By: Lindsey Young
Imagine waking up in the morning and seeing nothing but bleak, foggy skies outside your window.
You spot a pair of robins perched on a nearby tree branch; their yellow beaks are opened, but no melody meets your ears. The sun was supposed to come out today, but thick clouds completely block its light and warmth.
Now, imagine this is also the way you wake up tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that.
It's what NFL Insider Jay Glazer experiences every day, and he calls it – aptly – "The Gray" in his book, Unbreakable.
Simply put, "The Gray" is the name Glazer has assigned to the brutal brew of anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and other challenges he's battled for as long as he can remember.
"It's my earliest childhood memory. It's an everyday thing. I wake up feeling the sky is falling, the universe hates me, but it doesn't," he continued. "I think people want the worst for me and nothing good is going to happen. Clearly, that doesn't happen. Great things happen. My life is phenomenal. I'm sitting here doing a podcast with you guys – my life is great. But, between my ears sucks.
"The rest of the world may see that when they wake up, you see that beautiful blue and you feel that beautiful blue. I don't. It's not a pretty gray. I see and feel this sludge gray in my life," Glazer added.
Most know Glazer for his successful journalism career.
He currently works as the NFL Insider for FOX NFL Sunday, where he delivers exclusives — late-breaking updates and injury news — and other various reports. He has also been part of FOX Football Thursday and has served as a Host for Bellator's signature MMA fights on the Paramount Network. Prior to joining Bellator, Glazer – a former fighter himself – served as a UFC host and analyst.
And yet there's so much more to who he is, revealed as he pulls back the curtain to unveil his mental health journey. He consistently shares his story in hopes of encouraging others.
Vikings.com interviewed Glazer during his recent visit to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center when he participated in a discussion with Vikings staff – and later to the football team – about mental health.
"I wanted to be able to communicate my own experiences and then take them, be able to share them with the world, so they could share with others. I also wanted to give a blueprint for some hope for some people out of that gray, into the blue," Glazer said. "The Gray is something I'm in every day of my life. I've woken up every day of my life with it. And listen, I didn't sign up for it."
For many battling anxiety and depression, the symptoms extend far beyond the mental.
For Glazer, an especially heavy day often manifests itself as a physical pressure in his rib cage – "it feels like I'm having a heart attack" – or a sharp pain in the left side of his stomach.
"And my joints ache like I just came through a three-day fight and it's been raining for like 12 years. It's brutal," he explained.
Glazer is passionate about continuing to break down the stigma he's witnessed. For years, mental health has been an unspoken taboo topic in general – and especially among men.
He pointed out that society has historically been quick to label or put in a box someone who expressed emotional or mental struggles.
"In the past, you were kind of looked at like, "Oh, let's avoid this person." Or, if you brought up suicidal thoughts, you'd get locked up," Glazer said.
As he became more comfortable sharing his personal experiences, though, Glazer has done so within the NFL community.
A segment of his book details a dinner conversation Glazer had with Rams Head Coach Sean McVay and now-retired All-Pro tackle Andrew Whitworth:
"It doesn't come with a warning. It just wakes you up and hurts so f*****g bad. It just … hurts. I feel as if these imaginary chains start pulling me down, but pulling me from my soul, and they're pulling down with them any belief it can get better. Man, it just feels hopeless and helpless. Think of how hard it is for a dude like me, or one of your coaches or players, who are so used to navigating at a high level. Let me put it this way: Imagine if you entered every game knowing everything was against you. The worst things that can happen, you're just convinced will happen, and there ain't s**t you can do about it. Even worse, you feel like all that bad stuff is going to happen because that's what you deserve to have happen for you.
"That hurt causes dark valleys, where your mind goes to the worst, sky-is-falling scenario every time. Everyone's against you. Your relationship don't make sense, so you start questioning them. Things become a big deal that really aren't. Your fuse is overly short. So relationships become harder. You're always sensitive. You feel like you're constantly under pressure, and you think everyone is against you."
Hearing the excerpt read back to him, Glazer's eyes glistened.
"When I hear somebody else read that, and this is going to sound a little bad, but I feel bad for the guy who wrote that," he said. "And that's me. So, it's kind of surreal."
It's important to embrace one's struggles, though, and understand how they also can be a strength.
"I'm messed up, but I'm good with my messed-up-ness," Glazer said. "And our 'crazy,' or our damage, or our Gray, or whatever you want to call it, that's what makes us different. Different is good. Different leads to success. So, yeah, I'm glad we don't have to hide that damage, that pain or that 'crazy' anymore."
One day at a time
For Glazer, those final 15 minutes before he falls asleep prove the most torturous of every day.
His mind spews ugliness, hurling insults and hatred and threats at his very psyche.
The pain – mental and physical – Glazer experiences on a daily basis often feels relentless. It's heavy and exhausting and doesn't tap out. So then, what enables him to keep fighting?
"I decided a long time ago that I'm going to choose life and not death," Glazer said. "I will be here. So, that's the first thing. I take that option out the window. The second thing I do, is now, getting out of bed … every morning."
Those diagnosed with clinical depression know just how insurmountable that simple task can sometimes seem. Glazer has learned to make it through, though, by reaching out to those in his corner.
He'll call teammates, friends, loved ones and tell them, "Hey, I'm really struggling today."
Some may fear this type of openness will be seen as weakness. It is, however, quite the opposite.
"This vulnerability has gotten me so much closer to my crew. And my crew, they are the baddest … on the planet. There are six-time world champion fighters, Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell and these football [players] … the Andrew Whitworths. No one's questioning our manhood," Glazer said. "And yet, the more vulnerable I've been with them … [that's what has] gotten us so much closer over all these years."
Glazer has adopted the practice of calling four friends on days he's especially smothered by The Gray. Conversely, though, he calls four other people – not to talk about his struggles but to check up on them.
During his most difficult moments, it's sometimes extending that hand to someone else that helps pull Glazer out of the pit.
He also prioritizes physical exercise.
According to Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, neuroscientists have observed that in people who are depressed, "the hippocampus – the region in the brain that helps regulate mood is smaller. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression."
For some, exercise works alone as an antidepressant. For many others, such as Glazer, medication is still utilized alongside exercise.
Moving his body has become non-negotiable for Glazer, even on the hard days when he can barely muster half a workout. It's what prompted Glazer to start his own gym, Unbreakable Performance Center, in Los Angeles.
Beyond deadlifts and dumbbells, Unbreakable emphasizes the importance of team and support systems.
A licensed therapist is on-site at all hours, and not one mirror can be found on a wall of the workout space, an intentional omission.
"We train as a team," Glazer said. "I don't want anybody's back turned to the rest of the team looking at themselves in the mirror."
He added: "[Exercise] releases the endorphins in your brain and gives you that hold … [and at] our place, you'll have your brother or sister on your right or left."
It's all about the team
Relying on a support system has been critical for Glazer as he's navigated The Gray, and he believes it's equally important for every single person, regardless of what one is going through.
For those searching for a way to best support someone struggling with his or her mental health, Glazer encouraged, "Talk to them and listen."
If you ask a friend how he's doing, really listen to the response. We've become so conditioned to expect the automatic response of "good"; are we even hearing what we need to hear?
Glazer referenced a close friend of his who is a highly successful businessman and leader in his field.
"It took me 6 months to finally [get him to be] like, "Yeah, OK. I'm not OK." Finally, he just cried to me and broke down," Glazer said. "He said, 'I'm sorry.' I'm like, 'What do you mean, sorry? Dude, this is a brotherhood right here. It's a brotherhood. The fact that you felt comfortable enough to break down, crying to me, like think about what our bond is now.'
"That's my point, right?" he added. "Just open up to people about it."
Amid the darkness, Glazer is proud of things he's overcome. He's proud to be different. He's proud to be an advocate for others. And he's proud to share he isn't invincible.
Vulnerability shows real strength, he noted.
"Not muscles. That's nothing compared to the power of vulnerability. The more we can open up to each other, the more we can heal each other and be there for each other," Glazer said. "If I can save you, you may end up saving three other people in life. They may end up saving someone who finds a cure for a disease that someone in my family member suffers from. You just never know. You never know the ripple effect of people we can lift up and save.
"That, and I'll tell everybody else, 'Give yourself a break.' This stuff's hard. It's not pretty," Glazer continued. "People ask, 'You bleeped out something in the book. Why'd you use such foul language in it?' Because man, this ain't pretty. I'm not going to dignify it by using pretty and nice language because it doesn't deserve it."
Glazer appreciates the Vikings efforts around mental health and continues to encourage professional athletes not only to use their platforms but to utilize the built-in support system all around them.
"You have a team that you can turn to right now. … That's one of the great things about football. You've got teammates who get you," Glazer said.
He added that players aren't defined by wearing the Vikings uniform.
"It's what is behind their rib cage that makes them great. They need to turn into and lean on each other," Glazer said. "If you're struggling, think about this: If you have 53 guys on a [regular-season roster], they are all walking this walk together.
"Think about how much better that team would be if they could all bond over [struggles rather than] a bunch of individuals who are hiding this stuff from each other," he added. "Who's gonna be closer together? Right? It's the team that walks through this crap together – and they walk the walk together."