- Since retiring from Olympic competition, Michael Phelps has dedicated his time to promoting mental health awareness, water conservation efforts, and water safety for kids.
- He told Business Insider that he still confronts the mental health issues that he started to speak publicly about before the 2016 Olympics.
- “It’s ok to not be ok,” Phelps said.
- And even Michael Phelps finds that chasing after a toddler can wear him out – but he says it’s ‘so fun.’
Sometimes, people stop Michael Phelps to tell him that they think of him when they’re brushing their teeth.
“Alright, that’s a little weird, but I guess it means [they’re] paying attention, so that’s good,” Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, told Business Insider.
Phelps is a global ambassador for Colgate’s #EveryDropCounts water conservation initiative, which reminds people of easy ways they can stop wasting water – like turning off the tap while they brush their teeth.
It’s not surprising that water issues are close to the swimmer’s heart, given the environment he’s spent so much of his life in. But water issues aren’t the only area where Phelps hopes to have an impact in these post-Olympic years.
He has also been speaking out about mental health, and has been open about his own battles with depression. For years, Phelps struggled with untreated mental health issues, something that he says drove him to dangerous behaviours. By speaking up about these struggles now, he hopes to make easier for other people to seek help.
“I’m thankful I opened up and talked about it,” Phelps said. “Because it’s been easier to share stories that aren’t really easy to talk about, and those stories could impact other people’s lives and could help save their lives.”
In the lead up to the 2016 Olympics, Phelps revealed to Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden that he’d struggled with mental health for years.
At the worst points, Phelps said, he couldn’t get out of bed. Things got particularly bad after each Olympic games would come to an end, Phelps told David Axelrod on the “Axe Files” podcast earlier this year.
After the 2012 Games, “I wanted to die. I straight wanted to die,” he told Axelrod.
In 2014, Phelps was pulled over in Maryland for speeding and driving between lanes. He blew over the legal limit on a Breathalyzer test and ended up pleading guilty to the drunk driving charge. It was the second time he’d been charged with driving under the influence.
Then he got help.
“Look, I didn’t want to go to therapy when I started going, I was like, ‘no, I’m good, I don’t need that,'” Phelps said. “But to be honest, I’m happy I went; I’m happy I forced myself to go when I didn’t always want to go. Because I felt so much better when I left.”
Having someone to talk with is perhaps the most important thing for anyone struggling with mental health, Phelps said, though he acknowledged that everyone’s case is different.
“The biggest thing is always communicating, that’s just something that’s so powerful,” he said. “It’s getting it out and it’s not sitting inside of you. Because it sits inside of you and it just eats at you. For me, I carried a lot of stuff along for 20-plus years, and I wish I didn’t.”
‘It’s ok to not be ok’
In his retired-from-competition life, Phelps is focusing on both his mental and physical health. He said he still has to exercise six or seven days per week. Most days, he’s up between 5:30 and 7, sometimes fitting in a workout before his kids – Boomer and Beckett – wake up. That workout might be a swim, but it could just be a good walk.
Phelps said he’s reading more than he ever has. A few of his top book recommendations are Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now,” Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F-ck,” and Dan Harris’ “10% Happier.”
With the rest of his time, he’s advocating for the issues he cares about. In addition to speaking about mental health, he’s partnered with the online therapy company Talkspace and is on the board of Medibio, a company working on ways to assess mental health with mobile technology.
Through his Michael Phelps Foundation, he encourages kids to be active and tries to promote water safety, noting that drowning is the second-highest cause of death for kids under 14. For Colgate, he’s trying to spread the message that water conservation is an environmental problem that’s applicable to everyone in society and that we can all work to fix.
“It’s frustrating when I see or hear that someone’s wasting water,” he said. “We’re trying to spread this message as loud as we can, that every drop counts.”
When not working on these initiatives, Phelps said he spends most of the day with his kids. Parents will be comforted to know that chasing after a toddler can make even Michael Phelps worn out.
“I’m basically running after Boomer all the time now, and I love it,” he said.
His younger son, Beckett, is not far from crawling, Phelps said, so it will be a different game with two kids on the move.
“It doesn’t matter how hard it is, it doesn’t matter how tired you are, it’s just so fun,” he added.
When it comes to his own mental health, Phelps says he’s trying to live in the moment and to remember to communicate – advice that he’d give to anyone.
“That’s the biggest thing I would say – never isolate, never shut down,” he said. “Always open up, just ask questions, talk, and I think always remember that it’s ok to not be ok.”
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