Feature | Figure Skating

Figure skater Gracie Gold on regaining 'hope' after mental health crisis

The Olympic Channel Podcast spoke to the American about her journey through mental health issues and her future in figure skating.

Figure skating took over Gracie Gold's life.

"First it was a hobby, then it became a job, then it became everything to me," she said to the Olympic Channel Podcast.

She won two US national titles in 2014 and 2016 and also took an Olympic bronze medal home from the team event at Sochi 2014.

But by 2017 the American was finding life hard.

“The fact that I was living without hope was probably the number one, kind of, killer of my life.”

“Without that [hope], what was the point of living?”

Gracie Gold on mental health: "There's this pressure to be perfect"

The Sochi 2014 team bronze medal winning figure skater Gracie Gold tells us...

After receiving treatment for depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder, she now describes her situation as being '80/20'.

"80% I’m loving it, and just getting back into living, not just for skating, but [also] getting back into a healthier body and healthier mind - it just does wonders for the way that I live my life.

"But then there’s 20% I absolutely hate and I’m just so overwhelmed."

She hopes that sharing her story can help others with the same problems.

“I think [we need to frame] mental health in a different way…

“Depression is not just about being sad, anxiety is not just being nervous – it is not a deficit…

“It’s just an illness or injury of your brain… It should be respected and treated the same way [as your body]."

In an interview taking place around the IOC Athletes’ Forum in April 2019, Gracie spoke to the Olympic Channel Podcast about how she deals with her problems, the positivity she’s received on social media, and Beijing 2022.

A transcript from the interview is below, and you can listen to the interview in full here:

Gracie Gold on speaking out about mental health

Olympic Channel Podcast: What was the moment that made you speak out and how did that make you feel in that moment?

Gracie Gold: It was August of 2017 and there wasn’t a particular lightbulb moment where I just thought, ‘I got to tell someone’. There’s this lovely team doctor and she’d asked about something personal and the answer was not good. I gave her this dark, sarcastic remark, that left her feeling like, ‘Huh?’ And then I just started explaining and giving more context to what had happened and I ended up going through this entire year and a half, and she just stood there with her jaw hanging open. She was like, ‘Gracie, this is a real issue. It sounds really traumatic what you’re going through’. I ended up telling her the entire story start to finish. She was like, ‘This is a code red emergency. We have to get Gracie some help.’

It is becoming clearer that there is a huge issue - Gracie Gold to Olympic Channel Podcast

How surprised were you by the positive nature of the reaction online when you shared the story to the public?

At first, I was shocked at the amount of positivity. For you to be on social media and for 90-95% [of the responses] to be positive and only 5-10% to be negative, that is overwhelming. I have won competitions and it was like 60/40 [positive to negative reactions]. It’s not like depression is unique to this generation. But I do think the freedom of talking about it is nice and it is going to change things. You can just look at the news, how often do high profile or highly successful people kill themselves? For example, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. I have lost friends. I almost lost my own life. We have lost Olympians. It is becoming clearer that there is a huge issue.

Helping others

Do you feel that it helps you to help others with their struggles?

The fact that I can give them any kind of hope is incredible because, at the end of the day, like, that was my number one thing probably: the fact that I was living without hope [and], without that, what was the point of living? It was also a little bit validating as well. To be invalidated as a human can be really damaging. Imagine if I had come out to this person and said, ‘I am super depressed, I have anxiety and my eating disorder is out of control’. And [this person] said, ‘I think you are fine’. What they are telling me is that your problems are not real and not important. But to me they are. So, the kind of validation that I found, the fact that I really was not alone, and all of these people were inspired by my story, gave me this incredible feeling that I did not have before.

To be invalidated as a human can be really damaging - Gracie Gold

Considering what you’ve been through, do you see your career differently now?

It’s already changed a little bit. First, it [figure skating] was a hobby. Then it became a job. Then it became everything to me. It was the only thing that mattered to me. It was just what I did and everything else wasn’t even second - it didn’t even exist. It was so tunnel vision. They tell you [that] you have to have tunnel vision. This was so singular-focused that it actually did more harm than good. It gave me that competitive edge but also went so far that it crushed me from the inside. Now, I try to think of it more as a lifestyle, [for example,] when people want to change their weight or their physique, there are crash diets that are rigorous and aggressive [but they] actually do more harm than good. Then there’s lifestyle choices. So, you can still go out for your birthday or at an event but overall you’re living an overall healthier lifestyle.

The Olympics in 2022

Beijing 2022, what are your thoughts on that?

That’s the goal, which is why we’re not rushing more things now. I don’t want to push myself to be ready, saying you have to be doing X, Y, and Z to be ready for October, because really the ultimate goal is the 2020/2021 season and then the 2021/2022 season. I would just love to just skate at a summer competition this year, ultimately by the time 2022 rolls round, I’m not going to remember the summer competition. I’m basing it off Beijing and working back from there. I am doing what I tell my students, by just taking it day-by-day.

Figure skater Gracie Gold

Gracie Gold is the guest on this week's Olympic Channel Podcast.

Each week we find the biggest athletes and speakers athletes to talk about the Olympics.

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The interview and questions have been edited and condensed for ease of reading.