My guest today is Canadian Andrew Jensen, PGA pro tour golfer and avid spokesman for the pitfalls and hope for those of us who struggle with depression and anxiety. “I turned pro and embarked on just this lonely, isolated life and isolation is not good for the depressed brain.” Rich, earnest and real. I know you’ll enjoy his story today.
About Andrew Jensen
Andrew is a professional golfer from Ottawa. In his teens, he began to suffer from depression, culminating in a suicide attempt at 16 years old. In those difficult teenage years, golf was his refuge and the one place he felt meaning and purpose. It wasn’t until having to deal with the immense stress and pressure of professional golf that the game became his undoing.
After struggling through an extremely difficult rookie campaign in 2008, being dropped by his sponsors in 2009, and finally, an injury in 2010, his poor play and off-course struggles re-opened the door for depression and suicidal thoughts to enter his life. The 2011 season was his worst to date, forcing him to retire and give up on the game he loved for so many years. In the fall of 2011, two failed suicide attempts in a 3-week span had him hospitalized. Most importantly, he was finally ready to get help and walk a road of recovery towards better health.
Returning to professional golf in 2013, he gained status PGA Tour Canada. Though starts were sparse, the Tour took it upon themselves to share his story of strength and courage on the PGA Tour Canada TV show and YouTube channel. The response he received helped him fully realize his place as an advocate for mental health across Canada.
He now finds himself at the forefront of the dialogue on mental health and the effort to eliminate the stigma surrounding it as public speaker traveling the country and sharing his story with charities, high schools, universities, and corporate Canada.
Andrew Jensen: I turned pro and embarked on just this lonely, isolated life and isolation is not good for the depressed brain.
Aaron: Friends. This is Aaron McHugh. I'm your host of Work Life Play and we are knocking on the door of somewhere in the episode range of 180 and some change. And what's super fun about that is in 2012 I fired up my mic on a whim. Really? I had this idea, this hunch that podcasting would be a thing and it would actually be super cool. So I tried to quiz my buddy Jon Dale into doing it with me and I had this idea of calling it a Brown bag CEO and the idea was to invite CEOs and we would interview them and then people could listen to that on their lunch hour. So what is this, I guess is nine years later (from the idea to today) and I guess podcasting's a thing and firing up the mic again for another conversation. I've been actually sitting on this episode since 2018 so almost two years.
I interviewed Andrew Jensen in 2018 and where I met Andrew was at an executive leadership forum, was a program up in Seattle, Washington. He was one of the keynote speakers. What I found really fascinating was in the room were senior executives from household names of companies that you would recognize in the Pacific Northwest. That's all I'm actually permitted to say. And so in the room here are these senior execs and Andrew just comes straight out of the gate and talks about his depression and talks about suicide attempts that he made on his life and talks about his pursuit in his professional golf career and how that was riddled full of a story he was wrestling with every day. So every golf tournament he would play, he would live and die on the value of his own personal worth based on how he actually showed up on the golf course that day.
I just found it super fascinating, both his story as well as watching people respond to his very deeply human story. And so what I wanted to do is just introduce this episode today in the spirit of here we are in a global, massive pandemic and upset. And there are many people in our world today that without even these circumstances that they struggled deeply with depression and with anxiety. So I just did some quick math between six and 7% of Americans and wider globally struggle with depression. And then about 18% of our population today struggles with anxiety of some form or another. And when I found to be interesting of that is that of that do struggle with anxiety, only about 36% actually go and get help. So I will be straight with you here and let you know that I have lived much of my adult life on depression medication.
What I learned years ago was that there's a lot to do with just your genetics and then there's a lot to do with the choices that we make. And so what I found is that my journey living with depression meds, well my life circumstances and some of my genetic code, I just needed some help. So for a long time, I accepted that help. And the other thing I'll add to that story in terms of personal reference is that other family members, and if you've listened to previous podcasts with other family members of mine, you've heard their stories. So I won't share them here. I'll let them share them and you can go back. One of the episodes is titled love wins where my wife and I talk quite a bit extensively about her personal journey. So definitely worth checking out there. And the reason I want to go into this conversation, this topic of depression, anxiety, even suicide, is we live across the street from the air force Academy and the air force Academy is one of the institutions of the federal government in the armed services for the air force that we're educating our best and brightest.
I just want to highlight that it's a real thing that's happening in our world and what matters to me about it is to talk about real things. So especially as more and more people are finding themselves in places of isolation and cutoff. We have family members and friends that are single people already. And so you compound your singleness with isolation and being indoors. It's just a ripe environment for anxiety, depression, and ideation related to taking your own life to be a topic. And what I've found is that they're not easy answers. And one of the stories that is a current suicide specific story has hit our city really closely and we've walked through it personally.
I won't share those specific stories just to be, I guess, kind and gracious to their families. All that said, none of this is theory for me personally and for those that we walk life with. So I want to invite you into that as well because I know if it's something that we're experiencing and we're touching, then so are you, and it's in and around your community. It's in and around your workplace. Maybe in and around your home and your life. And the beautiful thing is there are ways to get help. You've heard us mention multiple times. My wife and I that a wonderful place. We've spent a lot of time. There's a place called onsite workshops and it's a place in Tennessee, in Nashville, and they specialize in helping people with these kinds of debilitating parts of their life. And what's so true about depression and anxiety is that most of us are super functional and most people don't even know.
And you can operate at such a high degree, you know, functionally and kind of go to work, get your job done. But this doesn't mean that your experience of life is all that you hope for and envision and you know as possible or even you witness and watch others and how they experience it. So I'm not here to offer any easy answers or even any advice other than if you are experiencing these things, it does matter to raise your hand and ask for help in that spirit. I offer you this podcast today. Those of you that are alone today and listening to this podcast, maybe in isolation, there are some really meaningful resources online and again, the number one thing that we can do when binding our self in this place is admitted it to someone else and other things can become possible from there. So in the spirit of offering life to those who need it most, that is the episode we have for you today. Bless you, my friends, brothers and sisters and in the spirit of keep going, you can do this. This is good for you
Andrew Jensen: I have been suffering with depression probably for 20 years. 13 years of it, I didn't even know it was something that I think as an athlete you're just conditioned to think it's just demons because of your sport or, and then to go back even further as a teenager, it's just something that you're conditioned to think. It's just a phase, like in everything that you grow out of. And for me, for lack of a better term, hating myself probably like 13-14 years old and I'd tried to take my life at 16. It wasn't anything that moved the needle too much with me personally or within my family. We just thought it was something that I was going through and I would grow out of and to everyone else around. I did grow out of it basically because I convinced them that I did, you know, everything that was not going well in my life that led to that point like 16 years old.
I started to just stubbornly work even harder at, and I started doing better, at golf and I started losing weight. I started being noticed by girls and all of these things that mean the world to you when you're 16 years old. That essentially allowed me to convince everybody that I was okay and yet when they went wow, like sure, I felt better about myself. But the nature of golf is you play worse more than you play better. Even if you play the best of your life. Like there's always something that could have been better. I kind of just faked it until I make it kind of thing for all those years, convince myself that I was okay, that I was worth something. And then I turned pro and embarked on just this lonely isolated life. And isolation is not good for the depressed brain, but something that I didn't know, I couldn't quantify as depression.
It was just, you're just weak if you think these things. So don't think these things and be a man. My first three years in my career, like basically being on the road by myself all the time and living and dying all while a tournament went, this kind of made everything get worse again. And it kind of threw me back into where I was at 13, 14, 15 years old, got injured at 26 and I've run out of money to keep playing. So it was like I was going to have to retire and to me, my only place in this world or my only bit of worth or identity was playing golf. I fully believed there was nothing else.
Aaron: It feels like the mental health as a framework is maybe a kind terminology, but the bottom line is we're talking about severe depression, right? And severe depression. I really thought a lot about Anthony Bourdain's story. 61 took his life by all accounts. Everything looks great. It looks like it should be wonderful. And I think for people that don't struggle with depression, it feels impossible to identify with because it feels like, well, you can just think a different thought, can't you just, and fill in the blank with some list of prescriptions to try different things.
Andrew Jensen: Yeah. Do something that makes you smile, do something, go for a walk.
Aaron: I think it would really help people to understand this is really what it's like when your brain is hijacked by depression. And here's how just those simple little techniques may not necessarily be a cure. And here's, here's the long road and the journey that you've been on.
Andrew Jensen: Yeah. Cause I mean depression essentially eats, wants to isolate you. It wants to convince you. You're the only one that feels like this, that nobody cares about it. No one will be able to relate. That's justified in a sense. I think for me growing up, like the day and age that I grew up in, no one wanted to talk about these things. No one would understand because it was simply sadness. It's not that simple and unknowingly to the victim or the sufferer just wants to pull you away from everything. And because you, you begin to feel so comfortable in your pain. And at the time in 2008 nine and 10, it was still wasn't this kind of conversation that was okay to be had. It was still tough. I was like, be a man, get over it. And I think as an athlete, as a man, we've been convinced of so many lies of how to deal with quote-unquote sadness.
Like we're not supposed to, we're not just supposed to show weakness. And everything that I was doing was perpetuating that. And after my first season on tour at 24 years old where my doctor actually said to me like, I think you have depression, and I told him to F off because it's like, no I don't. I've already been through how I'm back and I got through it. So no way.
Aaron: Say more about what does the voice of depression actually sound like in those moments? What's it telling you?
Andrew Jensen: To be honest, it's telling you everything you want to hear. Like I said earlier, you find a lot of comfort in pain. I think we all do. It's more comfortable experiencing let down, disappointment, pain, struggle than it is to step out of that into the discomfort and the unknown of joy, success. And I think for me, I was just choosing to stay in that comfortable known place of hurt basically, but I couldn't, I couldn't put it into such words.
Aaron: Then you even mentioned earlier about worth and value. So then all of a sudden performance, how you're actually performing at a tournament. In the world of golf. Then directly became correlated with the actual, your personal worth and value.
Andrew Jensen: I grew up wanting to play on the PGA tour, so playing good golf takes care of that. But it meant so much more to me because it legitimately was life or death. If I didn't achieve this, I wasn't worth anything and if I'm not worth anything, I hurt. If I hurt so much I don't want to hurt. I wanted to die like that's cause I didn't want to hurt anymore. Obviously I'm going to be playing bad golf throughout all of that. Like it's, it's, it's a house of cards. I had failed so much that it was like, that's, I just hurt so much and I, I tried to take my life twice and you know, a two and a half weeks fan in the fall of 2011 and then the lock, the whatever that happened, things began to kind of change for me where I started to realize I am worth something. I am loved. It doesn't matter what I shoot. It doesn't matter what I do, the people in my life, my family and my close friends care about me and I always thought they only cared about me if I succeeded at golf basically.
Aaron: And what changed? How did, how did get there? How did you go from two attempts on your life to I am loved?
Andrew Jensen: So I'm sitting in a hospital, I have a heightened sense of clarity cause I can kind of see what is happening around me. It was an emotional time. I was probably more vulnerable than ever, but I didn't, I didn't know, I didn't know, I couldn't put it into words or anything. I got to see that like my family put all of their efforts into getting me to the hospital and like doing anything for me to keep me alive. I was like, Whoa, maybe I do have value. And then through therapy and through the process of healing and recovery, which I'm still doing, allowed some things to sink in where I had, I realized I had value but then it still took two, three years to be comfortable in that knowledge. It's like falling in love with someone else. Like it doesn't just happen. It's a continual process where you realize, wow, I love this person and you're reminded more some days and you struggle with it some days. And it was basically like that. Like I had to basically I went to spent years of hating myself. I had to fall in love with myself. I still think about taking my life more than anyone should. But I also can like experience months of just being like, damn, like things have been outright.
Aaron: Nice. Love you to speak to the person listening who is struggling with depression and what advice, what counsel, what encouragement can you offer them directly.
Andrew Jensen: The thing with any type of pain is when you know you're not the only one. It really helps because when you know you're not the only one, you then can believe that hope actually exists. And the thing with any kind of mental or emotional struggles, hope is the first thing that goes. You don't ever see hope. You think it's never going to end.
Aaron: So back to just that step one being in depression, it's very easy to feel like it's only you and no one else can understand this or is experiencing this. And you're saying step one is that's not true. It's not just you, you're not alone. And then back to stories of this Anthony Bordain like the story, I really feel, and that's why I wanted to have you on also is I want people to hear you listening. You're not alone. So if you're struggling with depression, I've struggled with depression. Mine looks more like anxiety where it's like I feel like the world's up to me and I got to save it. And so I carry a heavy load at times. My wife has struggled with some depression, my son's struggled with depression, so depression is really close to our family. And I wanted to have you on knowing that that's the case, that this is this insidious thing that exists inside the walls of people's homes and lives that's so often never gets talked about or known as you said operationally you just show up and push through and trying to get your shit together. But the truth is it isn't about getting your shit together. It's about this deeper thing that's actually really can be addressed. But it, but there are medical things, there are behavioral things. But starting with you're not alone. Where do you, where do you take a person next?
Andrew Jensen: When you understand that there's other people out there, it does soften you to the idea of speaking up because that's what has to happen next. What's going to make you get out? You have to want to get better. And for me, what it looked like was understanding that I mattered and that my pain mattered. It made it a little bit easier for me to want to tell people like someone about it because I realized they cared. And the biggest thing when you're kind of going through these, these lows, these dark times, you don't think anyone cares. But that's not true at all. You are abundantly loved. So it's like knowing you're not alone, knowing you matter should propel you enough to say something to someone and then saying something to someone, now we're walking down a path.
Even if it's a marginally higher quality of life, it's worth it. And like for me, what that looks like, there's so many things that I rely on, like my diet, medication, mindfulness, my sleep, my training, but above all like community and communication is the most important because without community, without communication, the downward spiral can just happen again because that's where the isolation starts. So I have to kind of swallow my pride at times and let my support system be able to have those hard conversations or ask me those hard questions.
Aaron: Two days ago I went to take our dog for a walk in this dog run park up in the forest and as I was driving in, I wasn't really thinking about it but saw on my left-hand side, there's a park bench dedicated to one of my daughter's very best friends who took her life to the freshmen high school out of left field. Nobody saw it coming. It's still doesn't make any sense whatsoever. And they were all together two hours prior. It has been the most catastrophic crater in their family's lives, their friend's lives. My daughter just talked about it. Again, missing her. I just want to express to you my gratitude for sharing your story because my hope is whoever's listening to this, hearing you say you are deeply loved. I wish that we could have helped. I wish that we could have somehow some intervened and that message and I know it wasn't up to us and there wasn't anything we could have done, but I just wish and hope that there would have been.
And then this message of you are deeply loved no matter how, how far you are from the reach of love or so feels or seems or hope and all of this terrible sinister thing that gets into our hearts and minds that convinces us that it'd be better for us to leave. I would like to eliminate as many park benches that are dedicated to people as possible and instead have guys like you brave enough standing up telling us what it's really like including us so we can be part of the, of the solution and the healing and community piece too. So thank you. And I'm really glad that you're here and there's not a park bench dedicated to you.
What you're talking about is really, really, really deeply brave because there's this misnomer in our culture that you should just have your shit together and that this mental health thing is this invisible piece that people who don't struggle with it at all just cannot comprehend. But those who are on the inside and have struggled do struggle. They totally get how it works. People like us have an opportunity to educate the rest to say, no, it's actually way worse than you think. And it's way more impossible than you think. However, everybody can be part of the solution and some of it begins, I believe that just by name, yet talking about it, being more open about it. And like you said, you know, having some routine, some medicine, it's okay if you had a turned ankle, you would withdraw from the tournament. So this is just part of our lives and I think it's better if we just engage it and own it instead of pretending that it doesn't exist and we should be stronger than it.
Andrew Jensen: Everybody hurts and everyone has the ability to talk about it, so why not? It's always funny to me cause people say I'm brave or courageous, but I don't think I am because it's just me talking about my shit. I've made this analogy and it's like I always talk about physical scars. You've seen it in movies where people begin to tell the stories that like why they have this scar. Whereas for me, with the exception of like three physical scars, you can see all of my scars that you can't see, but why can't I tell you the story about it? Right.
Aaron: Love it. That was scary. Gnarly. You know you don't want it to happen, but let's just talk about it. That's, that's a way that we can help be part of the solution is normalize it in our culture and have conversations like these. I appreciate it even as we're finishing. keeping it light of this is just life and this is what it looks like to be on this planet and whether you know the story intimately and personally or you just that peripherally. It happens every day and we can be part of engaging differently by conversations like this. So thanks for leading us and thanks for being willing to share the stories so that we can, we can be more empathetic and gracious and understanding wherever we find ourselves on the side of the story.
Andrew Jensen: My pleasure, man.