What Michael Jordan Taught Me About Fighting Depression

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I was born in Chicago the year before the Bulls drafted Michael Jordan. For most of my adolescence, I never knew the NBA to have a different king. As a young boy in the 90’s, especially from Chicago, there was nobody higher up the hero ladder than Michael. I had his shoes, I watched his games, devoured his interviews, I even ate at his restaurant. Still to this day, as a grown man with bigger priorities than basketball, I perk up at the mention of Michael Jordan.

A Seed from 1993

You may be wondering where I’m going with this whole thing. What does Michael Jordan have to do with depression? Please stick with me, it’s going to get good.

Awhile back I was talking with a friend. I just came through a particularly rough time. For days my depression had me back to enduring suicidal thoughts, and the tension in my head was almost too much to bare. Thankfully I made it through and was now able to talk again.

My friend asked me how I was able to keep going, why I was so determined to fight through the pain in my life. I didn’t have an answer right away but, as I thought about it more, I recalled a 30-second clip from a video I watched in 1993. Well, ‘watched’ is an understatement. It was all Michael Jordan, so I wore that VHS tape out.

In the video, Michael addressed the addition of weight training to his workout and pre-game routine, a relatively mundane topic. In the segment from that video, Michael mentioned that he was getting beaten up on the court by some of the tougher teams at that time. He noted the physical roughness of teams like New York and Detroit. To combat the beating he took, Michael added weight training to his regimen which was something new to him. Again, it all seems mundane, and it’s hardly worth showing the clip to you. But I found it and thought you might like to check it out.

Remembering this particular scene made me realize that the seed planted within me decades ago was now fully grown right when I needed it most.

Michael Jordan’s Biggest Weapon

In that clip, we get a glimpse into the mind of a champion. You see, when his opponents became tougher than him, Michael didn’t give up, he got stronger. That attitude stuck in my head and, even as a 10-year old boy, my world shifted from that point onward. How I address challenges, obstacles, disappointments and frustrations in my life all stem from that seed subtly planted back in 1993. I believe that seed was planted specifically because I need it now in my fight against my depression.

Michael Jordan Quote

You couldn’t beat Michael. You might win physically, sometimes, but never mentally. Why? Because Michael had the attitude to persevere and to win no matter what. You can’t beat someone who takes disappointment and struggle and turns them into fuel to go farther.

Michael struggled for years with teams like Detroit and New York. Even Indiana got to him a few times. But Michael always took those disappointments and frustrations and turned them into motivation for him to come back stronger and better the next time. As a result, those teams don’t have Championships during the Jordan Era. He took the times they beat him and turned them into bigger wins for himself.

That’s my attitude with depression. It beats me up and breaks me down but I just adapt and come back stronger. Just ‘like Mike.’ Depression can’t beat me because I just get better every time. Does it still hurt? Absolutely. Do I wish I didn’t have to endure? Of course. But I have depression. So I either let it ruin my life or I find a way around it to keep going.

Michael Jordan Quote

Depression didn’t take my goals from me, it merely bombed the road between me and my dreams. That being said, those goals and dreams are still out there somewhere. What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to just give up on those dreams because I have depression? Does my diagnosis mean I’m not allowed to pursue my goals and the purpose for my life? No way! Not even a little bit!

Your goals still exist despite your mental illness. Don’t give up on your dreams because of depression. You’re short changing your life when you alter your dreams because of your diagnosis. The finish line hasn’t moved, the course is just rougher than you want. Life is hard because of depression so we must work even harder to pursue the purpose for our lives. The world needs more people achieving their goals, not less.

Put in the effort, work your ass off, because your goals deserve your very best, even with depression.

Michael Jordan Quote

I’ve said it for years, depression doesn’t make you weak. People with depression are some of the strongest people I know. Still, there are many in this world who continue to try and convince me that my mental illness is a weakness. I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret I have, I love it when people tell me I’m weak. It fills me with so much motivation, so much of what I call ‘productive rage.’ Tell me I’m weak. Tell me I’m broken. Let’s see what happens when the clock’s done ticking. Let’s see where I’m at and where you are. I’ll be further even with depression.

I’m so competitive, so filled with righteous indignation, that anybody who challenges me and tries to convince me I’m weak because of this illness should run and hide. You’re only making me stronger and you’re only ensuring my success.

Stop thinking depression is a weakness and start proving to yourself, and your world, just how strong you are. Stop using your illness as a crutch and an excuse to keep you from your goals. I spend weeks where I can’t get out of bed to do anything, no work, nothing. But, when the season subsides, I’m back to the grind making myself stronger, faster, better than before.

If you’re convinced that your depression is a weakness and an excuse to not try, then I feel sorry for you. Clearly, you’re dealing with stupidity on top of depression. The only thing worse than having depression is having depression and also being dumb. So I guess that sucks for you.

But the rest of us, the Sad Runners out there, we’re not going to let anybody convince us that depression makes us weak. We’re going to keep moving forward and we’re going to achieve success and thrive no matter what depression has in store for us. While others use depression as a crutch the true Ballers of depression are finding ways around their obstacles and they will crush it as a result.

Michael Jordan Quote

I refuse to live in a box made of others’ expectations. Look, I’m a foul-mouthed proud Christian Vegan Depression Fighter, they don’t make a box for people like me. And if they did, it would only limit me. Stop living up to others’ expectations thinking things will get better. They won’t. Your parents can expect you to be a certain way, your friends, everyone. Screw ’em. Depression changes the rules so you have to find out who you really are. You can’t do that if you’re trying to live up to others’ view of who you should be or how you should act.

Again, focus on your goals and dreams for your life and pursue them passionately despite your depression or the expectations anyone has for you because of it. Do you, keep grinding, forget everyone else.

Michael Jordan Quote

Michael Jordan was all about effort. Do you think, maybe, that had something to do with how good he became? I can’t control what other people do, I can’t control what thoughts my depression puts in my brain. But I can control how much effort I put into my life. If depression costs me my life someday, those closest to me will talk about how hard I worked, how tough I was and how intensely I fought this illness.

I believe the day I stop working hard against my depression, that’s the day my depression will win and I’ll die. My depression is the toughest opponent I’ll ever face, I can’t even give it an inch because my life is on the line. Let it be known by all who read this that nobody works harder than me to push past this depression and pursue my dreams. The effort I put into my recovery would astound you.

Michael Jordan Quote

Sometimes things don’t go your way. But, if you work hard, results do come and you will see progress. Put in the work for your recovery. Go to the appointments you need to go to. Take the medications and supplements you need to take. Do the things on your list that you know help you fight your depression. Put in the work, the results will come. They may not always look the way you want them to. Depression taints things pretty good. But results will come, keep going.

Michael Jordan Quote

I had a therapist tell me once that I needed to stop trying to fight my depression. Are you kidding me? I’m in a war here. I get hit in the head every single day for no reason other than the dumb luck that I woke up that morning.

Believe me, we’re in a fight for our lives here. I’m not just talking death. I’m talking livelihood. You’re fighting your depression so that you can thrive not just survive. Put some pads on because it’s fight time, and you’re already in the ring. Get used to the idea that your depression is fighting you and trying to beat you. What are you going to do to defend yourself and ultimately win?

Michael Jordan Quote

Depression is negative. You may be wondering how you can turn that positive. Well, first look at Sad Runner. This website is me taking the negativity of my illness and creating positivity from it. Now, you may not build a website and do what I do, but you’re not supposed to. You’re built for something that only you can do. Depression doesn’t change that.

Look to find ways to make positivity happen from all this crap. Whether that’s sharing your story with someone else to help them feel better or it’s simply realizing that your depression makes you more sensitive and therefore more in tune than other people. Search for the little pieces of gold in all the dirt you’re stuck with.

Michael Jordan Quote

People with depression lower their expectations. We flake on plans, we let ourselves down, we’re filled with disappointment. It’s difficult to expect good things when all we feel is sorrow. We have to find it within ourselves to raise our personal expectations. Depression shouldn’t mean that we expect less of ourselves. Remember, the goals don’t change. So expect yourself to achieve them.

The Secret to Michael Jordan’s Success

I argue that Michael Jordan would not have been nearly as great had he not had to play the toughest teams in the league. I believe if there were no New York, no Detroit, no LA, there would be less championships in Chicago. Why? Because I believe Michael would not have gotten better. Or at least not as good as he ultimately became. His opponents made him stronger and more determined. He wanted to be the best. There are stories where Michael would only play against the second best player on the team (Scottie Pippen) because he demanded a challenge for himself. Michael was a success because he was forced to find a way to beat Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, and all the rest. Instead of letting them beat him, he used them to make him stronger and better. Those guys don’t have championship rings because of Michael. The man who only got stronger ultimately prevailed.

I truly believe that, at the end of my life, I will be better, stronger, faster, more effective, and ultimately more successful because I battled depression throughout every play, every game, of every season. Depression fights me hard, but I keep coming back stronger. The tools I’ve identified to help me overcome a day of depression are tools that help me be successful in life. I use them to my advantage. I dance with my depression like a boxer in the ring. We exchange blow after blow, but I’m still in the ring and I’m getting stronger with every lesson, every punch I receive.

Call me weak. Call me broken. Depression can tear me apart all it wants. I only come back harder and tougher.

You’re going to need a lot more than chronic depression and anxiety to knock me off course. I’m Adam Freaking Weitz, I’m a Depression Fighter and I’m a Sad Runner. By definition, Sad Runners don’t lose. We just keep moving forward.

Adam Weitz
Adam Weitz

Adam Weitz is a multi-discipline designer, business owner, and founder of Sad Runner. He is passionate about encouraging people with depression and works through Sad Runner to positively impact their lives.