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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On Joey Votto

Description unavailableVotto is back, hopefully to stay. Image by team doster via Flickr

This is one of the most impressive things I've ever seen from a professional athlete:
“As some of you know, my father passed away last August. The first day back I kind of put that all on the back burner and just played baseball all the way to the end of September. I don’t want to use the word suppress because he was in my thoughts and I was dealing with it on a daily basis. But, as powerful a moment that is to lose your father so young, in a way I did suppress it. From August to the beginning of spring training, I was pretty severely depressed. I was dealing with the anxiety of grief and sadness and fear. Every emotion you can imagine that everyone goes through.

“I had a really difficult time with it. I was by myself down in Florida. I just was really looking forward to baseball. When baseball started up in February, I kind of did the same thing I did last August and threw it all on the side, threw all my emotions on the back burner and played baseball.

“I got sick in May. I had the upper respiratory thing and the ear infection. It was taking the time away from baseball and recovering from being sick when for the first time all emotions that had been pushing to the side that I had been dealing with and struggling with in the winter hit me. They hit me a hundred times more than I had been dealing with.

“I was taken out of three separate games. The first game it was a combination of me being ill. But I could tell there was something going on. I couldn’t recover. I had this feeling of anxiety. I had this feeling in my chest. The second time I came out in San Diego, it was similar. But I was healthy and I felt like I could’ve played.

“The third time was in Milwaukee, and I was totally overwhelmed.

“I spoke to some doctors. They came to the conclusion I was dealing with obviously being depressed and anxiety and panic attacks. They were overwhelming to the point where I had to go to the hospital on two separate occasions. Once in San Diego and once – nobody had been told about – but I went to the hospital once in Cincinnati when the team was on the road.

“It was a very, very scary and crazy night. I had to call 911 at 3 or 4 in the morning. It was probably the scariest moment I ever dealt with in my life. I went to the hospital that night.

“The days I was taken off the field were little, miniature versions of what I was dealing with by myself. Ever since I’ve been on the DL and even the little bit before the DL, I’ve been really struggling with this in my private life. I’d go on the field and try to do my best and play well. I had my spurts when I’d play well. But going out on the field . . . I couldn’t do it anymore because I was so overwhelmed physically by the stuff I was dealing with off the field.

“It finally seeped its way into the game. I just had to put an end to it. I really couldn’t be out there. It’s difficult to explain what I was going through. I couldn’t do it. I physically couldn’t do my job. That’s what I’ve gone through.

“I’ve been talking and seeing some doctors. They’ve been a great help. And speaking to people in general – I spoke to my team last week – and letting people know what I’ve been dealing with and how difficult this grieving process has been. My father was young, and I’m a young man. I really wish I hadn’t lost my father so young. I’m the oldest brother. I feel like I’m responsible for my family. Maybe I have a proclivity for depression or whatever it is.

“But I was dealing with some pretty abnormal circumstances – the combination of being a major league ballplayer, a young ballplayer and also dealing with my father and my family.”
This is the kind of thing that makes me, at least, reflect a bit on my own life. It's a totally different situation, but I've had my share of stress over the past year. I (frantically) finished my dissertation, found a job, relocated across country, made it through my first (brutal, at times) year as full time faculty, and just over a month ago had my second child. I've been extremely lucky to have it all go as well as it has. I'm proud of what I've accomplished, and I love my job and my family.

But it's been 100 mph all the time, and do or die far more than is comfortable. I've seen friends who didn't make it. The best man at my wedding came just months from finishing his own degree program before depression and other issues pushed him down a path that has, as far as I know, ended his academic career. I've been so obsessed with my own problems that I have completely lost touch with him. Another friend's anxiety issues kept him from ever really getting started in our lab, despite ample talent. And I'm no psychologist, but I've seen capable students this year drop out because of what seemed to me to be similar anxiety issues. Sometimes I wonder what might have happened--and where I'd be--if things hadn't gone as well. While I know there are lots of people out there dealing with far more difficult things than I have had to cope with, I also know that I've felt close to breaking far too many times this past year.

So good for Votto for speaking up today. My feeling is that it probably did him a lot of good. And I have to think that it will be an enormous help to a lot of people struggling with problems of depression and anxiety to read his words.


  1. I really sympathize with Votto and your friends about this. I've been battling depression for a while now. I was supposed to finish my dissertation last August, but it's still as yet not done. All the research is there but I developed a severe case of writer's block and can't seem to finish it. Then I lost my grandma and uncle within a week of each other and have had other personal relationship problems. Being unemployed is not helping either. It's seems too overwhelming at times and am having trouble coping. It's a catch-22 really, I know what I need to do to overcome the depression, but what I need to do is exactly what the depression makes so difficult. I'm glad to hear Votto got the help he needed.

  2. Brad,

    I didn't have to deal with the extraneous stuff you are coping with, but I can certainly identify. I was sometimes at the point that I literally felt nauseous even sitting down in my chair, and I know there were literally days that went by when I had nothing to do but write and yet didn't get a thing done. I felt like a complete loser, but I just couldn't make myself do it. It was way beyond just procrastination. It was genuinely a physical aversion to the process..

    All I can say is to try to hang in there. And to try to set some small, achievable goals to gets yourself going. Make a table or figure, for example. Or put together an outline of a chapter that you can start to fill in with more and more detail. I know you're not asking for advice, but some of those things did help me get going.

  3. I'm glad to see someone pointing this out. So many athletes come off as dishonest, whether they're trying to cover up their drug use, or just trying to project an image that is palpable for the media. Votto comes off human here...very refreshing.