Wrestling With Depression

I am writing this as not only an editorial, but a personal piece. Let’s be real, we have all either suffered from bouts of depression, or know someone who has. Depression comes in many forms, with many faces. Some are able to hide it, and smile and be active. Some folks hide in their beds. Others just barely are able to do the bare minimum to survive.

Depression can last a few hours, a few days, a few weeks, months or a whole lifetime, depending on what environmental and chemical factors are in play. Some folks do well on medicine, others are sick of being zombies, or guinea pigs  for the pharmaceutical companies. Some turn to “drugs” or alcohol to self medicate. Others are fitness junkies, workaholics, or seem to be addicted to something whether it be gambling, gaming, or sexual behaviors.

This is something we have seen in wrestling, but maybe have not recognized as being related to depression. Not only that but the link between tramatic brain injuries and depression. From TramaticBrainInjury.net:

“…major depressive disorder (MDD) may be the most common and challenging mental health condition that patients encounter following a TBI—53.1% of TBI patients in the study experienced MDD at least once in the first year after their injury. Another study showed that suicidal thoughts and attempts are also common reactions to TBI—23% of the participants had thoughts of suicide, while 17% actually attempted suicide after their injury. These higher rates of suicidal behaviors may also be connected to MDD following TBI.”

How many of us have had TBI?  I know I gave myself a concussion for sure once, I have it on video… Botched sunset flip, I had never done one on a person my height before, and landed right on my head… Warning graphic video!

The night of this injury my head was severely swollen, but the roads were also incredibly icy. Power lines were down, it was late, and going to the hospital in a state I did not live in did not sound fun. So I went home with my friends, and stayed up all night watching cartoons with their cat, with ice on my head, propped up so I wasn’t laying down, as we looked up what to do in case of head injury. By the next day I felt better, but my head hurt, and was swollen and bruised. I took at least two months off from in ring work, and a couple weeks off managing, until the bruising went down.

The thing is, I never felt the same again. I have had issues with short term memory loss since then, something was never an issue for me before this. I also have noticed in the years since this happened, my anxiety issues grew, as did my depression. It became hard to do many of the day to day activities I had done in the past. It has become hard to interact with people, to be cheery, and even to feel that my work had any merit. I started to feel stagnant in my jobs, and went back to working with animals full time, training horses, teaching riding lessons, and other farm related duties. I also found solace in doing office work, and writing. But working with people became problematic, as I had developed even more social anxieties.

It took a while for me to notice how my interactions with other humans were becoming an issue for me. Sometimes I blank out, or can’t focus, sometimes my reactions seem rude, even if I do not perceive them as such. I seem short with people or even angry when I speak. I don’t mean to, but it just happens.
Learning to notice this is happening was not an easy task, and I still struggle with this at times, so I tend to limit my interactions with people when I am feeling stressed out, as no good can come from it.

When i started recognizing these issues, I also started reading more on TBI, and its effects on people in the long term, and there has been some research done on the potential for these issues to become worse over time. This makes me think of Chris Benoit who in 2007, shockingly killed his wife Nancy (Aka Woman) and his young son, before killing himself. This was shocking to not only wrestling fans, but the entire wrestling community. It was so horrendous, that WWE doesn’t list him on any of the WWE Network programming, nor is he mentioned on the website, his wins, championships, and all have been erased from the history books, as if he never existed.

At least 21 known professional wrestlers have committed suicide. This list doesn’t account for lesser known independent wrestlers who may have taken their own lives. Chris Kanyon was 40 when he committed suicide in 2010. He came out as gay in 2004, at first claiming it was a gimmick, then admitting it was true. Another notable suicide was that of “Sweet And Sour” Larry Sweeney in 2011. He suffered from Bi polar depression, and in 2009 had a breakdown, he was quite open about. Larry was not only a great wrestler, but an inspiring personality, and it seemed unreal to wrestling fans that a man who cut such engaging promo’s, was suffering from serious mental health issues.

Whether or not these suicides were the product of head injuries, or other issues can never truly be determined. What we can do is look for signs of depression, check in with each other. Also those of us who put ourselves into the ring, should think about wearing protective head gear during training at the very least, and should take an honest look at the danger we put ourselves in for what generally very little compensation. Even those who make it to the top, won’t be able to undo damage done to their bodies. We all need to look out for ourselves and each other.

A good resource to learn how to support those in crisis can be found through the Icarus Project at:  http://icarus.poivron.org/uploads/2015/02/FMTBM_final_wcovers.pdf

Personal Crisis’s And Support Outside The Ring

When you are immersed so deeply in a world of “make believe” sometimes the lines of reality are blurred. Whether it be from true mental health issues, brain injury related issues, or substance abuse, it is sometimes hard to tell what is going on when wrestlers act out.

How many of us who fought our way through the independent scene have brain damage? We hear of high profile cases like Chris Benoit, but we rarely talk about how the same thing can affect others in the industry whether they realize it or not.

Substance abuse is another issue, as this can stem from a number of triggers whether it be to deal with pain from injury, emotional pain, or  recreational use. This can ultimately lead to unsafe situations for not only the person using, but those around them.

Mental Health issues are a normal part of society. Unfortunately we discuss it as a stigma, instead of working to find the roots of these issues, and address them, rather than demonizing those who are suffering.

If you see someone who you think needs attention there are many ways to be there for them. You can start out by listening, spending time with them, taking them out of their environment for a while, making them or taking them to dinner.

Here is a guide to Mental Health Alternatives you can embody as a community to help support each other:  http://ram-a.net/sites/default/files/FMTBM_final_wcovers.pdf

So lets stop judging peoples actions, and start being more attentive to those who need community support.

After The Spotlight Dim’s: Wrestlers Battle for Their Lives

When you think of pro wrestling, you think of athletes, in the prime of their lives, who entertain you with feats of strength, high flying moves, and good old fashioned grappling. However few people think about the injuries, surgery, illness, and lack of resources most wrestlers have access to.

Professional wrestling is not a high paying gig, unless you are at the top level in WWE. Many of the wrestlers you see on TV, make $100,000 or less, with almost all of the women earning far less than their male counterparts. In this article, former WWE talent, Tyler Rex talks about what WWE talent really earns when you look at their expenses.

“It [pay] was getting crappy when I left, and the guys I’ve talked to now say it’s beyond crappy,” Tuft said. “People assume you once you’re on TV you make a load of money and drive Lamborghinis and stuff, and that’s just not the case. Here’s a perfect example: I hate to spill my salary on the internet, but when I left I got a bump to $100,000 a year. But a third of it goes to road expenses. The only thing they pay for is your flight. You pay for your own hotel, and car, and food. Could you imagine trying to eat out five times a day? As a body guy, you have to maintain your physique and that means eating five times a day. Spending all your money trying to maintain that? Good luck. Then Uncle Sam takes 20%-30%. You guys do the math and see how much I walked away with, which was next to nothing. I was making more money fresh out of college as an engineer fresh out of college in an entry level position than being on TV.

 

More than 60% of many WWE stars pay is already gone before they spend a dollar. Wrestlers at this level are expected to maintain a specific look, so they spend money on gym memberships, tanning, ring gear, dietary supplements, not to mention having to pay for health insurance, and other medical related expenses. They are also not employees, they are contracted as “Independent Contractors”. This classification leaves them in a much higher tax bracket than other athletes, as they must pay into unemployment, much more than they would if they were a employee, personal insurance premiums that are extremely high, and workers comp is not available to independent contractors at all. If you are hurt on the job, you are responsible for all bills incurred.

Forbes laid it out in this article stating:

 

An employee only has to pay the employee part of FICA, Medicare, etc. An independent contractor must pay the higher self-employment tax. …

So by listing wrestlers as independent contractors, this actually allows WWE to abuse these peoples rights. The Economic Policy Institute sums it up nicely here: 

Independent Contractor misclassification undermines worker bargaining power, for both workers who are misclassified and the directly employed workers alongside whom they work. As noted, misclassified ICs are not covered by basic labor standards, particularly laws affecting work hours and compensation. It is therefore easier for employers to enforce bargains on work hours and compensation for the self-employed that not only deviate from the workers’ compensation agreement but also result in effective hourly wages below the federal or state minimum and in actual work hours that go beyond 40 in a week, which under the FLSA would require premium pay. It is also easier for employers to renege on a compensation agreement, to pay cash “under the table” (i.e., unreported on a 1099-MISC tax form), or to shortchange workers on agreed compensation. These vulnerabilities of misclassified workers—and the fact that some employers exploit them—have a ripple effect on directly employed wage workers in these workplaces, hemming in their ability to bargain for higher compensation and to resist standards violations by their employers.

And it is far worse for wrestlers who work mainly on the independent scene. These athletes don’t make 6 figures, in fact many have a hard time holding down 5 figures, and usually have other types of employment to supplement their wrestling careers, and many do not carry the proper insurance to protect themselves in case of a major injury. They simply cannot afford it based on how much they get paid to perform.

So what happens to those who have no contracts, no savings, who lack the proper insurance, when they can no longer wrestle due to injury or sickness? They rely on us. Their fellow wrestlers, their fans, their friends. Many of these folks have little to fall back on, and some honestly have worked in wrestling for so long, they have no other options, and are too sick or injured to work.  Just last month Billy Reil wrote about Sabu needing hip replacement.   Just today I found out Rico Constantino, is extremely unwell with complications from head injuries, amongst other afflictions and also has a fundraiser going.

These are just a couple of examples of those who put their bodies and lives on the line for our entertainment, and now are facing an uphill battle to pay for the expenses that stem from their injuries from working as professional wrestlers. There are many more, and sadly there are many who lost their lives to health and wellness problems that stem from putting your body through hell for others entertainment, and for the promoters wallet. We need to recognize these issues and create a greater understanding around what we can do to support these folks, while at the same time putting pressure on the bigger companies to provide healthcare, disability insurance, and pensions for their “talent”.

If you care about wrestling, and claim to “love” the sport,  then its time to show support for those who have put everything on the line to entertain you, and realize its not all glitz and glamour. Its a lot of Blood, Sweat and tears, combined with liniments, pain pills, physical therapy, and surgery.