“For so long I was this championship swimmer, had all these gold medals, world records ... but that’s not who I am,” he told Carson Daly on Friday’s TODAY show. “I obviously struggle with mental health ... and once you talk about it … you feel you.”
Michael has been candid about battling depression and suicidal thoughts.
“One day I can wake up, and I can feel like I’m on top of the world. And I can do absolutely anything and everything. And the next day, I can wake up and not want to get out of bed,” he explained.
Michael’s wife, Nicole Phelps, is a huge support system for the star.
“I’ve never really had somebody that’s really been there that understands me like Nicole does,” he said.
Nicole, who joined her husband for the NBC News interview, spoke out about how she handles his tough days.
“I’ll have conversations with Michael, where I’m like, ‘Oh, well, if you just do this, maybe you’ll feel that way,’ and it’s not fair to him. Because there’s not a fix, necessarily,” she said. “I keep reminding Michael that I’m not here to judge him, I’m here to support him, to love him. I’m not going to shame him. I’m not going to say, ‘You can’t feel that way.’ ... Just making sure I’m there.”
Michael and Nicole share three boys — Boomer, 4, Beckett, 2, and 1-year-old Maverick — and they try to keep an open dialogue about mental health with their children.
“I’m very vocal in making sure that the kids are aware that maybe Michael is having a rough day, especially Boomer as he gets older,” Nicole said. “It’s important for Boomer to learn that it’s not about him and that he didn’t do something that made daddy feel this way. It is daddy having his own stuff.”
Nicole says things like, “Dad’s having a really tough day today, I want you to give him a little bit of space.”
They also try to teach the boys coping mechanisms early for their own anxieties, like a “lion breath,” which is letting out a “gigantic” exhale.
While Michael will always be known for his athletic accomplishments, he feels he has a larger purpose.
“Why do people still only still see me as a swimmer? I look at myself as a dad of three, a husband, somebody who is trying to do whatever I can to prevent as many suicides and talk about mental health, because it is something that’s real in my life, and it is real every day,” he said.
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
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