As a sport, wrestling is one of the most demanding professions in world. It requires constantly being on the road, improving your skills and putting your body on the line for the entertainment of others. The men and women who’ve dedicated their lives to doing it are extremely gifted and their passion is admirable.
WWE wrestler Daniel Bryan gave his all to doing what he loved, and when he was forced to retire a couple of years ago, it was a blow to the industry. For Bryan, it caused him to sink into depression, which he’s been vocal about in the past. So when it was announced Bryan was medically cleared to wrestle again, fans around the world gave a collective ‘YES, YES, YES.’ But it also shed a light on depression and how it can be overcome by surrounding yourself with positive experiences and never giving up.
Depression is one of the most common mental health issues, affecting people from all walks of life. For Bryan, it stemmed from a loss of identity, of not being able to do what he loved. Wrestling is a high-impact sport that means the performers have to take great risks and can be injured by even the simplest of moves. Bryan had been diagnosed with a brain lesion and the WWE barred him from getting back in the ring for his own safety.
Imagine what that must of felt like. Bryan worked his ass off for years, getting over with the fans naturally. He connected with the audience on a human level, becoming the everyman that anyone could root for. The support culminated in Bryan winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in 2014 at Wrestlemania. Bryan had reached the top of the mountain, achieving his dream when many critics had said he’d never be able to reach that spot.
Not long after, Bryan received extensive testing and it was revealed he had to retire because of injury. The downward spiral Bryan must have gone through is a feeling that many depression sufferers can relate to. His struggle with depression was chronicled in the reality TV show Total Bellas, where he and his wife Nikki Bella talked about it candidly. This is a brave move, considering how toxic reality TV can be. I dislike reality shows because of the invasion of privacy and the sensation of people having to perform in their private lives in order to get a reaction. But Bryan’s decision to talk about depression in front of cameras is a rare example of how reality TV can be used for good and shine a light on a serious issue.
Fast forward to Smackdown and Bryan got back into the ring and cut an emotional promo about how good it felt to be medically cleared. I wouldn’t even call it a promo, so much as it was a guy telling his emotional journey to a crowd who were hanging off every word. Bryan talked about being grateful, about focusing on the feeling of having good friends, a loving family, a wife who supported him every step of the way. You could hear the authenticity in his voice, especially when he spoke about Nikki. A couple of times he came close to tears. Watch the promo. Trust me. It will get you right in the heart.
Male depression is a sensitive issue, especially with the traditional viewpoint of masculinity. Although it’s getting easier to talk about, a lot of guys are still hesitant to speak out for a variety of reasons. Bryan’s journey is the perfect example of how the power of positive thinking makes all the difference. Overcoming depression is an ongoing process, but surrounding yourself with the right people is an important step.
Daniel Bryan’s fight to get back into the ring is indicative of the drive that motivates every wrestler. As a wrestling fan and someone who’s struggled with depression and anxiety, I find Bryan’s story inspiring. It’s another reason why I love the business and why wrestling connects so many people together.