Gracie Gold gets real about mental health issues, plans return to Olympics

Gracie Gold will compete for the first time in nearly two years next month with the Olympics on her mind.
Gracie Gold will compete for the first time in nearly two years next month with the Olympics on her mind.

Gracie Gold is scheduled to compete next month for the first time in nearly two years, and in the lead-up spoke in detail about what she called a “mental health crisis” that put a pause in her figure skating career.

Gold, a two-time world champion and Olympic team bronze medalist, last competed in January 2017. That September she announced she was taking a leave of absence from figure skating. A week later she said it was for treatment related to anxiety, depression and an eating disorder.

She went into more detail on her treatment and return to skating with Jeremy Crawford of No Bull Biz on Saturday. The 23-year-old Gold is scheduled to compete at the Rostelecom Cup Grand Prix in Moscow in November.

Gold first struggled following 2014 Olympics

Gold became a national sensation in 2014 with her first of two national championships and a bronze medal in the Sochi Olympics team event.

She said she always felt pressure in skating, but it was after the Olympics she first experienced depression and “darker feelings.” She was 18 at the time.

“I definitely had some post-Olympic depression,” she said, “which it turns out is a super real thing that most athletes go through.”

She said Grand Prix events felt less-than after the rush of living an Olympic dream. She “found the rhythm” for the next two to two-and-half years, she said, but also pushed issues in her personal life aside.

Fine was like my favorite word,” Gold said. “It’s fine. It’s fine. Everything’s fine. Even though it was not.”

Gold’s struggles hit a head at 2016 World Championships

Gold opted not to take the 2016 season off and skated through issues in her personal life. She “bombed” in her words at the 2016 World Championships, placing fourth due to a treacherous free skate. She was in first after the short program.

It didn’t help that the rest of my life was also on fire. And then skating. So I really started to go down pretty quickly,” she said.

Gold didn’t reach out to anyone for help, worried her “reality would be denied.” She said those semi-close to her reacted that way, telling her she was Gracie Gold and how could she, of all people, be depressed?

“You might feel down, but being depressed is when you’re homeless on the street and have nothing to live for. That’s depression,” she said they told her.

She said she had “suicidal ideation:” she didn’t want to die, but she couldn’t go on living the way she was living. And if that second part was addressed, she wouldn’t want to die.

It was after an outburst at the Team USA camp before the 2017-18 season that she began to get help.

“My M.O. in skating was like very plastic Barbie, prim and proper,” she said. “So for me to tell important people at my federation off, including some profanity, was like very uncharacteristic of me. It’s referred to now as ‘the incident.’”

Gold was honest, two close Team USA friends helped, and she entered treatment for a month in September 2017.

Gold plans return to skating, final Olympics

Gold finished treatment in October 2017, but even for the ambitious athlete a return for the PyeongChang Olympics that winter was too rushed. It would have sent her “right down the rabbit hole,” she said.

She lived a “normal life,” coached a little, and on a request attended the U.S. Championships as a spectator in January. She was reacquainted with the good of figure skating and decided in April she would return. The 2022 Olympics were her ideal retirement year before the pause, and she decided she wanted to end her career on her terms, not the terms of a mental crisis.

She switched coaches, now reportedly training with Vincent Resterncourt, who she met at the U.S. Championships. They train in the Delaware/Pennsylvania area and she is scheduled to skate in Moscow next month.

“So I fixed myself, in a way,” she said. “It’s kind of a daily journey, but pulled myself back together, getting back into skating, so that we would have four years for the next Olympics, which was more in my head my ideal retirement.”

Gold speaks about mental health stigma, coping mechanisms

Gold and Crawford, who has spoken previously about mental health in his own life, spoke in-depth about the stigma of mental health and what she does now to keep improving.

Approximately one in five American adults experience a mental health issue and one in 10 young people experience a period of major depression, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Yet it’s treated differently than problems we can see for ourselves. Unlike previous injuries, such as a broken foot, Gold didn’t immediately take time off to let herself heal. She heard comments critiquing that choice when she did take a step back.

“I’ve had a couple of injuries; I was never like ‘Oh my God, Gracie, you suck, you’re the worst athlete, you let everyone down,'” she said.

“No, my body needs a break. But when my head wasn’t going well … “

Now she spends time to herself in the morning, going over goals for the day, her to-do list and her schedule with coffee in hand. She uses Pinterest to stay positive, pinning quotes and inspiration. If things aren’t going well, she said, she looks out for the “snowball effect” as early as possible to get back on track.

She spoke candidly about depression in young adults, calling it a crisis.

“There’s not a recipe for having great mental health,” she said. “It’s different for everyone.”

(h/t NBC Sports)

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