Defeating the Stigma

The eighth and final install of this series comes from somebody I never played with, but have been close to. Spencer Horwitz has always been a great resource for me, and I’m glad he opened up about his experiences.

Here is the last piece of what has been an incredible series…

“Growing up I was fortunate enough to attend a local private Episcopalian high school that was viewed as one of the top schools in the state. I loved every second of it. It was there where I learned how to carry myself and hard work would get you to where you wanted to go.

This led me to Radford University where I was able to live the best three years of my life and continue to play baseball. Baseball is/was/always has been so much more than a sport to me. It has taken me all around the world and brought me in contact with some of the most amazing people. I am forever in debt to the game that has brought me so much joy over the years.

I am lucky enough to be still playing baseball at the professional level in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. Again, baseball has been my saving grace that I love so much and would not choose any other career path, but there is so much more to me and fellow athletes that people don’t know or care about. 

For a long time, I held my identity with my sport. Which was a blessing and curse. This identity, or lack their of, pushed me immensely helping me bring the success I have had in the sport. However, my mind, body, and spirit could only take so much of this self-torture.

The summer after my sophomore season at Radford University, I was lucky enough to play in the prestigious Cape Cod League. This league is full of the top college players in the country and it was an honor to even be given the opportunity to play there. While there, I had success. I was holding my own against some of the top competition in the country and starting to get recognized by scouts. I didn’t know how to handle this. 
My entire life had led up to this moment, and in an instant, it came crashing down. One game, I was standing in the outfield and the world began to spin, I couldn’t see, and my stomach dropped. I immediately ran off the field and headed to the trainer. I didn’t understand what was going on but I had to get out of there. This was my first experience of a panic attack. These panic spells continued for a few days to the point where I could not take it anymore and was forced to leave the Cape. After being diagnosed with a panic disorder and getting the medical help I needed, I was ready to head back to school and start my draft year. 

My teammates would constantly ask about the draft coming up, and I always hated it. They would ask why I left the Cape early and I would lie say I had family issues or make up some excuse because I was embarrassed of the truth. I was trying to protect myself from allowing myself to get hurt even more because of the terrible stigma around mental illness, but by me not talking about it made the stigma grow even more. 
I eventually built up the courage to open up with close family, friends, and teammates and to my disbelief, nobody judged or ostracized me for my issues. A lot could relate, understood, and didn’t even know that they were struggling as well. Here I thought I was crazy for feeling this way, but so many others who were not only people I trusted but also great athletes as well. It blew my mind when I opened up to others how many athletes struggled with the same things. 

I am at the smallest scale of professional sports, but I can help break the stigma. Kevin Love and Demar Derozan are two extra ordinary athletes who are open about their struggles with mental illness and have been a great influence for me to do the same. We as humans are not meant to carry so much burden by ourselves. It’s ok to be anxious, cry, and feel pain, but it’s not ok to pretend to be ok. 

Check in on your friends, even the ones that seem like they are doing ok. Realize that Mike Trout isn’t Mike Trout at home, he’s just Mike. He’s a human like you and me. Be kind to one another you never know what someone is going through.”

Defeating the stigma of mental health is rooted in the Super 8, as I believe all things are. There are both outlets and support systems rooted in those eight values. It takes a lot to share such a story, but the truth is powerful, especially to others who experience the same things.

This series has reminded me how thankful I am about the people in my life, especially those who had the time, courage, and willingness to share their lives with us.

I’m also thankful for any new fans, supporters and readers that I have gained from this week. I hope you have found an appreciation for the Super 8 as much as I do, and that you continue to follow and find these values in yourself.

Until next time,


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