Trigger Warning: This article contains discussions about suicide. If you are having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255(TALK) or the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. You are not alone. You are meant to be alive.
“I’m meant to be alive, Chad. I’m meant to be alive. I’m meant to be alive.”
These were the words Drew Robinson couldn’t stop repeating to his brother one day after he tried to end his life. A lot has happened since he declared those words in the hospital on April 17, 2020 and ESPN’s Jeff Passan did a tremendous job profiling him for a story a few months ago, so I won’t go into too much of the nitty-gritty details. But, there’s one thing you should know: 385 days since Robinson chose life, he returned to professional baseball.
Robinson, who was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 2010, made his big league debut in 2017. He played 95 games for the Rangers over two seasons, was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals and played just 5 games in 2019 before being released. He signed with the San Francisco Giants in the winter, prepared for the minor league season in the spring, then abruptly returned home to an empty house and dark thoughts when the pandemic ceased the sports world.
Just a little over a year since Robinson lost his right eye but not his life, he was starting in right field and batting eighth in a regular-season game for the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate, the Sacramento River Cats.
As I read the stories, watched the videos, and followed Robinson’s openness on social media, I can say one thing for certain: Drew Robinson’s vulnerability will save lives.
“I’m too screwed up for help. I’m too screwed up for help. I’m too screwed up for help.”
Those were the words my depression was screaming at me and I was screaming at my mom when a treatment center that was supposed to help me said that I needed a higher level of care than they could provide. A few days later, I was hospitalized. A lot has happened since I returned home on January 25, 2018, so I will spare you the details. But, there’s one thing you should know: you are never too screwed up for help. 621 days since I chose life, I ventured to my first playoff game and cried because I was watching baseball and I was alive.
While I grew up playing fastpitch softball for nearly a decade, I was obsessed with baseball. I was also severely depressed. The first time I ever heard of an athlete dealing with a mental illness of their own, I was in eighth grade doing a reading comprehension packet when I flipped the page and saw a story featuring Zack Greinke. I was buried so deep under depression and anxiety’s dark cloud but this silly school assignment stopped me in my tracks. It planted the seed that if a professional athlete could have success while managing their mental illness, maybe I could too. It might have just saved my life.
Two years to the day that I returned home, the mental health nonprofit I founded hosted our first annual fundraiser. The goal is to help support youth athletes who are dealing with mental health challenges. I want to be the person I wish I had as a young athlete. I want to save lives.
Watching Robinson return to the field, make a diving catch, and hit a home run sent me through a wave of emotions. I knew I couldn’t be alone. When I decided to write about his story, I asked people to send me their thoughts. I wanted to hear what his openness and comeback meant to people who have been in similar situations or can empathize with those in similar situations. The responses I received were really special.
Robinson’s vulnerability made an impact on me and on those whose responses are below. My hope is that this article will generate a ripple effect that proves that the strength it takes to be vulnerable about our mental health can extend empathy and compassion to those around us and those around them.
Drew Robinson’s return, and mine, and yours serves as a reminder: we are meant to be alive.
“Throughout quarantine, before & after his accident, Drew and I have become very close friends. His comeback and openness means the world to me. He is basically a part of our family now & has sort of taken me under his wing at times. I lift weights & hit with him at the batting cages & we always make time to talk about mental health. Before, I never really shared with anyone, but he has really made a huge impact on my life & my comfortability when it comes to speaking on mental health and ending the stigma surrounding it.”
— Jordan Sadovia, Cal State East Bay University Catcher
“Robinson’s return to the Major Leagues is not only a testament to his own fortitude and spirit, but an inspiration for anyone out there who is suffering from mental illness. It shows that we have the strength to do so much more than we believe we are capable of.
In my earlier years, if I had witnessed Drew Robinson accomplish what he has after such a dark point in his life, I know that it would have aided me on my continuing journey toward mental wellness. And I sincerely hope it aids you on yours.
But to those who still suffer in silence – from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or anything else, I implore you – never stop seeking help. You are not broken, you are not worth less than anyone else. You deserve a rich and fulfilling life. The stigma of mental illness holds us all back, and speaking up is the first step. Don’t let the darkness eat you up.”
— Liam Casey, Pitcher List Writer
“While I have not experienced some of the things that you and others have, seeing athletes open about their struggles does legitimately help me, even if the struggles aren’t the same. I hope that in 5 or 10 years we get to hear from guys that Drew had a significant impact on.”
— Josh Oetter, Baseball Fan
TW: suicide attempt
“As someone who struggles pretty heavily with anxiety and Bipolar II with extended depressive episodes, Drew’s story means a lot to me in terms of visibility and acknowledgment of mental health struggles in professional sports.
I grew up in a smaller town, full of folks who taught their kids to tough things out and suck it up. While my parents were caring and loving people, they were poorly educated on mental health issues, so they weren’t properly equipped to help me find a path to resolve my issues in a healthy way.
I attempted suicide twice when I was 13; once by taking a bottle full of pills, the other by trying to use a gun. The gun did not fire because I (fortunately) loaded the wrong kind of round into it, and jammed it. I don’t believe in any sort of divine intervention, but I often reflect on how thankful I am that I made that “mistake.” I know that I’m supposed to be here.
Having someone who is so open about their mental health struggles to look up to is something that I did not have when I was a kid. If there was, maybe things would have been different. I think the discussion around mental health has shifted slightly, though there is still so much work to be done.
I think a lot of it stems from the culture of toxic masculinity that remains deeply ingrained in sports as a whole, and pushes people to suffer silently because they think taking the necessary steps to care for themselves will hurt the team.
But that’s the thing; if you’re hurting like that, you’re not your best self. And if you’re not your best self, you’re just compounding the issue for both yourself and your team.”
— Jordan White, Pitcher List Editor
“It means a lot and I have a lot of respect for him. I’m glad he’s still here and working on himself to be happy on a daily basis.
I was in a deep depression about five years ago after my father passed away and I was in it for a couple of years and had thoughts about ending things or was okay with not waking up one day. I’m happy to say I’ve turned it around and am enjoying life and working on myself. So I’m appreciative with how open he’s been with what happened. I wish him nothing but the best for the rest of his life.”
— Grant Pearson, Baseball Fan
“As someone whose father committed suicide, thanks for helping share stuff that can help make these conversations easier for others.
And that it’s always heartwarming to see athletes talk about their struggles. I know that it makes it easier for kids like I was, not even just people who are affected personally by mental illness, but their friends and family as well.
I grew up feeling embarrassed and ashamed and having these conversations from people who are public heroes of kids’ would have been super helpful.”
— Pitcher List Reader
“I wholeheartedly agree. My flavor is more anxiety and I’m still working on accepting that it’ll just be there a whole lot of the time, but one of the worst parts for me for a while was being anxious that my friends would know I was anxious. Rough cycle.
It’s amazing to think how much a few short conversations helped me normalize what was going on.”
— Steven Rekant, Baseball Fan & Effectively Wild Listener
“Of course I’m very concerned about anxiety and depression, and suicide. To my mind, his comeback attempt is wonderful and I wish him all success.
I think there is another issue underlying this discussion, at least for me. It seems to me that in order to be considered masculine, men have to never admit weakness of any kind, especially in sports. That this player is willing to be open about all his struggles, and to try to start anew, chips away at a culture that sees difference as weakness, and as a negative. It is OK to be human, and it is more important than being masculine.”
— Tim Wiles, Baseball Writer & Researcher
“I love this kind of openness from public figures. As you say, an athlete, an actor, an artist — those might be the sort of person that a kid (or not a kid!) might feel some kind of connection with or whose opinions and actions might be very influential.
I probably had mental health issues for a long time as a teen and young adult, culminating in a couple of episodes of severe depression, one of which included near constant thoughts of suicide. If it were just normal for people to talk about mental health, I would have suffered much less. This is especially true for men: suicide is a silent epidemic among young men, and you experience essentially no role modelling or examples about how to do a good job of dealing with your mental health.
So good on Drew Robinson. I applaud his courage, I wish him every success and all the wellness in the world, and I hope that his experience is helpful to even one person.”
— Paul Moorehead, Baseball Fan
“Not related to depression, but I’ll always remember and applaud how Greinke spoke openly about needing anti-anxiety meds in SI and how he felt like taking them was just the same as taking meds for blood pressure or a heart condition.
I was also a psych major and worked in several mental health clinics after college, so I’m always happy to see people (especially famous athletes with a platform) work to remove the stigma from mental health counseling and/or meds.
I’ve also had issues with anxiety in my life, so know that it’s hard.”
— Peter Kim, Pitcher List Reader
“It hit me really hard, especially considering we were born on the exact same day. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the guy having gone through a similar experience. Would love to see him make it back to the big leagues, even if just for one game.”
— Cory Lack, Baseball Fan & Effectively Wild Listener
“In essence, I felt empowered by Drew Robinson’s candor. I struggle a lot of with depression, anxiety, hopelessness and insecurity, etc. I think the instinct as arbitrated by society is that if depression is an issue that we shouldn’t talk about it, either lest we provoke it or because it’s an uncomfortable discussion, but I think that has the opposite of its intended effect. Depression finds its strength in isolation. When I see someone who has success in a field I correlate with like, peak invincibility, rise from a legitimate attempt at taking their own life I don’t feel hopeless. I feel less alone.”
— Tommy Ciacco, Writer & Baseball Fan & Depressant
“I think it’s awesome for the exact reason you mentioned. We need to normalize talking about mental health without any stigmatization. Far more people deal with depression than most people realize, and it’s important to talk about it and let people know when you need help. The more your loved ones know, the more they can help.”
— Patrick Gordon, Pitcher List Reader
Photo by Scott U./Flickr | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)