mental health, sports business, same here, same here solutions, autism, asperger's

My #SameHere Story: "Perspective and Finding Purpose"

by tyler marcotte - member experience executive, boston celtics
September 17, 2020

This year has certainly been a unique one with many societal issues being apparent and change being at the forefront. If there is something 2020 has taught me so far, it is the importance of perspective. The perspective of the world we currently live in, perspective of what is viewed as a new normal, perspective of changes and matters that you never would think about or address. What significantly impacted my perspective is the topic of mental health. There is a stigma that mental health is a signature of weakness and that you should not be open about your personal problems, feelings, or thoughts. A stigma that you should prioritize other matters and push this to the side. That may seem like the status quo, but I hope that being transparent about our well-being becomes the “new normal” which is why I am sharing my story publicly.

The Diagnosis and Overview:

At the age of 9, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, an Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that affects one’s ability to socialize and communicate. Those diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome have difficulty with social interactions, restricted interests, a desire for sameness, and distinctive strengths. They also face challenges such as hypersensitivity (to lights, sound, tastes, etc.), difficulty with the give and take of a conversation, difficulty with non-verbal conversation skills (distance, loudness, tone, etc.), uncoordinated movements or clumsiness and, especially, anxiety and depression.

Those on the spectrum have difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication. They may not understand or appropriately use spoken language (around a one third of people with Autism are non-verbal), gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, and expressions not meant to be taken literally. Additional social challenges can include difficulty with: recognizing emotion or intention in others, recognizing one’s own emotions, expressing emotions, seeking emotional comfort from others, feeling overwhelmed in social situations, taking turns in conversation, and gauging personal space (appropriate distance between people).

The Data:

In 2020. The CDC reported 1 in 54 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder: 1 in 34 boys and 1 in 144 girls. There is no medical cure for an ASD but many on the spectrum learn to overcome challenges by building on their strengths. Those strengths include remarkable focus and persistence, aptitude for recognizing patterns, and having great attention to detail. They also rely on therapies and other services. Cognitive behavior therapy helps address anxiety and personal challenges, social skills training classes help with conversational skills and understanding social cues, speech therapy helps with voice control, and physical and occupational therapy can improve coordination.

There is staggering data that demonstrates how Autism is also associated with high rates of various health conditions. Mentally, ADHD affects as much as 61% of children with Autism, anxiety disorders affect as much as 40% of children and teens on the spectrum, depression affects an estimated 7% children and 26% of adults with Autism. Bullying plays a factor in those numbers and is a serious problem for those in the Autism community, 2 out of 3 children with Autism between the ages of 6-15 have been bullied. Physically, nearly 32% of 2-5-year olds with autism are overweight (16% obese); in the general population 23% of 2-5-year olds are overweight (10% obese).

Childhood Struggles:

Following my diagnosis, I had no idea what Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism was or how it impacted my life. I felt isolated and depressed throughout my childhood, especially in school. I wasn’t making any friends, and no one wanted to talk to me. There were times during lunch where I sat by myself and the only time people talked to me was for group projects or to copy my homework since they knew I’d do most of the work. I tried thinking of ways to develop friendships and one strategy was to give people something. I’d take a handful of candy to share with those on the bus so I could sit next to them. I handed out gum in the classroom to those that asked just to be acknowledged. People thanked me but if I were to see that same person later in the day, they ignored me as if I didn’t exist. I was so gullible and didn’t have the courage to say something.

I was not an ordinary student. Whenever there was a fire drill, I was escorted out of the classroom beforehand because I had sensitive hearing and was frightened by sound especially from something unexpected. Everyone asked why I left and didn’t know how to respond. I took tests and quizzes in a separate room because I had difficulty completing something in a timely manner and felt rushed which caused me anxiety. Again, people asked me why I left and could not provide a clear answer. I was labeled as a teacher’s pet because I sat in front of the classroom (little did they know I was nearsighted). I stayed after school so teachers could help me with an assignment or answer questions. I was nervous to ask questions during class for fear of being judged or ridiculed and felt more comfortable when it was just myself and the teacher.

“Life is a gift, don’t waste it.” I held the telling in my hands for a long time and still have it with me to this day. That was the reality check I needed, to change for him, the rest of my family and for myself.

When it came to social events like school dances or parties, I usually stood around for hours on end to avoid making eye contact or having to talk to anyone. I would clench my hands or rub my arms up and down because I felt uncomfortable being around other people. In middle school I met with a psychologist once a week and we talked about what was going on in my life and we worked on puzzles which I enjoyed. It kept my mind of off what was going on around me and felt great knowing there was someone I could express my thoughts, feelings, and emotions to without fear of judgement or ridicule. It was apparent that what I was doing to garner attention and socially interact was unhealthy.

Finding Purpose:

What helped cope with my disorder throughout my childhood was sports. Growing up, it was a struggle when it came to attending sporting events, especially basketball. At games, I covered my ears every time the shot clock went off and jumped whenever the players’ shoes squeaked, or the referees blew their whistle. I left the gym with about a minute left for every quarter in order to distance myself and have enough time to cover my ears before the buzzer sounded. My feet trembled whenever there was a packed gym so to calm myself around a large group of people, I rubbed my arm back-and-forth.

Despite being overwhelmed at events, I loved watching sports. As I got older, I learned more about how each sport was played, who the players were, studied play strategies and analyzed statistics. I was also actively involved in sports and noticed that engagement really helped me become socially active with my teammates and coaches. I had conversations that I normally wouldn’t be able to have outside of sports. I felt like no matter the playing field, I was my true self. Sports became a passion of mine and was willing to do anything I could to surround myself with it.

Connecting the Dots:

There was a point in high school where I stopped my routine of meeting with my psychologist and started developing new and unhealthy habits. I spent countless hours nestled in my room playing video games instead of going outside and exercising. When I got home from school, I would do my homework, have dinner, watch TV, and not say much. It was not until my mother printed out a list of “symptoms” for those on the Autism spectrum that I really started to educate myself about my disorder. Once I was able to connect the dots, I became more accepting of myself, my Asperger’s diagnosis, and realized the importance of self-advocacy. Since sports was my safe haven and my playing days were behind me, I decided to manage the high school baseball team my junior and senior years. Interacting with my teammates and having free-flowing conversations, especially in school, really helped my self-esteem.

Losing Sight:

When starting college, I was excited about this new journey but was also nervous and anxious. I attended a university that was not far from home but living in a dorm with other students was an adjustment. I was part of a program conducted by the Disabilities Resource Office for incoming students with learning disabilities. It was very eye-opening because I had extensive conversations with people who were neurodiverse and able to connect with them more on a personal level because we all had something in common and could relate to one another. I was also assigned a mentor who I met with on a weekly basis to help me adjust to the campus lifestyle and discuss other non-academic related topics. There was a structure in place that I felt comfortable with and had more independence with my decision making. I anticipated with excitement for my first semester to get underway, but things drastically changed as I was dealing with some personal issues.

My father had serious health issues and it got to a point where he was going to the hospital, daily. We had phone conversations, but I felt homesick and didn’t focus on my schoolwork or making friends. I would come back to my room after class, do my homework, and then just stay in bed. If I went to the food hall, I made sure it was during a time where there weren’t many people and I usually sat by myself. I could not sleep because I was worried that something bad was happening to him. I purposely skipped on meeting with my mentor because I didn’t want to talk to anyone and selfishly refused to seek help. In my mind college wasn’t for me and I wanted to forget about it entirely.

We try to occupy ourselves with tasks or responsibilities that force us to suppress those personal thoughts, feelings, or traumas. The more we do that, the more stress builds up that leads to unhealthy decision making.

One day I went to visit my dad at the hospital, and I knew it was the last time I’d see him. When I entered the room, he looked like a completely different person. I held his hand tightly and said my goodbye. The following day, I received the news that he died. It was the first time I felt grief. I lost not only my dad but my best friend. The best times we had together were at Celtics games and, looking back, I took those moments for granted. I was angry at the world around me, but one day I was going through his possessions and found a fortune cookie telling. We ordered Chinese food a few weeks before his passing. He looked at me, smiled, nodded his head, and gave it to me. It read “Life is a gift, don’t waste it.” I held the telling in my hands for a long time and still have it with me to this day. That was the reality check I needed, to change for him, the rest of my family and for myself.

Rediscovery:

A year after my dad’s passing, I had an opportunity to intern for a summer collegiate team in my hometown. It was a life-changing moment. I was able to watch baseball and learn the various roles of the business side. It felt great having conversations with the players, those in the front office, fellow interns, fans, and people in my own community. I interned there for two summers and that experience gave me a purpose to pursue a career in sports. It helped improve my interpersonal skills especially with people I met for the first time. When I went back for my junior year I wanted to focus on improving my social skills. I started talking to my peers outside the classroom and having lunch or dinner with them. I also got involved on campus, mainly with intramurals.

I reached out to the Disabilities Resource Office asking if I could be part of the same mentoring program as a mentor instead of a mentee. I was fortunate enough to interact with students that were on the Autism spectrum focusing on personal, academic, and social objectives. I also mentored those with other learning disabilities my senior year. It was an amazing feeling to be in this role because I was able to learn from the mistakes from prior experiences and have accountability for those I mentored and for myself. I knew right then and there that another purpose in my life is to be a role model for others.

On My Own:

In 2016 I moved to Texas to work for a minor league baseball team. It was the first time I was on my own, being away from my family and living in unfamiliar territory. Nonetheless, I was excited for my first full time job in sports and the opportunity to develop new relationships. Everything was fine for the first few weeks but when colleagues talked about their families, meeting them the ballpark, or asked me to cover their shift since those family members were in-town, that’s when I started to get homesick and once again I developed poor habits. I loved being at the ballpark interacting with my colleagues, the fans and watching games when I had the chance. I stayed after hours on non-gamedays and lent a hand on gamedays even if I was not scheduled to work; I wanted to be at that ballpark as much as possible. Outside the office, however, I was a completely different person. I developed unhealthy eating habits. In the two years I lived there I gained over 60 pounds. I stopped exercising daily and had a poor sleeping routine. It got to a point where I showed up late to the office practically every day.

At the office, I was perceived as happy, hard-working and a team player. Outside, I was depressed, unmotivated, and reserved. I knew I was not healthy or in a good place physically or mentally but did nothing and told no one about it. When I was hanging out with my colleagues at a social event I suppressed those feelings and appeared as if nothing was wrong. I walked by my mirror every morning and never held myself accountable. The only time I felt happiness outside of work was when I saw my family which was like twice a year if I was lucky. Once I was back in Texas it was back to being miserable. I devoted my time and effort towards professional growth, prioritizing my clients and colleagues rather than myself. Fortunately, I had an opportunity to move back home and work for the Boston Celtics.

Proactive Measures:

In 2018 I started my new position and made sure I took the lessons learned from my experience in Texas, and even before that, to really focus on professional AND personal growth. I devoted that offseason to have a self-evaluation and develop habits that fostered a healthy work-life balance. The first area of focus was nutrition, so I met a nutritionist to develop a daily routine. I used a mobile app to track my eating habits making sure I reached my daily calorie and weekly weight loss goals. I started losing weight quickly and then transitioned into developing a daily workout routine. Not only did I lose all the weight gained from living in Texas, I also gained self-confidence and had a much better mindset. I spent quality time with my family, and it felt amazing to see them more often. I also wanted to become more people smart by having more personable conversations with my season ticket members and colleagues. If I had a conversation for at least five minutes, I’d always smile because that was something I honestly never thought I’d be able to accomplish consistently.

Overwhelmed:

I had a suitable daily routine, a healthy work-life balance and was proud of the person I saw in the mirror. However, things drastically changed when the COVID situation came into the picture. I remember being in the office and told to go home. I thought this was temporary and we’d be back to “normal” in a month or so. It was a hectic few weeks with so much uncertainty and having difficult conversations all the while adjusting to the working from home and the quarantine lifestyle. It is difficult for those on the Autism spectrum to express empathy not because we do not want to, but we might not know how to if we do not fully understand a situation. I was in an unfamiliar situation with no concrete solutions to what was going on. I learned how to empathize from having various conversations with members to really understand how the circumstances impacted them. For those on the Autism spectrum, they rely heavily on a routine and when that is interrupted it causes higher anxiety levels.

One morning I sat down and started my workday. A few minutes later, I felt my heart racing, body weakening and shaking, had no idea where I was, the room was spinning and started hyperventilating. It’s been awhile since I experienced an anxiety attack, but this was different because I was by myself and did not know what to do. I ran into the bathroom to splash water on my face to try to calm myself down. I then basically went into shutdown mode where I did not communicate with anyone and left my apartment to try to get away for the stress and burden from everything going on. I missed a meeting and refused to answer any calls or text messages throughout the majority of the day. After calming down, I reached out to my supervisor and explained what transpired. Following the conversation, I needed to seek professional help. I decided to reach out to my childhood psychologist and was surprised to see that after all these years he was still practicing. To avoid the same mistake I made in Texas, I made sure to tell my parents what happened and that I was seeking help. I took accountability and realized that the next focus was towards my mental health.

New Purpose:

That first conversation with my psychologist was an eye-opener for me. For the longest time I wanted to control outcomes and when things did not go according to plan I took that personally. What I took away from that was accepting the fact that these are unprecedented times with circumstances that are completely out of my control, to recognize that I matter, and it is ok to seek help. Afterwards, I wanted to learn more about mental health and why, especially during these times, it is important to address it. I remember seeing the introduction to #SameHere Solutions and listened to their first webinar.

That webinar helped me accept and understand why I was having particular thoughts or feelings. One of the statements that really stood out to me was that we use work as a coping mechanism to shield from any personal thoughts, feelings, or traumas we may have. We try to occupy ourselves with tasks or responsibilities that force us to suppress those personal thoughts, feelings, or traumas and the more and more we do that, the more stress builds up that leads to unhealthy decision making. After listening to that webinar, I was motivated to have another self-evaluation with my mental health and figure out habits to implement and help me with this issue.

The next time you walk past a mirror, take a good look, and ask yourself am I okay?! If you can answer honestly, know that if you are not okay there are resources and people out there willing to help you.

One habit I enjoyed as a kid was reading. Most of the books I read were thought-provoking or something relating to my professional life. I decided this time around to focus on books pertaining to self-growth and started reading an hour a day to get my mind off work or personal matters. I also started listening to podcasts for the first-time initially regarding sports but, once that halted, resorted to ones about self-growth. I started using a mindfulness app to integrate meditation into my daily routine. I spend about 20 minutes on my mental fitness that focuses on being present, breathing consistently and perform visualization exercises. I also use that app before going to bed to help with sleep. I also began journaling as suggested from one of my recently read books. I always kept personal thoughts or feelings stored in my mind. If I felt anxious, those thoughts would come back leaving me stressed or overwhelmed. I find journaling as a great way to put those thoughts and feelings on paper and clear my head.

I spent most of April and May focused on staying committed to these new habits as part of my lifestyle and it made a huge difference. It impacted the way I interacted with my colleagues, family members and friends. I had a more optimistic mindset than ever before despite so much uncertainty still going on. This was truly a life-changing moment and asked myself what’s next? I felt the need to take my experiences over the past few months and share them. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, it felt appropriate to tell my colleagues first. I felt extremely nervous at first and skeptical about the outcome. Would there be a response? Was this appropriate to share with them? Would this be a waste of time? When everyone joined the meeting, I took a deep breath and told them about my anxiety attack, what I’ve done over the past few months, the lessons I learned from that experience and closed by emphasizing the importance of self-care and mental health.

After that ended, I received individual text messages from everyone in that meeting thanking me for sharing my story which solidified that I made the right decision. Having their support and taking the time out of their day to listen to what I had to say will be something I will be forever grateful for. I was very emotional but knew that if I can some way impact my colleagues there are others out there that I can share my story with as well. This provided me further perspective to expand my outreach.

Next Steps:

If you made it this far I want to sincerely thank you for taking the time to read my story. My hope is that it not only provides a look into my perspective, but it shows you the importance of self-care and accepting yourself. I accept my Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis and recognize I will have it for the rest of my life with no cure or way to change that. I also accept the realization there will be obstacles to overcome, which will challenge my mental toughness, and I will need to persevere. There is a stigma in society around mental health, that being vulnerable makes us weak, that we should not express our problems, thoughts, or feelings. That it is a negative aspect of one’s life and those individuals are unable to contribute to society and they are subject to unfair criticism. If this year has taught us anything it’s that we are in the age of a “new normal” so I encourage you to find your perspective and purpose. Tell your story as I am sure there are many out there that can resonate with you. You don’t need to tell your story publicly, that is entirely your choice. However, if you can get to know yourself more and accept wanting help and address the issues surrounding mental health, we can keep an ongoing discussion about this topic and move away from this stigma.

I want to bring awareness to this because no matter your age, gender, race, sexual orientation, or disability, mental health affects us all - 5 out of 5 of us, not just the “1 in 5” we hear about so often. We should come together to not only make ourselves better human beings but also improve the lives of those around us. The next time you walk past a mirror, take a good look, and ask yourself am I okay? If you can answer honestly, know that if you are not okay there are resources and people out there willing to help you. I made plenty of mistakes throughout my life but if I can at least learn from them and try to inspire others to ensure they do not make the same mistakes, that is what really matters. I certainly do not have all the answers and am not an expert in the mental health field. However, by telling my story it’s the first step into hopefully making an impact. I will continue to educate myself on this topic and find opportunities to create further action.

I want to commend Bob Hamer and Eric Kussin for creating this platform. Mental health is one of the most undervalued aspects in life, especially in the sports and entertainment industry, and it is not talked about enough. I also want to thank my family, friends, and colleagues for their continued support throughout my life and helping me through the challenging times. This is the first time I am being open about my mental health journey and would not be able to tell this story if it were not for them. This is only the beginning, as stated earlier, my purpose is to be a role model not just for those in the Autism community but also to be an advocate for mental health. I want to normalize Autism and in the spirit of “5 out of 5,” and help people understand that having Autism is not “strange” but is part of that continuum we are all on - where we acknowledge mental health is impacting ALL of us in many different ways - whether through genetics, life experiences, or as is the case with most, a combination of the two. And in that spirit, I want to also help people understand that those of us who may be “different” in a neuro-diverse type of way, also have feelings and emotions and Autism isn’t where mental health ends, but instead, it’s where it begins. We are just as susceptible to feelings of anxiety and depression, just like everyone else, and sometimes even more so because of our sensitivities. I look forward to working with Eric and am grateful for the opportunity to join the #SameHere global mental health movement.

Thank you and God Bless!

-Tyler

Tyler Marcotte has been in the sports industry for seven years. He started his career in the Collegiate Baseball League with the Plymouth Pilgrims, then he spent three years in Minor League Baseball with the Roughriders and Pawtucket Red Sox. He’s now working in the NBA as a Member Experience Executive with the Boston Celtics. He is also a Clubhouse Mentor and he’s more than happy to network with current and aspiring sports industry professionals. You can connect with Tyler in theClubhouse here. You can also find him on LinkedIn here: