Bears’ Brandon Marshall puts experience with BPD to good use
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org July 22, 2012 9:00PM
Brandon Marshall talks to attendees at the National Alliance on Mental Illness convention in June. | Brendan McLean~NAMI
Updated: August 24, 2012 6:14AM
SEATTLE — After a glowing introduction at the National Alliance on Mental Illness convention, before his keynote speech, Bears receiver Brandon Marshall directed the 250-plus people to a projection screen.
The clip was from his yet-to-be-released documentary on his journey before and after treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder — when his wife, Michi Nogami-Marshall, called 911 after an incident at their home.
The paradox of the moment at the NAMI convention nearly a month ago is hard to ignore: Marshall began one of his greatest honors with one of his lowest points.
“Sometimes,” Marshall told the attendees, “you have to hit rock bottom before things change in your life.”
For nearly an hour, Marshall candidly told his life story in gritty detail, challenged the stigmas against those with mental illnesses, offered solutions to aid potential patients and pledged his commitment to educate.
“If it’s me suffering to help thousands, and maybe millions in the world, I wouldn’t change it for nothing,” Marshall said. “It started with me falling on my face.
“If you want to change, it starts with yourself.”
Marshall wants to help the Bears win the Super Bowl, and their season starts in earnest Tuesday, when players report to training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. But he embraces what he believes is his larger calling.
“Showing people out there that, basically, where they’re at, where there is no light, and seeing me go from there [the 911 incident] with no light to the end of the tunnel, where there’s freedom,” Marshall says. “I want to use this platform to help others.”
Marshall captivated the diverse crowd.
Dr. Marsha Linehan, who developed the popular Dialectical Behavior Therapy, planned to attend for a few minutes, then head home to prepare for house guests.
“I had to listen to the rest of it,” Linehan said. “I was quite impressed.”
Angela Sprague, 25, was inspired by Marshall’s speech, and she was among more than two dozen people who approached him afterward. As a teenager, she attempted suicide by cutting herself. Yet doctors told her family it was “normal” behavior.
A single mother of three, Sprague’s troubles intensified until she was diagnosed with BPD 21/2 years ago. She’s using Linehan’s treatment program, and she felt a connection with Marshall.
“I’ve never met anyone else with BPD, not that I know of,” Sprague said. “It was great to hear his story, and it encourages me to want to tell my story.”
Public speaking doesn’t come easy to Marshall.
“I still consider myself a rookie, and I get more nervous before a speech then I do before a football game,” Marshall said. “For some reason, I always get butterflies. It’s nerve-wracking for me, before the speech, because I want to articulate my powerful story and hopefully have an impact on someone.”
He has assisted plenty of people through Project Borderline, a foundation he created that was inspired by his own journey of discovery.
Last year, during the offseason, Mike Sims-Walker stayed at his Miami house while they worked out together. Marshall’s roommate and teammate at Central Florida, Sims-Walker noticed something amiss with his friend.
“ ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ” Marshall recalled Sims-Walker asking.
Marshall seemingly had it all: a wife, three dogs, a massive contract and a mansion with a pool, home theater and basketball court.
“I’ve accomplished everything I set out to accomplish,” Marshall said. “So I asked myself, ‘What’s the point?’
“I didn’t know.”
He said he visited at least a dozen professionals in four years, and he couldn’t find an answer that made any sense to him. But after the 911 call, Marshall remembered lamenting “wasted opportunities,” and he asked God for another chance to “do your will.”
In May 2011, Marshall checked into McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., which is ranked among the nation’s best for mental health care and research, and immersed himself in the tenets of DBT. He particularly embraced “radical acceptance,” which encourages a person to stop fighting their reality and accept it.
“Everyone’s journey is different, and DBT gives you the skills and things that you may need just to regulate your emotions,” Marshall said. “It’s kind of like a playbook. For me, it doesn’t matter where I’m at in my life, I will always keep my notes and use those skills.”
Marshall has a budding relationship with Dr. Linehan, whom he visited during a luncheon at the NAMI convention, then at a special reception at her home in the evening. The two have bonded because she, too, has been diagnosed with BPD and survived at least two suicide attempts and 26 months of hospitalization.
But she committed herself to helping others, earning a Ph.D. at Loyola in Chicago, pioneering DBT, authoring books and directing the behavioral research and therapy clinics at the University of Washington.
“She’s probably the biggest success story in BPD that’s out there,” Marshall said. “You always want to join arms with someone whose mission is the same as your’s.
“She’s been on this journey longer than me, and I can learn a lot from her.”
Dr. Linehan applauded Marshall for his willingness to share his story, given the lack of prominent people who have come forward.
“I think his doing it is really wonderful,” she said. “It’s just like when Magic Johnson came out with AIDS. But I very much caution younger people that you have to be very careful because many people will stigmatize.”
There are lofty expectations for Marshall in Chicago, for a number of reasons. First, there’s the void at the receiver position. The last Bear to top 1,000 receiving yards was Marty Booker in 2002. Second, there’s Marshall’s credentials. He’s a three-time Pro Bowl selection who has topped 1,000 yards in his last five seasons.
Marshall also posted impressive numbers with quarterback Jay Cutler when they were with the Denver Broncos.
Marshall, though, isn’t putting too much pressure on himself.
“I just have to understand my role on this team and in this organization and stick to it,” he said. “The only person I have to prove something to is the man above. I definitely appreciate the fans and the love that I’ve received so far, and I want to play to the best of my ability week in and week out to give them something to cheer about.
“But I’m just excited about another opportunity to play another season in the NFL. That’s the only thing on my mind: winning a Super Bowl this year. The way we’re going to get there is each guy knowing his role.”
As for those who might want him to fail or add to his list of mistakes, Marshall said, “I’m smart enough to know that’s how the world works sometimes, especially when it comes to successful people and those who have been though some things. But I try not to spend time on that.”
Instead, he focuses on how to improve himself and juggle the delicate balance of being a beast on the field but not off it.
“That was another hard area through this journey,” he said. “It was tough. Cameras on me. Playing in a violent sport and people watching for your reaction. Sometimes you feel like you’re walking on eggshells.
“But where I am today, I’m not a new person, I’m just a better person. I’m going to play with more emotion, but it’s going to be productive emotion. And if I mess up, I’m going to be a man and stand up and say I messed up.”
Marshall, though, has one request: Be open-minded about him.
“No one really knows my story but me,” he said. “The things people may read or hear isn’t really my story. So I think it’s important, when I’m in a situation where I can speak, to be candid so people can understand who I am and what I’ve been through and who I am today.
“No one on this earth is perfect.”