On Thursday, February 4, 2016, the world lost another legendary athlete and true champion. Dave Mirra was found dead in his parked truck from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. For those who don't know him, Dave Mirra was a legend in freestyle BMX. In fact, he was the Ed Coan of freestyle BMX. Even more important than his long list of accomplishments and accolades, he was a great person. Sadly, I didn't know him personally, but I've been a fan of his for a very long time. He was always an exceptional champion in or out of competition. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who had anything bad at all to say about him, yet it would be very easy to find people with great things or stories to tell of him. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.

On that Thursday, I received a text from my brother telling me that Dave Mirra had died. I immediately tried to find out any information I could about his death. It made me sick to my stomach to hear that he had committed suicide. I was overwhelmed with the feelings I had when I went through my worst struggles with depression and suicide. It didn't make me feel suicidal, but it made me remember how it felt and how intense it was.

I sent a text back to my brother about how there has to be some connection between the people who can push themselves to that limit and suicide. His response was that when he first heard of Dave's suicide, he immediately thought of the struggles that I had had. For days, I had a sick feeling in my gut. My brain is still filled with thoughts and questions. Even though I can never really know what Dave was feeling or thinking at the time of his death, I have some experience with this subject. I can't help but think about his family and close friends. I can't help but wonder how his wife and daughters feel and what questions they must have. It seems that there are so many people asking why. I can't answer their questions, but I feel like maybe I can shed at least a little light on it. Even if I can't, I think it's damn well worth trying.

When I first looked up the cause of Dave's death, I came across some articles with comments and I was completely pissed off. Within hours of his death, people were posting that he was a coward for killing himself and leaving behind his wife and children. I wanted very badly to punch these people in the face. Keep in mind, these comments were made hours after the announcement of his death, and his daughters and wife could end up reading them. Only a coward would get on the internet and post something like this, something that could crush his very young daughters and hurt his wife. I get that people don't understand suicide and that they think it's wrong. In fact, when I was younger, I didn't understand it and thought it was a sissy way out as well. But even then, I kept it to myself. I didn't try to pour gas in the open wounds of the person's family and friends. Now, I do understand it, yet I still think it's the wrong solution to a problem. I hope that in this article, I can open some eyes and hearts. I definitely think there still needs to be more understanding and openness on this subject.

Too often, I get reminded that many normal people don't really understand what it's like to suffer from severe depression. I get the feeling that many of them think we should just be able to toughen up and snap out of it. Keep busy, think happy thoughts and it will go away. This is very far from how it is.


I'm type II bipolar, and I suffer from what can be very, very extreme bipolar depression. People with these disorders don't feel much different than normal people. Their feelings are just way more intense. Normal people have ups and downs — that's just life — and even normal people suffer from depression at times. But for those diagnosed with clinical depression, bipolar disorder and other disorders, those ups and downs are intensified.

I'm an intense person, and I push myself very hard, but the pain I've felt from depression is nothing compared to any other pain I've ever felt. I've been kicked in the face, hit in the head with a crowbar and punched in the face with a hockey puck. I've wrecked motorcycles, torn all kind of muscles and suffered all kinds of physical pain. I've suffered plenty of emotional pain as well. I think the worst pain I've ever experienced was when I was in first grade and my brother was hit by a car while riding his bike. At this time in my life, my brother and I did almost everything together. If he got in trouble, I was there, and if I got in trouble, he was there. Everyone rushed to the hospital when my brother got hit, but they wouldn't let me go. Everyone kept telling me that it would be alright, but I could see the worry and concern on their faces. I had to stay home with my grandfather, who could tell that I wasn't doing well. I still remember praying with him and I remember how understanding he was. I also still remember exactly what it felt like to think that I was going to lose my brother, the person I always counted on and thought would always be there for me. They wouldn't even let me see him for a day or two. I guess they thought I would freak out from all the stitches and scars. That is the worst emotional memory I have, and it doesn't even hold a candle to what I felt like at the bottom of my depression.

Living and Training as a Bipolar Narcoleptic: Lack of Sleep and Depression

Depression is hard to even explain. Severe depression is like a hunger that eats everything good inside you and around you. It devours anything positive and any hope you have. All you're left with is everything bad and negative. It's an overwhelming and all consuming darkness. It leaves you with nothing but pain and agony, both physically and emotionally. I was still able to know how I felt about people and things, but I didn't actually feel any of it. That in itself is an enormous head trip that makes you feel like you're losing all control. Imagine looking in the eyes of someone you know you love with all your heart and now you feel absolutely nothing at all. Imagine doing the things in life that you love, but now you don't even care about them. Any light you can see just keeps getting dimmer and further away. It keeps growing smaller as the pain keeps growing larger.

My brain doesn't work correctly, and I try to fight it, but nothing works. I even get to the point where I feel like I'm outside my own body looking down on myself. I scream at myself and say, "This isn't me! I'm not like this!" I scream at myself to stop, but it's like I can't hear myself. It's so hard to describe. I don't think my words even come close to it. As it progresses, it becomes easier and easier to justify taking my own life. The pain is so intense and it's all I can feel. There is a point where all I want is to stop the pain, and my head is so messed up that suicide seems like the only solution, like a demon on my shoulder whispering in my ear that it's OK because he will take it all away. It isn't something that I can just wish away. I can't just go do something I enjoy to make it go away. There isn't anything I enjoy or love at that time. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm mentally a very strong person. You don't reach the level that I have in lifting without that mental strength. But I still can't just make it go away. It doesn't just go away.

I'm very fortunate because even though I have bipolar disorder, there are plenty of normal times in my life. I'm not always in a hypomania or depressive episode. I spent most of my life not really even knowing that I was bipolar because it didn't get severe until I was in my thirties. So I have some idea of what it's like when I'm feeling normal. Like I said, I think everyone feels the same ups and downs. Ours are just way more extreme and intense. So there are days when I feel down or even depressed. On these days, I can just work my way out of it. I can say, "Damn, I feel down today, so I'm going out to the desert to ride my quad." Once I'm out there, it lets up and I have a great time. There are also days when I feel that way, but I end up hanging out with friends and, all of a sudden, I'm out of it. This doesn't happen with clinical severe depression. They are two completely different things. It's very frustrating when I hear people say, "Just snap out of it" or "Just do something that makes you happy." That isn't how it works. You can't just snap out of it and nothing makes you happy. Nothing makes you feel anything good. It all just causes more pain. That's probably why I seclude myself from everyone in my house, or I go sit on a cliff in the desert and just stare for hours. It's so hard to explain, and I keep thinking that right now I'm not doing a very good job of it. How could I ever expect someone who hasn't felt it to understand it?

One of the main reasons I'm writing this article is because I can't stop thinking about Dave Mirra's wife and two daughters. I can't help but wonder how they feel. I can't help but wonder if they feel like they should have done more to help him, like they should've seen more signs or known that he would do this. What if they wonder why they weren't enough for him to stop himself from doing this?

I've heard other people affected by suicide say that they feel or felt things similar to this. Again, I can't say exactly what Dave felt or thought, but I can say what I felt and what I'm pretty sure is at least part of what he felt. Being through the things that I have, it breaks my heart to think of his wife and girls feeling those things or asking those questions. That goes for anyone who has been affected by a suicide and has felt those things. It really makes me want to explain to these people what it's like and maybe in some way make their loss a little less painful. I had friends and family who tried to help me and they showed great concern for me. They tried to check on me and offer anything they could to help. There was absolutely nothing they could've done to help me though. Honestly, for me, them trying to help probably made it worse. It was hard to deal with the fact that people loved me when I couldn't feel anything for anyone. It just made me feel more pain even though I understood that they were trying to help me.

As for loved ones being enough to make me not want to commit suicide, that's hard for me. There are many people I love who should've been enough for me to not want to kill myself, but like I described, at that point, I felt nothing. The gun was loaded with the right bullets for the job. It was cocked, the safety was off and there was more pressure on the trigger as I ran through the list of people I loved. I was justifying how each one of them would be able to deal with it. I look back now and it was completely insane thinking, but a lot of my thinking at that time seems insane now. Near the end of that list, I came across my niece, who was much younger at that time. I still can't fully explain or understand it. It was like a light and this little bit of clarity happened. I knew I couldn't do this to her because of the effect it would have on her the rest of her life. I was a minute amount of pressure away from never feeling anything again, but within seconds of thinking of my niece, I knew that I wasn't going to do it. It was like that saying, "Get busy living or get busy dying."

Within a second, I made the decision that I was going to fight this, and I immediately began attempting to put together a plan. The pain was still there, but somehow I was able to focus again. The first thing I did was start writing about it. Somehow my niece was like this angel who helped me see clearly and focus. I still feel lucky because everything easily could've turned out very differently. This sounds crazy, but I look back and everything kind of happened at just the right time. I mean I could've hit bottom before my niece was born. I could've hit bottom when she was much older and I might have been able to justify how she would be able to get over it. Any number of things could've changed that outcome. I don't know where Dave's mind was or how deep he was at the time of his death, but there is something very deep inside me that says he was deeper than I was at that time. He was so much deeper that even the thoughts of the people he loved the most couldn't reach him. From what I know, heard and read, his family was everything to him. It isn't that they weren't enough. It's that he was too deep to feel anything good, too consumed by the darkness.

My mind keeps trying to clarify the cycle of depression and the reasons why people get to that point of following through on a suicide. I don't have any solid answers for how to stop it at that point. I sort of have some ideas. I just keep thinking that the real answer is prevention because not everyone will be as lucky as I was. Learn to catch it early before it gets to the point of no, or little, return. Even before that, I think there needs to be more understanding of how it starts and how it progresses. There are statistics out there about depression and other such disorders like bipolar. Sometimes these are very hard to actually figure out because statistics can be tweaked pretty easily to meet the outcome the researcher is looking for.

Many of my ideas or theories come from my own experience and from talking to others with these disorders. I've learned so much more from others than from any of the actual medical research I've done. I know that depression and bipolar generally get worse with age, and I know that when left untreated, they progress. I know there are large amounts of artists (writers, poets, painters, musicians, sculptors) with these issues. The suicide rates for them are higher than the average and it peaks in mid-life. I also think there are many more athletes with these issues than we know. There are theories that the extremes a bipolar person lives in lead to the artistic abilities. The same goes for severe depression because much of art comes from pain. I know that I'm way more creative during hypomania episodes and even more so in depressive episodes. I propose another theory though—what if the art is a way of dealing with the emotions? It isn't necessarily the creator of the art but more of a way to deal with the pain. What if the sport is the way of dealing with the pain for the bipolar athlete or the one dealing with depression? Much like a drug, the pain of depression goes away when a person is creating art or excelling at his sport. The focus and dedication allow him to ignore or get away from the pain.

Living and Training as a Bipolar Narcoleptic: Getting an Accurate Diagnosis

I look back to my heaviest competition days, and one of the things I miss is how I could block so many things out. When I think about it this way, it really coincides with all my artistic and athletic experiences. I still write poetry, do photography and train when I'm in a normal state. I tend to do more photography and write way more when I'm in hypomania or depressive states. I do that because it consumes me. It helps me get away from the pain. It isn't like I'm only creative when I'm in those states or that I only train like a madman when I'm in those states. I do think my writing and photography are more intense in those states, but there could be reasons for that, too. I have to focus that much more to forget the pain. I strive to get lost in it. My emotions are also higher or more intense in those states. I now use those things as therapy, and they can help me ward off some of the bad episodes if I'm aware and control it. You could say that I use my demons as a strength.

There is still a dark side to this theory though. What if a person doesn't realize that he's so engulfed in a sport or artistic endeavor because of depression or a bipolar disorder? What if that is how these people dealt with the disorder for years and years of their lives? What if the disorder is actually progressing, but they don't realize it? What if all of a sudden, they have to stop that sport or they lose their creativity? Many athletes' careers end in mid-life. Maybe this explains some correlation between the high amount of suicides in mid-life. Many artists have difficulties continuing to progress their art or even keep their fame to be able to maintain a living at it. For instance, take musicians. How many bands or singers really beat the test of time? How many of them have five, 10, or 15 big years and then fade away? Couldn't fame also be a way of blocking out the pain, and what happens when that goes away? When these things end, it's like trying to stop a speeding train with a brick wall. Everything comes to a halt with a massive amount of damage to the person. These people didn't have a build up where they could gradually learn to deal with it. They basically put a lid on it and left it until it boiled over.

I believe this is a good description of the journey that I took. There was a period of time after I could no longer throw that was pretty dark until I found powerlifting. When I think back, I drank a lot for awhile and then spent time putting all my energy into motorcycles and cars. It was still a way to cover it up. When I look back, I always knew that something was wrong, but I could never put my finger on it. I would find little ways to deal with things, and I just assumed everyone did that. It wasn't until I hit a brick wall that I began to try to understand and work on things. I stopped putting Band-Aids on it and I finally tried to heal it. It wasn't until I finally got solid diagnoses that I was really able to put together a solid game plan and start to understand it. I spent most of my life trying to cover it up by burying myself in goals for whatever I was into at the time.

There are lots of other theories on this and some of those seem very solid. There are lots of athletes who put so much of their lives into sports that when their careers end, they no longer know who they are. They see themselves as the athlete above all else. This makes sense to me, but then I think, "Well, there are also tons of athletes who make the transition just fine." Is it possible that the majority of the athletes who have a problem afterward do have some kind of predisposition to a disorder like depression? I don't know, but it seems possible to me, and wouldn't this be the same case for the artist?

There are already some theories that Dave Mirra developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from all those years in extreme sports. There is definitely some substance behind that thinking. If this is the case, isn't there some connection between that and depression? More importantly, could this person benefit from some of the ways people like me deal with depression? It basically does cause depression so it has some similarities to bipolar disorder or severe depression. For instance, if Dave Mirra had CTE, wasn't he experiencing the same type of feelings that I did from bipolar depression? In my mind, this is two different causes for the same issue. These are just theories that I've come up with, and there isn't any real proof, but hey—Albert Einstein came up with the theory of gravitational waves 100 years ago and it just got scientifically proven! Yep, I did just kind of compare myself to Albert Einstein!

I've wondered if sometimes people use other people to cover up the pain just like some of us use sports or art. In the last few months, I've discussed depression with a few close friends who suffer from some mild forms of depression from time to time. I was very surprised to hear that they try to be around friends, family or just people when they feel this way. They said it kind of takes their mind off the depressive type thinking. This was so surprising to me because I'm completely the opposite. The worse it gets, the more I seclude myself from people or society in general. Being around people makes it worse for me. Then again, I'm an introvert, which in some ways is nice because most people who really know me understand that I can just kind of go off grid for months. They'll be lucky to get a text. In a way, this helps me because if people think I'm just in one of my antisocial phases, they don't know or worry about me being in a depression episode. I'm sure in some way that's messed up, but I don't want people to have to worry about me.

Talking with my friends made me think that some people use people as a mask for the pain so they never really learn to deal with it. Again, could the depression be building underneath it all? At some point, they end up alone and, all of a sudden, everything comes full force, but they aren't prepared for it. I remember reading about a singer who had gotten control of his heroin addiction. One early morning, he tried to wake up his band mates, who all just wanted to sleep. He went out on his own, ended up scoring some heroin and overdosed. I think about that story and I wonder if he started using heroin in the first place to get away from depression or some disorder. Then I wonder if he tried to wake his band mates because he was feeling that depression again. It had become an instinctive way to deal with it. Was he in pain/depressed so bad that he went back to heroin because he searched for another cover which he couldn't find? I know I keep saying this, but again, I don't know for sure.

art 012small

There are just too many questions, and I think a lot of that is because of the stigma with these disorders. I was talking about Dave Mirra's death to a close friend and she commented that she hates the word disorder because of the stigma associated with it. She would rather it be called a disease and she considers it a disease. I actually agree that the word 'disorder' has a stigma with it, like it's a major thing that can't be cured or there isn't any way to make it better. When people hear disease, they think, “Well, you take some medication and fix it, right?” These 'disorders' are basically some kind of hormonal issue in the brain, and some of the times, they can be completely controlled with medications. Some people like me don't have much reaction to medications, but I'm still finding other ways to control it. For some of us, it's a daily battle but a war that can be won. However, the stigma is still there and it's real. I'm very fortunate because I don't care too much about what people think of me. If they want to take the time to see who I really am, they will probably be surprised, and if they just want to judge me without knowing me, that's fine, too.

I have a neighbor I've talked to many times and I've stood in the driveway drinking beer with him. He never knew anything about me being bipolar, but somehow the subject can up. He actually took three steps backward when I said that I was type II bipolar. There are people who would've been very hurt by that, but I laughed. When I stopped laughing, I explained that it isn't like that and, if he wants, I can explain it to him. His first thought was that I could flip out at any second and snap him in half. He did actually have me explain it and we were cool. I felt a little pride knowing that the next person he met who had an issue would be greeted with a much different reaction. I do think this is one of the reasons why many people don't talk about it or are afraid to reach out to others. I think it's a major reason why they keep it hidden. This stigma could also hurt potential or current relationships. It could be devastating to some careers and people's livelihoods.

When I first wrote about my bipolar disorder, I was sure that I would lose all my sponsors, but I actually didn't lose any of them. I really have had more positive reactions than I ever thought I would being so open about it. In some cases, it has really helped like in my job. Most of the people know my issues and they have gotten to where they kind of see in me how I'm feeling. On bad days, everyone just leaves me alone. I do my work and then go home. I think the understanding helps both sides. I get left alone, which is good for me, and they don't get yelled at!

I do understand that it's very hard for people to open up about it, even though it isn't as hard for me. It can be a scary thing. I haven't dated much since I really understood what my disorders are. Part of that was because I was too focused on figuring this out and getting control. It was my main goal at the time. Now, I think, "Damn! When will I bring this subject up? Right off the bat and probably scare the hell out of her (like I'm not already scary enough) or wait and feel like an ass for hiding it?" More tough questions. There is still that thought of how can someone who has not experienced this even come close to understanding what it's like? Will she think it's just crazy? There are many people who won't open up because they can't see how someone could understand it. The ironic thing is that there are a very large number of people suffering from disorders like this, yet so many of them don't know about the others. That's another reason why I try very hard to lead by example. There are so many questions because so many people are afraid to be open. Please don't think that I'm saying anything bad about those people. I understand their fear of being open with this. On the other hand, if people don't open up more, things won't change. There are so many people out there who could benefit from being able to actually talk to other people suffering from similar issues, but very few want to be the first. If it becomes more open, more people will start telling their stories. Before you know it, there is so much more understanding out there and all these questions begin to get answered. Then awareness rises and more solutions become available. People have more places to turn for help and we stop losing so many good artists, athletes and regular people to suicides that could've been prevented.

There is still one big question left—why don't so many of the people struggling reach out to their loved ones? Surely they could talk to the people closest to them in life, right? I know that when I first wrote about my struggles with suicide, I didn't really think about my family reading it. It wasn't until the next day that I realized my family, my mom, could read that. Let's just say that it wasn't a nice thought for me. I had talked to her about the depression because she had seen me doing poorly, and even though I tried to cover it up, she knew something was wrong. I had always skirted around the suicide part of it, but now it was wide open on the internet.

I decided to tell my family that I was fine and doing OK, but I needed them to read this article. It isn't a pleasant thing to hear that you made your mom and sister cry reading about your suicidal bullshit. I think it was a good thing overall though because at least they have some understanding now, and knowledge is a powerful thing. It also forced me to make a promise that I have to keep. Let me tell you though, reaching out to the people you love to tell them that you're fighting this indescribable pain and that you think about killing yourself isn't an easy thing to do. Think about it. Really put yourself in someone else's shoes who feels this way and then think about telling your girlfriend or wife how you feel. How can you describe it and how can they understand it, especially if you've been hiding it for years? The idea of that just triples the pain. I hated the idea that those closest to me worried and they didn't ever really know how bad the suicidal thoughts were.

Living and Training as a Bipolar Narcoleptic: Changes and The Future

People said, “Why didn't he tell his family and ask for help?” like it wasn't any big thing or was easy to do. It most definitely isn't easy. In fact, it's almost impossible when you're all the way down. It makes you hurt even more thinking that they'll be hurt by what you're telling them. Yeah, right now it's easy to say, "Well, they will be more hurt and in more pain if you kill yourself." When you're in it, your thinking isn't that rational or sane. If I was to give any recommendation to this problem, I would say talk with your loved ones when you're feeling good and start with the fact that you're OK. The truth is that if they are close, they will know something is up during those times of depression and they will probably be confused. It's quite possible they will feel hurt and alienated and have other bad feelings. Talking with them could help alleviate some of this and, in the long run, make it easier for all parties involved. Knowledge is power, and problems get worked out through communication.

Depression, bipolar and other disorders like this can be improved. I know this because I live it every day. For some of us, there isn't a complete cure, but anyone with one of these disorders can get help managing it and live a better life, a better life for themselves and the people around them.

I've written this article because I know how hard it is for the people suffering and because I feel so much for the people affected by these disorders. Both are in horrible places and feeling so much pain that can be avoided or, at the very least, lessened. With my experiences and with where my life has lead, I have a responsibility to do what I can to try to help increase understanding and knowledge for both those who are afflicted and the general population. It's my sincere hope that this article increases understanding and awareness and helps those who have been affected by suicide. Maybe this article will help them understand it a little better and realize that it isn't their fault and it isn't because they weren't enough. I hope it will make some people who are predisposed to these disorders look at their lives and just be aware that sometimes it builds without us realizing it. I really hope this article helps people who are struggling realize that reaching out can be the best thing, even though it can be so difficult. Suicide isn't the way out. It isn't the answer. You have to stay strong and keep fighting because there are always ways to make it better.

Dave Mirra inspired me to write this article. For me, that makes it even more important that this helps someone somewhere sometime. Dave died much too early in his life, and a treasure trove of knowledge died with him. Even though he wasn't competing at the level he once did, he was still a legend. He had so much knowledge that he could've shared with so many young athletes, and I believe that was something he wanted to do.

I hope that any athletes with even the mildest forms of any disorders take some time to consider if their sport is a way of dealing with something deeper. If it is and it helps, that is great, but remember that it may not always be there. Please don't wait until it's too late to start working on other options for dealing with your disorder. The world is better with people like Dave Mirra in it, and I have no doubt that he will be missed by so many people.

chad aich poem-01

Recognize Your Weaknesses and Limitations