Wrestling with Depression

“The best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be.”

When I reflect on my inspiration to write contemporary women’s sports fiction, these words, declared in a deep, raspy voice, loom large in my mind. This is the tagline for superstar wrestler Bret “The Hitman” Hart. He was my influence to not only take on this underrepresented genre but to become a writer.

Growing up, I either wanted to be a writer or a veterinary nurse. Influenced by my family to pursue a “real career,” I made the choice to stop writing and become a registered veterinary technician. My tendency to overachieve drove me to attain multiple specialty certifications. I have more letters after my name than will reasonably fit on a business card. Despite this success, I felt unfulfilled and stifled without a creative outlet. This paired with compassion fatigue and burnout from years in the demanding veterinary field left me in a bad mental state. I knew I needed to make a change in my life in order to find happiness, but I felt lost.

“Isn’t wrestling fake?” I asked, my tone venomous when my new boyfriend suggested we watch a documentary about a wrestler. I wondered how I could have missed such a critical character flaw in this guy. Anyone who actually liked that make-believe fighting had to be crazy or stupid. Either way, definitely not boyfriend material.

“It’s not fake, it’s predetermined,” he responded, unfazed as he popped the documentary called Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows, into the DVD player. I sat back and geared up to make sarcastic comments throughout the entire movie. Maybe if I ridiculed it enough, he would turn it off and abandon this insane idea that he liked wrestling. After a few minutes, the snide comments died in my throat and, despite myself, my interest was piqued.

When the documentary ended, my boyfriend was shocked when I told him I wanted to learn more about wrestling. He rushed to the bookshelf and had Bret Hart’s autobiography, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling in my hands before I could reconsider. As I cracked the cover on that book, my wrestling education officially began. I worked through Hart’s book and a few other wrestlers’ biographies before I ever watched my first match, establishing respect for the sport from the inside out.

When I finally did see a match, I understood what my boyfriend had been trying to tell me. It wasn’t fake fighting, it was like a violent ballet with each move carried out in a strategic order by elite athletes. I watched all the content I could find and the wrestlers I had read about in books became a reality. I scrutinized classic matches between Bret Hart and Steve Austin and could see how their actions and reactions pulled the emotions of the audience right into the ring with them. I watched Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Mick Foley, and Rey Mysterio and saw storytelling at its finest. These matches were so captivating that I jumped around my living room, screaming my encouragement or frustration at the television, even though these bouts had taken place decades prior and I already knew the outcomes.

As my wrestling fandom flourished, my mental struggles caused by my job continued to grow. I found wrestling actually helped with my depression. I could lose myself in the matches and forget about all the horrible things I had seen at work. The dog who had died a slow, horrible death because the owners refused to euthanize her didn’t exist. The old man who had ugly cried when I told him his lifelong friend was riddled with cancer faded into the depths of my mind. However, when I switched off the television, those memories were there, waiting for me.

I had just turned 30 when my depression reached a breaking point. I was desperately searching for a lifeline but only found darkness. Then, Hart’s raspy voice boomed in my head and pulled me back from the edge. I remembered his determination and drive to achieve his dreams and felt inspired. When I thought about my own dream, there was only one answer. It was time to let my creative side out.

Ever the overachiever, I wanted to gain as much knowledge as possible about my literary goals. I decided to go back to school to get first my bachelor’s then my master’s degree. Now, after my long, work-intensive, sleep-deprived journey, I am at the end. I have achieved my master’s degree in creative writing and am seeking a literary career path.

I still spend my weekends crammed into stuffy American Legion Halls with 200 other wrestling fanatics, cheering on our favorite independent performers. Watching these aspiring men and women perform amazing feats in the ring as they work toward their dreams of big contracts is unbelievable. I try to capture their fighting spirit in my own characters to create stories that inspire my readers the way these wrestlers, starting with Bret Hart, have inspired me. Still striving to overachieve, I have even gotten in the ring myself and am currently training to be a referee.

Although it often earns me ridicule, I wear my wrestling fandom like a badge of honor. When people ask me how I can watch “fake fighting,” I smile and tell them it inspires me. Most of the time people just roll their eyes and walk away, whispering about how it’s still fake fighting under their breath. Occasionally, someone will look intrigued. When I ask what inspires them and they don’t have an answer, I hand them a flyer for a wrestling show.