Michael Phelps is smiling more nowadays, as a married father of two and the recipient of a record 28 Olympic medals that make the retired swimming champion the most successful Olympian of all time. But amid his successes came moments of sheer darkness.
In an interview on the Today show on Thursday, the 33-year-old recalls his mental health struggles. At his lowest point, in October 2014, soon after a DUI arrest that led to a rehab stint, Phelps was so depressed he did not leave his room for several days and even contemplated suicidal.
"I was so down on myself," he said. "I didn't have any self-love and quite honestly, I just didn't want to be alive. It was a really, really, really crazy time for me and I didn't want to see anybody, because for me, I saw myself as letting so many people down and me, myself in particular, and that's hard to carry. And I think over those three or four days, where I didn't want to leave my room, I didn't want to talk to anybody, I finally realized that I can ask for help and it's OK to not be OK and for me, that's what changed my life."
"I never asked for help, really, ever in my career, and that was the first time that I really did that," he said. "I was basically on my knees, just crying for help. I'm lucky to be able to sit down with a therapist and chat and talk and open up."
Phelps has discussed his struggles with anxiety and depression before. He made similar comments to Sports Illustrated in 2015, saying, "I was in a really dark place...not wanting to be alive anymore…I look back now...I lived in a bubble for a long time."
He said in previous interviews that he felt the same way after the 2012 London Olympics.
"I didn't want to be in the sport anymore...I didn't want to be alive anymore," Phelps said in January at the 2018 conference of the Kennedy Forum, a behavioral health advocacy group, according to CNN.
He also said on the Today show on Thursday, "I think looking back at my career, I think I was probably hiding a bunch, or compartmentalizing a bunch of the stuff that I was going through just because I think I was always taught that we weren't allowed or weren't supposed to show weakness, or something like that, ever because of being an athlete, you're supposed to be strong and be able to push through anything. I think my struggles carried on through my career and I hid them really well."
"But I think really going to the last Olympics, I was just ready to kinda open up and let everything come out," he said. "For me, this is something that is very important and there are so many people who struggle from very similar things that I go through and still go through. It's wild to think about but it is true, you can push through anything and for me, at times, it probably was a little scary and challenging to go through, but I found a way to get through it and I'm now addressing these issues that I have, and I'm openly talking about them."
And his battles aren't over.
"I mean, I'm still struggling weekly or from time to time or have bad days where I do go into a depression state," Phelps said.
The athlete retired from swimming after the 2016 Rio Olympics. He now works as a celebrity spokesperson for the online therapy company Talkspace and enjoys more time with wife Nicole Phelps and their sons Boomer, 2, and Beckett, 8 months.
Phelps said on the Today show that he does missing swimming professionally "at times" but "could not see myself getting back in."
"I could, but why?" he said. "I don't want to."