“I think all that creativity, all that anger, all that frustration, all the sadness, all the hurt can create such creative passion. It literally is sometimes, and it’s sad to say, sometimes the best fuel to create some of your best work. I’ve had some of the best matches when I was mentally at my lowest point. There was a time in my life where I thought that I was going to lose my wrestling career because I thought if I wasn’t sad or if I wasn’t depressed, I wouldn’t have any fuel to create. I wouldn’t have any fuel to make anything of myself and I would lose all the stuff that I had worked for.
So, all this pain and anguish, and I hate using those words, they sound so edgy, but it’s not fun to have this really unhealthy mindset where you’ve convinced yourself that you can only be good if you’re absolutely f*****g horrible and you destroy s**t and you deliberately get involved with people you know are not good for you.” -Malakai Black
Wrestling With Mental Health
The world has never been a carefree place. It’s so full of drama, toxicity, negativity, and paranoia. During our childhoods, many of us didn’t have to care about that stuff. We’d go to school, play with our friends, come home, and finish our day watching cartoons or wrestling. There wasn’t enough time in the day to think about how the world perceives us, or be bothered if we were embarrassing. We were kids, that’s what we did. Yet, somewhere along the line, we care about what others think of us. Even in the smallest settings, like with classmates, it’s a big deal if we’re not fitting in.
Some will continue not to care and become outcasts, while others conform and lose their uniqueness. Our innocence dwindles, and suddenly it’s about status and material things. We’re made to believe we need the latest shoes, expensive toys, and you’re obviously nobody without a phone. Also, now it’s your parents who are embarrassing, because they still see you as the little kid you were a year ago. You think you’re grown up, when you’re not. This confusion continues and it never really goes away. You carry it in to adulthood, and we keep on struggling while wrestling with new challenges every day.
Think about all the stress you have been through in your life. Now, think about how that would be if you had to carry that with you while performing as a professional wrestler. You become famous, and suddenly there’s the biggest magnifying glass in the world looming over you. It’s called the internet! They seek your drama. Your botches. Cutting a promo? You better not flub your lines and lose everyone’s attention, because you’re the worst if you can’t do something as simple as that, right?
Then you have the analysts. Those people who criticize because you punched instead of going for a more logical dropkick. They’ve never, ever been in the ring, yet they are telling you how to do your job. These people tell you they have the right to critique and you should appreciate them for watching. You might think, well… yeah, they are probably right, but can’t they just leave me to it? Why do they have to be so overanalytical? Can’t they just sit and enjoy the show? And why is this dumb dirtsheet reporting “facts” about me which aren’t true? I know if I say anything about it, people will think I’m lying, because wrestling is a work.
These leeches keep sucking me dry without a care in the world. Would it be so inconvenient for them to send me a message to confirm their story? All I want is to make a living. It shouldn’t be this difficult. There are people like me, who just want to get on with life. They want to escape in to whatever makes them feel happy, and wrestling does that. But can I keep going with all this baggage? Why am I feeling so heavy in the morning? All my sacrifices, and what do I have to show for it? Is it really worth it, when all it would take is one terrible moment and the business will blackball me. Am I worthy of being here?
As fans, we get so in to our wrestling that it’s easy to forget these characters are real people. No, they aren’t under the same pressure as a neurosurgeon, or a firefighter pulling people out of a burning building. However, the business has a history of suicide. An undertone of declining mental health going by the wayside. We love this industry, but do we put too much pressure on its performers? If they botch, do we have to chant “YOU F***** UP!”? No one’s perfect, yet we hold them to an exceedingly high standard. We have YouTube videos dedicated to catching botches, and we find them entertaining. We laugh at their expense.
No, this degradation isn’t exclusive to wrestling, but how would we feel in their shoes? What if we put everything in to being creative, physically and mentally exerting ourselves to the point it hurts for days, and do this on repeat for years, even decades? And in the end, we’re remembered for something stupid like botching a shooting star press. Would you not feel like withdrawing in to yourself? That anguish. The anxiety. All the passion you have for your craft blowing up in your face. What if it ruins your hopes of becoming a superstar? The chance to live the rest of your days in luxury, long after retirement.
I’ll never have the courage to say how much life hurts in public, but I can admit this is my form of escapism. Being given the platform to perform like a wrestler, by putting fingers to keyboard, is like nothing else in my life. I’m not doing this to get noticed or make a lot of money, no… I’m merely making a living doing something I’ve always enjoyed. Few get to do what they have a passion for. I could be elsewhere making more money in a job I despise, yet I’m here. Persevering through hard times. Never feeling satisfied, or that the work is of a high enough standard. I’m my own worst critic, and I imagine this is how many wrestlers feel. They don’t want to look back at their matches, because they will never be good enough.
I’m not trying to sound patronizing, but it’s too easy to criticize somebody. Have you ever made something? Did you pour all of your soul in to making it as perfect as it could be? It’s difficult making anything worthwhile, and it’s a harsh, never-ending cycle. I’m less inclined to be critical of talent’s work, because I understand how much pressure they put on themselves. For me, it’s more about the platform. Are you being given the right tools? Is the show being put together logically? I don’t think it’s cruel to point out when someone isn’t ready, but it’s not a reason to write them off either, and it can take time for late bloomers to flourish. Be willing to withhold judgment and understand it’s not as easy as some make it look. If it was? We’d all be doing it. Passion is encouraging until it isn’t.
When you’re falling in to a black hole, it’s hard to stop yourself. Hope someone will reach out and be there. Just listening to you, they can serve as the rope that keeps you from falling in to the abyss. Over time, they may pull you up, and you might not get up right away. It might take time for you to have the strength to stand on your own two feet, but at least your friend will be there when you do. And this is me, reaching out to you, to ask you to do the same. Think about those around you who are down. Don’t tell them to snap out of it, or say “let’s go party”, because drinking or taking drugs is never the solution. Be there for them. Listen to them. You probably won’t know what to say, but at least you didn’t ignore them.
When you’re so alone, you feel like no one wants to be with you. The sense of worthlessness, like you don’t matter, like nothing you have done, or ever will do, matters. It’s all negated by having someone there. You can do this for professional wrestlers too. When you hear their stories of struggling with mental health, don’t judge them. Everybody hurts in different ways, and just because they are finding success in the industry does not make them invulnerable to feelings of depression. The stress of the magnifying glass would be too much for most of us to handle. Please, don’t allow your escapism to breed negativity. No, we’re not changing the world here, but if one person questions themselves after reading this? It’s something. If you meet with the wrestlers, tell them your stories. Let them know they aren’t alone, and we’ll support them.
Can we not come together, like all the wrestlers? WWE. AEW. New Japan. NWA. Impact. ROH. The indies. Whatever you watch, it doesn’t need to be a competition. Come together as one, and appreciate what we have, because wrestling brings so much joy. Hopefully, we don’t have to hear about losing anybody else. I dedicate this to every wrestler who passed away after struggling with their mental health. And to you wrestling fans, for serving as the friend with the rope. Together, we can reach out. Make our lives, and professional wrestling, a platform for the next generation to seek help when it looks like there’s no way out. Be there for each other. Thanks for reading.
Struggling with mental health? Please seek help. Don’t feel like this is an admission of weakness. You are helping yourself, much like you would a physical injury. If your country does not already have something in place, you can look online for services. Here’s somewhere to get you started (Healthline), although there are others if none of this works for you. There’s nothing wrong with taking care of yourself.