Phelp's public struggle with substance and alcohol abuse came to a head in 2004 when he was convicted with a DUI. Phelps admits that he was "running away" from his problems- despite his great success and record-shattering Olympic performance
, he was unable to come to terms with his struggles outside of the pool. At one point, he had even isolated himself completely, sitting inside his room for "three to five days" and barely eating or sleeping. "I didn't want to be in the sport anymore... I didn't want to be alive anymore," Phelps recounts.
Upon reaching this point after the 2012 Olympic season, Phelps was finally able to acknowledge that he needed help, and sought treatment. He states that the stigma surrounding mental illness is part of what prevented him and still prevents others like him from coming forward, or even realizing that what they're struggling with is a real, treatable disease.
Now, Phelps has incorporated programs for managing stress and communicating emotions into his work at the Micheal Phelps Foundation
and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America
. While proud of his commendable choice to pursue treatment, Phelps is most proud of his opportunity to speak out against the shame surrounding mental illness, standing as an example for those still suffering.
Reflecting on the experiences he's had while sharing his story, Phelps says: "Those moments and those feelings and those emotions for me are light years better than winning the Olympic gold medal."