Alliance Profile - Mike Marjama
MLB Catcher for the Seattle Mariners in 2017 and 2018 before Retiring, Regarded as the First Male Athlete in North America’s Major Sports to Share his Struggles with an Eating Disorder, had a Documentary Made About His Life with Lebron James’ Company Uninterrupted, Has Also Shared his Story Across Many National TV Networks
What past life experiences, physical traumas or genetics do you believe have had an effect on your mental health?
In my opinion our mental health, much like our lives, is cumulative. As a famed psychiatrist and author Bessel van der Kolk coined, “The Body Keeps the Score.” This couldn’t be any more true. Throughout our lives, even the tiniest traumatic experiences imprint on us. Often, we don’t see the impact of these traumatic experiences for years, sometimes decades. For me personally, I was born with the traits of obsession, control, perfectionism, and relentless energy. Obviously, those are not the only traits I possess nor are those traits the only reason I would eventually struggle with eating disorders, depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. I am merely noting that when some traumas are left unacknowledged or unaddressed, it is possible that certain traits can help amplify the negative impact of that existing trauma. Examples of such traumas don’t necessarily need to be headlines of the news. For me, traumas came in the form of bullies, rejections, breakups, and rude comments. A traumatic experience in junior high school like being bullied for appearing “pudgy,” mixed with observing girls fascinated by shirtless Abercrombie models on shopping bags and being dated for a lunch period because “she felt bad for me,” became a recipe for the beginning of an eating disorder. When you add the traits of control, perfectionism, and relentless energy, you can see where I am going with this. Twenty years later, after years of therapy and work, I was still struggling with the same issues while playing Major League Baseball. You may ask why? Again, mental health is cumulative! Our experiences don’t stop and traumas keep happening. However, this time around I am equipped with years of therapy, work, and experiences.
How did the effects on your mental health appear in terms of symptoms?
Depression, anxiety, and many mental health diagnoses thrive in isolation. Remember, you are not alone! Many times I have felt scared, alone, isolated, lethargic, and lost. Those emotions would then lead to anger, frustration, regret, and pain because I allowed myself to feel those emotions. Again, emotions and feelings are not good nor bad. They are a part of us. It’s okay to not feel okay. It’s okay to feel helpless. It’s okay to feel great. When those emotions or feelings come that are unpleasant, it’s okay to ask for help. We are all in this together and we are all members #SameHere.
When and why did you decide to ask for help to get relief?
Like many others, I didn’t believe that I needed help and thought that I had to find out on my own how to deal with problems. Maybe it is because, as men, we shouldn’t even “ask for directions.” For me, I didn’t really think I had a serious issue. All I wanted was a six-pack. It’s not like I could die from that. Could I? It’s not like I’m an addict. Am I? As we continue to grow and help others become more educated about mental health, it’s easier to help others identify if and when we need help. Also, it helps us to see when we need to step in and help. I remember sitting at the dinner table at Thanksgiving Dinner in my sophomore year of high school. I didn’t put much on my dinner plate other than some baby carrots and a few almonds. Not long after my parents, fearing my approaching 18th birthday, made the decision to admit me to the hospital and my treatment journey began. Although I hated them at the time, they saved my life. Throughout the years, I’ve added tools I have learned in therapy and the wisdom we learn only through overcoming obstacles, to develop a healthy lifestyle I am proud to lead each day.
What methods helped you individually get/feel better?
I want to preface by noting that in my experience, every individual needs to connect with their own personal passions during the recovery journey. For example, meditation has been proven to be a tremendous tool for many people but that doesn’t mean it has to be done by everyone. Personally in the professional setting, I have found tremendous benefit from EMDR and Brain Spotting therapy. In terms of therapy, don’t get discouraged if you aren’t compatible with the first therapist you see. It is kind of like dating, so take the time to find someone you feel secure, confident, and comfortable with. I have also found many benefits from various medications. Again, don’t get discouraged if medications are not effective at first. Continue to work with your therapist and doctors to find the right balance. Outside of the office setting, I have benefitted mostly from small habits. Instead of trying to alter the traits or actions I used to think were liabilities, I have embraced them and started to use them as my assets. For example, I used to believe that my desire for perfection was a curse. However, now I am convinced that I am detail-oriented, not a perfectionist. By committing to changing my perspective, I have subsequently changed the way in which I go about my daily actions. I have prioritized my mental health and created systems to make sure my needs mentally are being fulfilled. An example, if you want to read more, place a book on your pillow before you leave in the morning. You may not remember that book all day, but when you go to put your head on that pillow at night, you will have to touch that book again. Simple, little habits.
Why did you decide to go public with your story? Who were/are you hoping to help and how?
After making my Major League Debut in 2017, I was approached by Lebron James’ digital media company Uninterrupted. Jimmy Spencer, Vice President of Athlete Relations and Content, reached out and was interested in sharing my story because there had yet to be a professional male athlete speak openly about eating disorders. The team at Uninterrupted wanted to highlight and expand on their motto that “I Am More Than An Athlete.” Over the course of a few days, Josh Kahn and the extraordinary Uninterrupted team followed me 24/7 and we shot a documentary titled “Marj,” which can be found on the Uninterrupted website. Good Morning America ultimately aired the documentary on the eve of Major League Baseball’s Opening Day 2018, in which I started my very first, and only, Opening Day catching the legendary Felix Hernandez. Since then, I have appeared on many national television shows and media outlets including The Doctors, NowThis, MTV, CBS Today, and many others. Most notably in 2018, I traveled to the United States Capitol in Washington D.C. and addressed members of Congress about crafting better legislation for those affected by mental health. Almost daily, I get direct messages, emails, and calls from people who offer support or are in need of help. It is my mission now to make sure that everyone has the resources and support they deserve. I hope to inspire the next generation of not only athletes but more importantly, young people by facilitating personal development workshops and meetups along with seeking out new, innovative ways to foster change around the way we view mental health.
How did people react when you went public with your story?
The outreach I have received since sharing my story has been both amazing, yet alarming. It is incredible to have kind individuals reaching out to me, a stranger, almost daily offering their support and encouragement. That keeps me optimistic that there is a community of people willing to help all those in need. However, when I see the statistics about mental health I become alarmed. In my opinion, numbers aren’t factual. There are far more men who suffer from poor body image issues than the numbers indicate. There are far more men that never mention mental health problems they are experiencing. There is a strong link between body image among men and steroid and supplement abuse that seems to be ignored from a reporting standpoint. How many males use steroids outside of athletics to look better? How many men and women turn to substance abuse to numb or block the pain from traumatic experiences? I have many courageous individuals who send me direct messages, emails, texts, and calls opening up to me that I have helped motivate and they are now seeking help for something they have never told anyone about for 30, 40 even 50 years. That is astonishing. Messages, such as these, remind me that we are only scratching the surface of mental health needs. I encourage you to tell your story and join in mobilizing hope for anyone and everyone who needs it.
If you would like to know more about my story, my mission, or you would like to know more about what I’m currently up to, please feel free to reach out anytime via any of the following and I would love to connect with you!
Instagram: mike.marjama | Twitter: @MMarjama | Facebook: Michael Marjama | michaelmarjama.com