Blog posts with a category of Parenting.
“I feel fulfilled. It was what I wanted.” – Swimmer Michael Phelps after the 2016 Rio Olympics
Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time; a man of wealth and esteem who is admired world-wide, has reached a state fulfillment, as the above quote attests. But the back story tells a far different tale. Phelps has struggled with mental disorders and conditions his entire life. Thanks to his strength, resources and wonderful family led by his mother, Debbie, a single mom, he seems to finally be in the clear.
What it says for the rest of us, is that living a human life is rarely easy, even for those who are fabulously successful and can afford the best professional help.
As a 9-year-old struggling to pay attention in class, Phelps was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a condition that affects an estimated four million children and adolescents in the United States. He simply couldn’t sit still or pay attention.
In a recent blog I explained that I’m ADD, but didn’t have the “hyper” component and it didn’t greatly affect my school performance like it did Phelps’ and millions of others. Like Phelps, who took up swimming at 9, I’ve always had laser like focus – but only for things I’m interested in, which is a characteristic of people with ADD.
With the help of medication and behavior therapy — and the support of his mother, Phelps channeled his energies into swimming, and by age 15 became the youngest male record holder in modern sports. Debbie and his two sisters had become a team, paying attention to his eating habits by restricting things like sugar. They also instituted restrictions on some of his activities to teach him time management, and he began making choices that helped him use his time more wisely.
Fast forward 12 years to the 2012 London Olympics where, at 27, Phelps ran his medal count to 18. He was the undisputed greatest swimmer of all time, but in his private world, wrestled with inner demons that sapped his sense of self.
“I went in with no self-confidence, no self-love,” Phelps said in an interview on NBC’s “Dateline” following the London games. “I think the biggest thing was, I thought of myself as just a swimmer, and nobody else.” He also admitted that he had been struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse and that nobody except his closest friends and family knew about it.
“100%, I was lost, pushing a lot people out of my life — people that I wanted and needed in my life. I was running and escaping from whatever it was I was running from.” It took a life-changing run-in with the law in 2014 for Phelps to realize he needed help. He was arrested for driving under the influence for a second time and it provided a major call for self-analysis.
“I was in the lowest place I’ve ever been,” he told Dateline. “Honestly, I sort of, at one point, I just — I felt like I didn’t want to see another day. I felt like it should be over.”
In other words, a man who had achieved world fame as the greatest in history at his chosen pursuit was ready to commit suicide. It’s called depression, a condition Phelps shares with some 15 million, or 7% of his fellow Americans.
Phelps went into rehab in October 2014, where he says he cried himself to sleep the first several nights. In treatment he addressed many of the underlying issues affecting his health, including a turbulent relationship with his father dating back to childhood.
Before his recent Rio Olympic heroics, Phelps said, “I’m having fun again. This is something I haven’t had in a really long time.” His fiancée, Nicole, just gave birth to their son a few months ago. And becoming a dad has been the “best feeling” he’s ever felt in his life.
So, why was New Oakland created 25 years ago by Dr. Ismail Sendi? Because he realized that a staggering 1 in 4 Americans suffers from any number of mental disorders and illnesses such as those that plagued Michael Phelps. And Dr. Sendi also felt deeply that every child and adult deserves a loving family and competent professionals to guide them out of the woods to experience love, success and self-respect.
When celebrities speak out about their mental health struggles, it’s worth noting because their courage can be contagious. It’s why I wrote about golf and TV personality David Feherty recently for his wonderful interview on HBO’s Real Sports about his colossal struggle with depression.
It’s also why I feel that Phelps is equally worthy of universal admiration for openly discussing his struggles as he is his for Olympic medal haul. His courage allows him to symbolically say, “Out of the pool, I’m just like you. I admitted I needed help. You can too. And hopefully you’ll find the great personal and professional I support I had.”
My mom, Lillian Zaret, wasn’t perfect, but in certain areas she really knew her stuff. In my 18 years under her roof, she never brought a bottle of Coca-Cola into the house. “It’s junk – all sugar” she’d say. “Tab” was Coca-Cola’s precursor to Diet Coke which came along in the early 80’s. Tab didn’t make it into my fridge either. “Artificial sweeteners are poison,” she’d growl.
Right again, Ma.
Let’s face it. Coke and its many carbonated cousins contain no nutritional value. The sugary ones are stuffed with bad, unneeded calories and help foster obesity. Peer-reviewed scientific studies seem to indicate the “diet” ones seem to do no better in the long run.
But the main reason I hate Coke today is its deceit and influence peddling. At New Oakland, our passion for good mental health starts from the premise that, after all, mental health — for individuals or society as a whole — begins with good health. And we tend to get particularly outraged when anyone — companies, government — tries to distort the truth about what matters when it comes to good health.
And yet, take a look at an article from this week’s New York Times this week that’s titled, “Coke Spends to Sugar Coat Science.”
It documents how, in just the last five years, Coca- has handed out $120 million in grants to organizations supposedly dedicated to children’s health. In exchange for cash, these organizations obscure how truly awful sugary beverages and sugar-laden foods are for children.
If this sounds familiar, it should. The article shows how Coke is copying the tactics of tobacco companies in the 50’s and 60’s — who paid off doctors to endorse highly addictive and deadly cigarettes as good for your health while glamorizing it in advertising as cool and sophisticated.
So, shame on Coca-Cola. But it’s also shame on the organizations that are only too happy to take Coke money, including:
- The American College of Cardiology ($3.1M)
- The American Cancer Society ($2M)
- The American Academy of Family Physicians ($3.5M)
- The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics ($1.7) and
- The American Academy of Pediatrics ($3M)
These are organizations that claim to share New Oakland’s commitment to health of all kinds — mental, physical, nutritional — and to the importance of unbiased scientific inquiry and education about what contributes to a healthy lifestyle.
When the American Academy of Pediatrics needed funding for a website to promote children’s health, it turned to Coke. In exchange for $3 million over 6 years, the group praised Coke on its website as a “distinguished” company for its commitment to “better the health of children worldwide.”
Now under pressure for allowing Coke to buy its influence, the Academy will end its relationship after 2015 saying, “We no longer share the same values with Coca-Cola.” Dr. Arnold Matlin, a retired NY pediatrician led the fight against the Academy’s illicit relationship with Coke. “Coca-Cola is bad for children,” Matlin wrote. “And the AAP should never accept sponsorship from Coke or any company that makes sugar sweetened beverages. It’s obscene.”
In 2013 when former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to ban sugared sodas bigger than 16 ounces, the N.A.A.C.P. and the Hispanic Federation both sided with the beverage industry in a lawsuit against him even though minorities have disproportionate rates of obesity. Guess why? Each had accepted about $500,000 from Coke.
New Oakland has only one goal, and that is to positively influence the mental and physical health of the thousands of children it deals with yearly. We’re not saying kids should never drink a Coke, eat a donut or devour a piece of birthday cake. But too much sugar leads to much more than just obesity. It also contributes to:
- Rotting teeth
- Overloading the liver
- Insulin resistance leading to Type II diabetes
- Higher risk of cancer
- Higher levels of cholesterol leading to heart disease
- Greater dopamine release in the brain leading to sugar addiction
Sugar is added to many other food products besides soda. But each 12 oz. Coke has 35 grams of sugar, 30% more than what an entire, safe daily intake should be.
My mom has been gone almost 20 years and I’m grateful for the stance she took against sugar when there wasn’t any research to back her gut instincts. I just wish more modern day moms would take her lead. And I hope any modern day organization whose mission is to advance children’s health will think twice about taking money from a company whose products essentially do the opposite.