Dusty’s Story: From Acclaimed Athlete to Mental Health Advocate | All Points North

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Dusty’s Story: From Acclaimed Athlete to Mental Health Advocate

Written by Samantha Carter

In APN’s podcast episode, Depression Treatment Saved My Life: Recovery x Dusty, Dusty opened up about what it was like to be a retired athlete dealing with mental illness. As he shares his experiences throughout the episode, it becomes clear that coming in for treatment at APN quite literally saved his life.

From feeling isolated and alone to forging bonds in brotherhood with others, Dusty has a powerful message to share with people who may be undergoing difficult or dark times. To learn more about Dusty’s story, check out the full podcast or continue reading below.

A Note on Anonymity

It’s important to note that the interviewee in this podcast is not shown on camera, nor is Dusty his real name. Because Dusty is a public figure, it’s essential for him to remain anonymous when sharing his story.

“You know, this is just so near and dear to my heart and I just want just people to know how special APN [is],” Dusty said. “[They] just take care of people and it’s not a public thing. They do a great [job in keeping] everything anonymous and I just want everybody to know that you don’t have to be afraid. [As a former professional athlete], I don’t want anybody attacking me because of sharing my story. So it’s important to me to just keep everything private [so] I can talk freely and be 100% honest, real, and authentic.”

Even though Dusty isn’t the interviewee’s real name, there is still significant meaning behind the chosen title.

“[I derive joy and] inspiration from the famous wrestler Dusty Rhodes,” Dusty said. “He had a famous speech one time he called ‘Hard Times.’ It’s a deep speech I can draw strength from. May [Dusty] rest in peace.”

How Isolation and Injury Played a Role in Dusty’s Mental Health

Most of Dusty’s life was spent living in the fast lane, giving 100% of himself to his sport. But when an injury prevented him from playing, he was overtaken by isolation and grief.

“I was all alone [after my injury], just by myself rehabbing, just trying to overcome it–you know?” Dusty said. “[I was] trying to use my athletic mindset to just push forward but it just it wasn’t working. When you’re [an] athlete and you’re injured, you’re looked at as damaged goods. I know you all are familiar [with] what they do to racehorses that can’t race anymore. It’s the same thing with an athlete who is labeled as damaged, you know? – He’s not going to get any more shots. He’s not going to get any more contracts.”

Having dedicated his whole life to his sport, Dusty was unsure where to turn to when it was abruptly ripped away from his world.

“You just isolate [after that],” “When you give everything you have to the game because that’s what it takes to stay in the game – you’ve got to give your heart and soul to it – and the people that you are playing for [say] it’s all about family [but then you realize it’s not]. When you’re injured no one checks on you. No one gives you a call to say, ‘hey, you all right?’ [or a] ‘get well soon.’ So you know, you just go to a dark place of just being alone and not having anyone there … I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t focus anymore. I [was having] thoughts [of] just to wanting to make it stop and … thinking of leaving here.”

Fortunately for Dusty, he chose bravery in the face of overwhelming depression and darkness by asking for help.

“By the grace of God, I was introduced to APN by my therapist,” Dusty said. “When I finally reached out for help, she knew that [our] weekly [meeting] wasn’t enough, and she recommended APN to me.”

Dusty’s First Time in a Treatment Center – Overcoming Anxiety and Panic

Even though Dusty agreed to give APN Lodge a go, he almost didn’t make it because of his overwhelming anxiety and panic about attending a treatment facility for the first time ever.

“[I had] lots of anxiety, you know? I almost didn’t make it,” Dusty said. “I had a panic attack right before I was headed to the airport, but my therapist … she really just gave me hope and told me that place would really help me and that’s what made me [come]. She gave me some hope to keep going and that’s what caused me to actually get help and follow through and fight through the panic attacks.”

When Dusty finally made it to APN, his anxieties and fears were instantly lifted.

“[Coming to APN] – it was like heaven man,” Dusty said. “It was a warm place where everybody … [was] just helping each other. All the staff [were] just so understanding and wanting to work with you. [They really took] the time [to] get to know [my] story and not just label [me] an athlete.”

The Kind of Therapists That Pick Up Their Phones at 2 AM

In particular, Dusty felt the connections he made with the therapists at APN were life-changing.

“[I] shed a lot of tears with the [therapists at APN],” Dusty said. “You know, they talk you off the edge. It’s just times when you’re not even in a therapy session and you’re by yourself and the thoughts and things start coming [back]. They’ll pick up their phone at two in the morning [and] answer. It’s that type of therapist that’s here. [They] care about you as a person. [They want] to keep you alive. They give you the tools and help you work through things so you don’t take that way out.”

For Dusty in particular, he really felt that the staff and therapists viewed him as a person and not an athlete, which was huge for him in his healing process.

“They actually care about me as a person [and] it’s not about [me being an] athlete,” Dusty said. “You know, that’s where a big part of my depression [lies]. [My] anxiety and everything came from my athletic experience because it was just all about the [sport]. What can you do if you can’t do it [any] more? [I felt like I was] just getting treated like a piece of meat. But [the therapists at APN] treat you like a human.”

Because of the work he has and is accomplishing in therapy, Dusty’s gained some new tools to help him on his path to wellness.

“[I’m] constantly [using] the tools they gave me to maneuver [through life] and keep pushing forward,” Dusty said. “Literally, [the staff are] just so supportive and understanding and [they] just care about me, like really genuinely care about me … It’s a blessing that I encountered them and how they helped changed my life. [I’m] still here [because of it].”

Finding a True Family at APN

Not only did the staff at APN have a transformative impact on Dusty, but he also talked about finding a true family in his connections with others.

“You know, [my connections with other APN participants were] just so warm,” Dusty said. “Whereas when I was first trying to tell my own family that I [wasn’t] feeling right, [my] whole family [didn’t] understand. They tell you it’s not real. They tell you [it doesn’t] exist because they don’t understand.”

Finally, Dusty found a group of people who understood.

“The community of people [at APN] is so amazing because [they] have been in the same battles that I have,” Dusty said. “We can all relate and talk to each other. I don’t have to feel scared to talk about it because, you know, a person that has never experienced it, they can’t even relate. They tell you it’s made up. So when you meet a circle of guys that you can literally talk openly [with] and y’all all got similar stories it’s like literally a family.”

Now, Dusty has people he can reach out to when times get tough.

“The group of guys I’ve met here – to this day – I keep in touch with, Dusty said. “One guy I’ve actually been to his home [and] spent time with his family. That’s the type of family [we’re] building. You know, you lose a lot of friends after ball ends. A lot of people are just there for the good times … but once the sport is gone then people disappear. So now [I] have friends for life that [I] can talk to, you know, more than just [my therapists]. Like you have actual people you can just call and be like, ‘man, how you doing today?’”

The kind of bond that Dusty talks about is almost unbreakable.

“[There’s] nothing like having a fellow peer that’s been through the same fire as you,” Dusty said. “Y’all can both lean on each other and when one [person is] down [they] can pick [the other] up and vice versa. Every day is not going to be a good day … But [having] that friend to call and help you snap out of [those bad] thoughts–that’s what this community builds. I can honestly say [I] have relationships that have carried on post APN that [have] really helped me. I can really call these guys my brothers.”

Life After APN

While Dusty clearly had a transformative experience at APN, he also opened up about what life’s been like since leaving and how APN still plays a role in his healing journey.

“The good thing about APN is I still have access to my therapists post [treatment] through telehealth. [That just really helps with] giving me tools [I need to navigate everyday life]. When I finally got the courage to go out the house, I was having trouble with people approaching me in the grocery store [and] asking me questions about [who I was, the sport I played, etc.]. It was very triggering because it would literally bring flashbacks when I [was just] trying to live a normal life and put all that stuff behind me. It would make me lash out and just have a bad reaction. Through working with [my APN therapist], [I’ve gained] tools to help set boundaries. Now, [when] I’m going through things, I can do my music therapy [and] my breathing exercises. I’m doing every single tool they’re giving me. I’m applying it and it’s working,” Dusty said.

Giving Back and Working With the Youth

Because Dusty has been able to work through some of his anxiety about leaving the house, he has found a new passion in giving back to the community.

“So I’m able to actually make it out the house some days [now],” Dusty said. “[On] days I’m feeling really good, I go work with the youth. I’m trying to help the kids never have to experience this. I’m making sure that the youth are comfortable with knowing it’s okay to have feelings. I never want [them] to get to this dark place I was in. [So], that’s a part of my therapy, you know, just trying to help the kids and give back.”

You Don’t Have to Give Up

As Dusty began to tear up, he had some powerful messages he wanted to impress on listeners.

“I’m here to share this because I don’t want anybody else out there that’s going through this to feel alone,” Dusty said. “I don’t want them to check out. I need you to know that [there’s] help out there [and there’s] places like APN that want to help you. [They] can teach you things and work through all the trauma you’ve been through and give you hope.”

Having been in some incredibly dark places himself, Dusty really hopes to drive home this message of not giving up to anyone who may be struggling themselves.

“Like I said, my mission is to help every person out there that’s going through something and to let them know [there’s] hope,” Dusty said. “You don’t have to give up. You don’t have to kill yourself. You don’t have to do it. Stay here. Stay here. Stay here. Stay here. Don’t do it. Let’s help.”

If you’re interested in learning more about All Points North and our addiction and mental health recovery programs, complete our confidential contact form or call us at 855.934.1178 today. You never know how good your life can get if you don’t give up.

More From Dusty

Listen and watch Dusty’s episode of Recovery x APN below, and find more episodes on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.