Thanks to Mason Briles for contributing this story to our Project: Speak series on athletes’ experiences with mental health in their coming out stories.
Trigger Warning: Suicide, Depression
Ever since coming out I have been a lot more open about everything in my life, including my mental health issues. I believe it is important to see that we all have issues. I grew up in a household where things were not always discussed, but it was always made clear that if we ever needed help or support, it would be given to us. In that regard, I suppose my sister and I were very lucky.
Being closeted always hurt to an extent and I was always somewhat depressed – especially in high school. However, the real tipping point was my sophomore year of college; that is when it really, really hit me hard. I was thrown into a more debilitating depression than ever before. I saw places so dark that I would not wish those thoughts or feelings on my worst enemy. I can remember a specific day in February 2014; I was driving back to Auburn, Alabama (where I go to school) from Atlanta, Georgia. As I crossed the Chattahoochee River, I had the deepest urge to pull a hard right and fly right off the bridge. I am not ashamed to say that what saved my life was thinking about the look on my mom’s face when she found out. I could not bare the thought. I got across the river, pulled over, and just cried. I cried and I cried. That moment was my rock bottom.
It was in April, less than two months after that day that I came out to my mom. You may think that from that moment on I was fine and I came out to the world and I felt perfect, but that is nowhere close to the truth. I struggled mightily that entire summer. There were vast strings of bad days with an ok day sprinkled in now and again for good measure. I was slowly coming out to people, but the momentary “high” from coming out would dissipate in short order and I would be depressed again.
I started back at school and was doing a little better. At first, the schoolwork kept me occupied and I ignored my feelings. But by the third week of school, I was having trouble concentrating and I was wrestling with depression once again. I was also sick and tired of nobody knowing the real me. I knew I had to make a change. On September 16th, I decided to come out to my fraternity. As I was approaching the time I wanted to come out, I made a decision. I decided to also come out to the rest of the world via Twitter and then an amazing article Cyd Zeigler wrote for Outsports.
For the moment, I was on top of the world. Nothing could bring me down, or so I thought. A few weeks after coming out, I was still struggling internally, and it showed. I would keep myself locked in my room, I was failing my health ethics class, and I was plunging again, down towards rock bottom. In this light, it seems that I characterize coming out as a mistake, but let me assure everyone, that is not the case. Coming out has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life; all that was wrong was the timing. I did not wait for a time that was right for me, and emotionally I paid the price. When I came out, I knew I was ready to deal with any issues in the external world, but I never considered having to deal with internal ones as well. So now, after a two-week period of relief, I was beginning a new spiral downward, but I could not pinpoint the issue. Before, I could point at being in the closet, but now that I was out, I had new problems to face. All the mental issues that had been hidden behind being closeted came out as well and that period of depression lasted from October 2014 until April 2015.
During those terrible seven months, I made one gigantic change; a change that probably saved my life, I finally sought professional help. I began seeing a psychologist at student counseling services (I will add that at a lot of universities, this service is free). I was not by any means the easiest patient. At first, I refused to open up, but it helped so much just knowing I had the ability to get the help I needed and when I finally had the courage to open up, it changed my life. We delved into my past, my present, and it helped me to see my future. I am not saying that therapy was a fix all; it still took time and work to get better, but seeking professional help was the best place I could have started. During this time, I still hit some major low points and there were plenty of horrible days, but as time went on, there were fewer and fewer of them. The lows got shallower and the highs lasted longer. Instead of having these dramatic shifts in my mood on a dime, it got to a point where the norm was normal and the occasional bad day would come and go without lingering for weeks.
Fast-forward a few months to late July and I am still not feeling as well as I thought I should, but I think I know how to fix it. So I talk to my parents and we agree I can stop taking the ADHD medication I have been on since I was in second grade. Almost overnight, those last few issues I still had with my emotions dissipated. While it did take me a few weeks to become adjusted to life without the medication, I felt so much better being off of it.
So today I sit here in an Auburn Starbucks, drinking my pumpkin spice latte while I type my life story just to explain to you, the reader, just how much better it gets. I implore everyone to never give up on being happy and to never give up on life. It is so difficult to go through life not wanting to wake up the next day, so just take baby steps in the right direction and try to find the beauty in what you see everyday. Nothing changes overnight, but down the road, you will be able to look back and see just how far you have managed to come.
Mason Briles is a sabre fencer from the suburbs of Atlanta, GA and fences for Fencing Star Academy. He is currently a senior at Auburn University where he is working towards concurrent degrees in Exercise Science (B.S) and Fitness, Conditioning, and Performance (B.S.). Mason hopes to attend graduate school and pursue a career as an athletic trainer. Mason also works as an assistant fencing coach at Brookwood High School in Snellville, GA. You can reach Mason via Twitter (@masonbriles), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/mason.briles) or email (email@example.com).
Project: Speak is a story-sharing series to promote conversation surrounding mental health, addiction and suicide in LGBTQ* athletes. If you are an athlete interested in sharing your story, contact us as firstname.lastname@example.org.