into the center of the ring where you have a fighting chance.

Sending strength,


  • Ed H

    15) Don’t spend beyond your means and especially disconnect your need for material goods from your feeling of self worth….

    • Gabe Kapler

      Like it. Thanks, Ed.

  • http://gravatar.com/slappythefishman slappythefishman

    This is an awesome posting…it is a lesson in forgiveness…asking for forgiveness… allowing other to forgive us…and most importantly forgiving ourselves…what a lesson to share…Thanks KAP!

    • Gabe Kapler

      Solid as always, STF. Appreciate the wisdom.

  • Jan

    I love reading your posts. This one is extra good!

    • Gabe Kapler

      Thanks, Jan. Your support is meaningful.

  • Bonnie Sanders

    I was curious why you said to Avoid supplements? and what are you referring to when you say supplements? Thanks! Love reading your blog and your outlook on things.

  • MIchelle

    WORD to all of that. Well done. Once you learn and truly believe this “our lack of contentment is almost always internal” you will be much better off at finding solutions. Action is #1

    • Gabe Kapler

      Thank you, Michelle. Glad we finally agree on something (smile).


      • Michelle

        We agree on everything! There must be an imposter Michelle running around here :)

  • http://gravatar.com/billstraehl billstraehl

    Terrific advice Kap, you’re a good friend. No one is perfect, we all struggle. It doesn’t mean you’re failing, just that you are human. Go back to basics, don’t forget to breath. With relationships, step back a little, maybe get a different perspective. Listen to you favorite music, do something that makes you laugh. Take a moment to appreciate a sunset, a majestic tree, find your happy place.

    • Gabe Kapler

      Tell ’em, Bill.

  • http://www.Kelebekfusion.com kbeyazdancer

    This is such a wonderful and touching post. My heart is touched by “Flash” realizing that it was okay to reach out for help. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t done things in their twenties that they don’t regret and wish they could do over. Myself included. We all make mistakes but the biggest one we make is that we beat that crap out of ourselves and failing to realize that we are human. Struggling in some aspect is part of life.
    You’re a good friend and you gave him some good advice. Thank you for sharing!

  • Scott Snow

    Thanks for sharing, Kap. I needed this today. A good reminder that I’m on the right path and I’m creating the movement I (like your friend), need.

    Can’t say it enough, your blog kicks ass!

  • http://twitter.com/chrismclachlin Chris McLachlin (@chrismclachlin)

    Very timely post today Kap. Here is a quote from Michael Landsberg from TSN in Canada, who has been very public about his battle with depression: “The face of depression is whatever we want you to see.”

    It’s important to let friends and loved ones know that we are always there for them to talk to, whatever it may be.

    RIP Robin Williams.

    — Chris

  • TMR

    The true measure of a man is not how he carries himself when things are going well, to the contrary its what he does when he is down, and HOW he gets up.

  • L DUNNz-21

    Thanks KAP!! This Post is Like Detox for My Burning Soul…

  • Rebecca

    “Most men, when on the mat with a mental demon, don’t have the strength to reach out to a friend or loved one, and this shortcoming only multiplies their troubles.”
    Your advice and words of wisdom are so true and moving, Gabe, especially in light of the news about Robin Williams tonight.
    Thank you for your compassion and strength.

  • Jason Klapps

    Having a hard time getting rid of my BCAA’s supplement Kap. No judgement here though I know!!!! I love how this blog is reaching people and blowing up!!!!!

  • http://twitter.com/leeraines76 Lee Raines (@leeraines76)

    Needed to read this. I feel like I am “Flash”. Minus the whole freakish athlete thing. Thanks Kap.