Amanda Beard featured at Mental Illness Awareness Week luncheon

Amanda Beard thought her house had been robbed. She was 12 years old and had just returned home with her dad from a business trip to Florida. She was excited to tell her mom how much fun they had at Disney World, and as she bounded into the house, she saw all their living room furniture was gone.

She took an inventory: The couches, lamps and end tables were missing, but the stereo, dinner table and everything in the kitchen was still there. It slowly dawned on her — they hadn’t been robbed; her mother had moved out.

There was no family sit-down to talk about her parents’ split, Amanda remembered. Her family never talked about things openly. It was during her parents’ divorce that the water — which Amanda had loved since she was a toddler — became a place of escape.

“I’d dive into the pool and work it all out in the water,” Amanda told a group of about 300 people at a luncheon in South Bend on October 4. The lunch was a fundraiser for Oaklawn, and part of Mental Illness Awareness Week 2016.

Amanda recalled the years that followed: winning medals at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta; struggling to swim well after a growth spurt at 16; quitting her swim team, rejoining it after realizing how much she missed it; and eventually being recruited to the University of Arizona swim team.

In college, she had her first boyfriend, and they fought a lot, she said. After one particularly bad fight, she realized her hands had been so tightly balled into fists that one of her fingernails had punctured her skin and it was bleeding. Instead of feeling shock, she felt calm.

“So that became my new outlet,” Amanda said. Amanda began making small cuts all over her body — small enough that most people didn’t notice. When they did, she’d lie. “I was a really good liar,” Amanda said. “And I came up with a lie for everything on my body.”

Amanda’s cutting continued into her subsequent relationships. After moving in with her now-husband, Sacha, Amanda often locked herself in the bathroom during a fight and began to cut. Once, she cut too deep, revealing her secret to Sacha, who encouraged her to seek help.

“He said, ‘We’re talking about this now. You’re going to pick up the phone and call your dad and talk about this right now. You’re going to pick up the phone and call your mom and talk about this right now,’ ” Amanda said. “The thing I realized in that moment was that nobody turned their back on me. They didn’t think I was wrong. They validated it. They all wrapped their arms around me and that was the turning point.”

Amanda saw a therapist and later a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with depression and prescribed medication. While the medication helps, Amanda said she benefited tremendously by talking and working through things with her therapist.

She believes sharing her story is important — particularly for young athletes, who tend to see medals and world records, but don’t know what went on behind the scenes. She stressed that taking care of yourself — and getting help if you need it — is never a sign of weakness. 

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