Accepting Your Mental Health

Facing Social Justice in Sports

Trey Moses’ story as told to Thomas “TC” Deckard

I remember just looking over at Zach, smiling and laughing. I thought, “Wow, this is the happiest I had ever seen him.”

It was my 20th birthday party, and I was thinking things were starting to change, and he was starting to take that next step. Honestly, that’s what made my entire birthday: seeing his happiness. I can clearly remember it now—seeing all my close friends there and seeing him smiling — one of those smiles that lights up a room. It was just amazing to see. That night made having what happened so quickly after so much more difficult.

The next day, I woke up to four missed calls and two voicemails from Zach. In a rush to get to my morning classes, I decided to hold off on listening to them and stop by Zach’s after class. When I got to his place, it was there I had discovered he had taken his life.

It was jarring how my life changed in under 24 hours.

The night before, he had seemed so happy. He’d had a rough time in the past, and it had taken a toll on his mental health, which is why his happiness the night prior had made my entire evening.

Mental-health struggles were something he and I shared, especially after my clinical diagnosis my freshman year at Ball State. I had known he struggled himself, and my openness with my own struggles allowed him to have someone to talk to, and we were able to form a bond tighter than the one we had on the basketball court. It wasn’t until the last six to eight months of his life that I noticed he was struggling a little more than he’d originally let on.

Personally, I think depression and anxiety — they’re the type of things that can vary in terms of context. Is it, “Am I just sad? Am I just waking up sad today?” “Am I just nervous about this or that?”

I feel that he may have just not truly known what was going on and having some personal issues of his own only added into that struggle.

Our dialogue about mental health only grew in May of my sophomore year when I had tried to take my own life. A few days after, he asked me why I hadn’t told him how I was feeling. I told him I should’ve talked to him, and it honestly made me feel bad that I hadn’t shared how I’d been feeling.

Sharing all these personal issues, our friendship only grew. Then on the night he took his life, I’d received those missed calls and voicemails, and it left me with a sense of regret. I recalled when I had tried to take my own life, and he’d asked why I hadn’t reached out, and then in his time of need, he’d reached out, but I just wasn’t there.

It was hard for me to deal with that weight then, and sometimes I still deal with it now. It’s just I need to understand that I shouldn’t beat myself up over it.

We had a coach who would say, “We’d walk barefoot to Alaska and back to have Zach back.” That applies to me personally because I would do whatever to be able to go back and answer one of those calls.

I made it my mission after he took his life to dedicate everything I did in his honor. I felt it was my responsibility to dedicate everything I did to Zach. Especially after what he said in those voicemails. When I listened to them after that tragic night, I heard a constant message of what he wanted me to be. He wanted me to be successful in basketball; he wanted me to be successful in life. I think the biggest thing I took away is I could relate to the pain he was feeling. I could hear it.

Through those voicemails, I could feel what he was going through. And it was tough to hear. If I had answered the phone, I wonder if he’d still be here today. I’ve kind of gotten over that stage, but it’s still hard: hearing how much he loved me, how much he cared about me, how much he wanted me to be successful in life and on the court, and how much he wanted me to keep going no matter what. It was also understanding that life isn’t easy, but it’s so much better with people who truly love and care about you. I know he’s one person who genuinely loved and cared about me no matter what I did for him.

I changed my basketball number from 41 to his 24, and I’ve got a tattoo on my finger of “241,” which is a combination of both our numbers, to honor him.

I enjoyed our memories on the court as well. Zach never really had an opportunity to show his intensity, but there was one time in practice where he revealed his ferocity. We were doing this one-on-one drill, and he and I were on different baskets. For some reason, I looked over at his basket, and he’s hardcore dunking on someone. That was an awesome moment that still lingers in my memory.

To honor him further, I started a foundation, 24 Reasons, which is dedicated to mental-health awareness and accepting your issues and learning to live with them. One of the favorite things about my foundation is how much I’ve been able to help others. I love it when someone reaches out to me and says they’ve been struggling recently, but then they see their 24 Reasons shirt or bracelet, and they’ll be reminded to keep going and that it’s okay to not be okay. Through my foundation, I hope to inspire people to find their own reasons, and if they can’t, they can always reach out to me — reach out to anyone — for help. The biggest thing I always say is, “It’s okay not to be okay” because that’s better than not being here.

I feel over time that mental health has been an issue many men have been taught not to speak about and to keep quiet. It comes from a mindset of previous generations to just “shrug it off.” There was the attitude that men aren’t allowed to cry that has created a stigma around this topic.

A lot of these perceptions have been taught to both men and women in sports through mindsets and behaviors of their coaches. The influence they hold sort of engrains in the young athletes, and people in general, to not show weakness or vulnerability and to just power through it all.

Fortunately, though, you now have men and women both speaking out on these topics and vocalizing that it is okay to talk about these types of issues. Talking about it and allowing the younger generations to see that it is okay to feel a certain way allows the deconstruction of the stigma around mental health.

I passionately feel that accepting your own issues is the first threshold to cross in learning to live with them. I feel that so many people are in denial, and acceptance is crucial to dealing with mental-health challenges. I remember through high school I hadn’t heard about anyone taking their own life or being depressed, but as I got older, that changed.

My freshman year, I saw stuff on Twitter about depression, and I thought to myself, “There’s no way. That’s not what I’m going through. Not me. Sure, I’ve been sad. I’ve cried. But that’s not me; I don’t have these issues.” Then I get diagnosed with depression, and it changed to, “Maybe this is me. Maybe this is what I’m going through.”

I feel that the hardest, yet most important part, is admitting and accepting your own issues. Then I feel the next step is sharing your issues with those closest to you.

I have my own way of sharing my issues, and your way may be different, but it is still important to share with those important to you. We all need people. We are all put here to love and care for others, so I feel, after personal acceptance, that sharing with those around you about your issues is incredibly important. Once you’re able to accept and share your issues, you’re going to find it much easier to find your reasons to keep going.

This story originally appeared in Facing Social Justice in Sports, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized and edited by Dr. Adam J. Kuban.

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