Same here, mental health, sports business, bipolar

Turbulent Emotions. My journey from chaos to clarity.

by Jordan Thomas - account executive, business development at the los angeles kings
July 16, 2020

When I was a teenager, I began to develop limiting beliefs of myself. I didn’t have much self-confidence and recall not believing I would accomplish much in life. I turned to drinking and smoking pot as a way to ease the pain and self-judgement; It did the trick. I’d easily dismiss the pressure to make something of myself, and expectations to prove to the world I was worth anything. The future scared me, and I convinced myself I would rather be numb. The drinking and getting high helped that anxiety melt away and eased the pain of disappointment. Before I knew it, I was seventeen years old and on my way to Missoula, Montana for college with a developing alcohol and pot habit along for the ride.

Naïve as most are around that age, the experiences I sought out consisted of meeting girls, socializing and partying. Eventually my hobbies led to experimenting with harder drugs—MDMA, LSD, Cocaine. The psychoactive properties coupled with my looming underlying genetic predispositions was a recipe for disaster; it was only a matter of time. The clock ran out in December 2009, my brain started failing me, and my first manic episode began.

It’s hard to explain what it feels like when enveloped in bipolar mania. Every thought seems like an epiphany. In my mind, I was onto something big; grandiose thoughts of being able to change the world for the better in a snap of a finger. I felt like for the first time in my life, everything was clear, and I needed to share with the world.

"I am so happy with the person I have become today as a direct result of the adversity and challenges I have faced living with Bipolar Disorder."

The reality was that I had been putting myself in dangerous situations on multiple occasions over that past week—unable to have a grasp on reality and unaware of how much I was scaring my family. I ran away from my dad as he was trying to make sure I was safe… straight into the dead winter night, shoe-less, with nothing on except a t-shirt and shorts. My epiphanies were nothing but glorified nonsense, albeit in my mind they were monumental revelations. I had lost control. It’s a blessing the police were called to track down and detain me. Being taken to the hospital was the best thing that could have happened to me.

It’s coming up on 11 years in December—the day that changed my life forever. I was hospitalized and on involuntary hold in C1, the mental health wing at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City Michigan. “He is having a psychotic episode and is a danger to himself and others” a doctor informed my parents as they sat in the waiting room. My diagnosis: Bipolar 1 Disorder induced by illicit drug use. I sat in a room alone at the very end of the hall, the last one on the right, unable to grasp what was real and what was not.

I spent 32 days in the psych ward. I was heavily medicated. There was a myriad of pills that I would take morning and night to pull me from psychosis and ground me. For four weeks I was under constant surveillance, in and out of consultations, agitating team exercises and seemingly trivial art projects that were meant to help me feel a sense of normalcy. The variation of anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers eventually left me devoid of feelings; This was the other side of the bipolar spectrum; Depression. I was no longer a threat to myself or others because while in this state of deep depression, manic episodes no longer pose a threat. I was therefore aware of my surroundings and cognizant of the events of the past 6 weeks. A mortifying realization of what had transpired. Ironically, it was that emptiness that allowed me to finally go home. My eyes were opened to the fragility of my mental health, but I was left with an unclear understanding of what coping with my condition would look like in the future. Depression was the new norm, but I was put on the right path by incredible support systems; my loving family, my dear friends. I didn’t have the hope in a future full of happiness, but they did for me.

Nine months after being discharged, I was finally on the mend and feeling a sense of normalcy. I’d enrolled in a few community college classes and was working full time at a fine dining restaurant in my hometown while living with my folks. Things felt right again. I had gotten the runaway train back on the tracks and was slowly chugging along. The thoughts of amounting to nothing had fleeted, and I found faith in having a bright future after all. In fact, I felt so right that I convinced myself that taking these medications no longer seemed necessary. Just as someone with chronic back pain starts feeling better enough to start playing hoops with their friends, even though the problem may not be fully resolved. I didn’t want to be dependent on these pills for happiness. I diagnosed myself to be just fine, and unbeknownst to my doctors and family, I stopped taking the medication.

"One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is that I have to forgive myself."

Then, it was almost Thanksgiving in 2010. I had been off my medication for just over a month when after a long night at the restaurant, I took the liberty of indulging in a tightly rolled joint and a cold beer. It’d been a tough year, no one would argue that. I’d been through a lot. I felt like I deserved it. Hell…maybe I did deserve it. Well, sometimes life teaches you things the hard way. One week later, I found myself in a jail cell in Baraga Michigan in the mental abyss of my second manic episode. I had apparently gotten in my car and just started driving to Montana. I was pulled over in the middle of nowhere in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, eleven months following my first episode. I had driven past a Tribal Police officer doing twice the speed limit on a snow and ice-covered highway at 3:30 am. These officers fairly assumed I was under the influence. Surprisingly enough my breathalyzer was clean and upon taking me to get blood work done, it came back negative as well. I recall trying to explain my thought process, and the officer referencing me to the Son of Sam as I had mentioned wanting my dog to be there. That accusation will stick with me forever and serves as a testament to the misconception of those who live with a mental condition. I spent what felt like months in that jail cell, the same grandiose thoughts racing through my mind—not realizing the severity of the situation and how easily I could have lost my life. Every time I think about this it scares the shit out of me. My skin crawls even as I write this.

This led to my last time in the psych ward, and thankfully my last manic episode. But the story doesn’t end there. While out of the hospital to get stabilized, I was prescribed heavy doses of Depakote and Zyprexa. They made me feel like a shell of who I once was. The side effects were horrendous; I gained 60 pounds in just 3 months. There wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell for me to feel grandiose, on top of the world with my thoughts zooming faster than I could process when I was so far in the depths of depression. I can tell you this much; being 60 pounds overweight made my battle with depression significantly harder, especially when food was such an easy outlet for comfort. My second phase of treatment seemed a challenge I may never overcome, but I kept fighting.

Depression is an ongoing battle. I was slowly getting better every day but leveling with the fact that this is my life, and this is who I am. Drugs were a one-way ticket back to the hospital, which I didn’t want, so I turned to drinking as my sole coping mechanism. It wasn’t great for someone who’s family has a history of alcoholism, but it filled the void. I was a mess. The combination of a regular intake of Depakote and heavy alcohol consumption caught up with me in 2015 when I was hospitalized for pancreatitis. Ten days I spent in the worst physical pain I’ve ever experienced in my life. The day I was admitted marks the very last day I put any substances in my body. A rocky journey to this point, but it all led me to a point where I was finally free to live my life.

"Every day I learn more about how to live better and make the best of the cards I’ve been dealt. These are the superpowers that having Bipolar Disorder has provided me and I now wear my tribulations as a badge of honor."

Fast forward to present day, I have two degrees from the University of Montana in Management Information Systems and International Business. Upon graduation I took a job as a software consultant that didn’t end up working out, but it led me to take a leap of faith to follow my dream of working in professional sports. I’ve now made a name for myself in ticket sales with the Los Angeles Kings. With four promotions in two years and consistently being a top revenue generator for my team, it’s only just begun.

Revisiting these memories has been an emotional roller coaster, but it helps remind me of how lucky I am to have made it out alive and tell this story. I am so happy with the person I have become today as a direct result of the adversity and challenges I have faced living with Bipolar Disorder. My example is one that shows that having and overcoming challenges makes people who have confronted mental health complications All-stars. Teams should not shy away from those who have similar stories to mine. They can potentially be even that much more valuable as employees. I hope reading this serves as a lens to senior level executives in sports that some of their best current and future top performers could be folks who need help right now. The perspective these employees can gain by emerging from difficult circumstances gives them the strength and determination to be top producers.

Knowing I was able to overcome such great odds gives me strength moving forward and I now make a point to use my experience to remind myself to be grateful for life’s discomforts and manifest lessons from failure and hardship. From these great pains, I am now able to find silver linings in whatever life may throw my way. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is that I have to forgive myself. I have done a lot of dumb things in my life, and I will do plenty more in years to come. I will surely have days where I wake up and can’t get out of bed because of depression, but that’s okay. I may eat 8 tacos to make myself feel better, but that’s okay. Every day I learn more about how to live better and make the best of the cards I’ve been dealt. These are the superpowers that having Bipolar Disorder has provided me and I now wear my tribulations as a badge of honor.

My experience is unique, as each of our lives and mental journeys are, but ultimately, we have all experienced similar hurdles. My goal in sharing this is to normalize vulnerability when we talk about mental health in sports. I’ve lived with these stories and struggles behind closed doors for years. By sharing, I want to contribute to making a change to honor the challenges we with mental complications have faced and make them a point of pride.

SameHere, my friends...

Jordan Thomas is an Account Executive in Business Development with the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL. Prior to that he worked for the Detroit Red Wings, the Ontario Reign and AEG. He graduated from the University of Montana with Bachelor's Degrees in Management Information Systems and International Business. As detailed here, he's battled mental health challenges and has come out the other side as a successful sports industry professional. He's a champion on the #SameHere movement and has a passion to give back and tell his story in an effort to help others. You can reach out and connect with Jordan on LinkedIn by going here. #SameHere