Michael Phelps: His Mental Health Journey & His Upcoming Memoir

Lisa & Karen are joined by the greatest Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, for an in-depth discussion of his mental health journey, what he learned in therapy, and his upcoming memoir (which Karen is helping him write).

They Discuss:

@ 0:26 – What it’s like to be introduced as “the greatest Olympian of all time.”

@ 1:49 – Why he chose a woman (Karen Crouse) to help him write his memoir.

@ 7:11 – The difficulties of writing a memoir and the old wounds it opens. But it’s also been an opportunity for personal growth and opening new doors.

@ 9:50 – Why he chose to go public with his mental health struggles in 2015, just months after returning from rehab, and what he learned from his time there.

@ 12:08 – What it was like for his family to go through it with him as a famous athlete and why he didn’t want to hide his struggles anymore.

@ 16:05 – Being vulnerable in group therapy with a bunch of strangers.

@ 19:42 – How it felt to be free for the first time and on a level playing field with other people who were fighting similar battles as he was.

@ 21:24 – Why it’s important for people to get help and speak out on their own timeline–not anyone else’s.

@ 26:58 – How the mental health discussion has changed over the years and the role he played in reducing the stigma surrounding it.

@ 33:40 – How going through therapy actually fueled him.

@ 36:15 – Why he doesn’t regret what he’s been through and his mission to keep moving the conversation about mental health forward.

@ 39:59 – What he does on days that he isn’t in a good mental space.


Lisa Cornwell (00:17)

Well, I don't think that this man needs an introduction. We could say the greatest Olympian of all time, 23 gold medals. Michael, I was wondering, first of all, thanks for being here with us. You know, I go back to that Tiger Phil moment on the first T at East Lake back in 2002, and they're listing off all the Tigers accolades and finally feels like, oh man, just enough is enough. Do you ever get that? Like when they introduce you on something like this and it's the greatest Olympian of all time, 23 gold medals, or do you just say, hey, just call me Mike. Come on.

Michael Phelps (00:48)

I mean, it is kind of wild. Like to be honest, you know, like throughout my career, I didn't really say, cool, like I just won my 19th. I just won my 20th, right? Like it was just another one. It was just another step in the direction where I was trying to end up. Honestly, like at times when people do go through it, I'm like, man, that is a lot. Like, holy crap, like it's a ton of metal, right? It's a ton of world records. I mean, if you say the world record one, I'll say, well, I should have had 40. I missed one. But no, I mean, like when I hear it, for me, it just brings me back to kind of what I did for two decades, greater part of two decades and what had to go into it for me to be able to do that. I mean, I was a selfish person for a long time to be able to have that opportunity.

Lisa Cornwell (01:33)

You have to be to be good. I mean, anybody who's been around greatness knows that it takes that to get there. All right, full disclosure, because people are watching this, they're like, how in the hell did Lisa get Michael Phelps? So Karen Krauss here in the middle, and I would say that too, if I was watching, but Karen is helping Michael write his memoir, which I cannot wait. And we're gonna dive into that a little bit, but like Michael, I've been a fan of yours for a long time and it's easy, you know, when you represent your country, you grow up as an American, you know, I'm proud of the things that you've done. I'm proud of you speaking out to about mental health, which obviously we'll talk about. But one of my new admirations for you, I recently wrote a memoir and it just came out and I had some help with it, but you're a man, you got a woman to help you write it. I just think that is the coolest thing ever because on this podcast, Karen and I even off of it, we talk a lot about equality, equality in sports. And here you are this renowned world athlete and you get a female to help you. How did that choice come about?

Michael Phelps (02:36)

I mean, for me, it was pretty easy. You know, Karen and I have known each other for two decades, right? We've known each other for a long time. And, you know, I've gotten to know and work with a lot of different reporters throughout my life. And, you know, I'll say Karen's been one of the good ones no matter what the story says, right? She's always been extremely fair for me and has always written a great piece. And... You know, for me, diving into some of the things that I didn't really dive into fully throughout my career, there was no other person to share that story than, than Karen, you know, I feel like the way that she writes, she's able to really grab everybody's attention, any audience. And I think for me, that's what I wanted, especially in this piece, right. Really, you know, showing my vulnerability through what I experienced and, and putting it into detailed words. You know, through, you know, those three years during the pandemic, Karen and I were firing out, you know, sometimes we were meeting in person. Sometimes we were on FaceTime or, you know, we were just talking. And, and, you know, for me, it was challenging for me to go through that stuff, but also at the same time, like I trusted Karen and I still do. I write like, I trust Karen. So, you know, for me, that was, it was just a no brainer. It was easy for me to, to, to pick her. And, um, you know, I can't wait for, for y'all to see and hear what. what the final piece looks like.

Lisa Cornwell (04:00)

I can't wait. Karen, I just want to know what it was like for you when Michael said, Hey, let's do this.

Karen Crouse (04:05)

Well, it's the privilege of a lifetime, obviously. And you know, for me, it's almost like my life came full circle because I started swimming after watching Mark Spitz win seven gold medals in Munich. I sat in front of the TV and said, wow, dad, that looks like a lot of fun. I want to try that. And I was nine at the time. And we lived really close to Santa Clara Swim Club for better or worse. And so that was my entree into swimming and swimming changed my life. I mean, all the friends I have, all the tools in my toolbox that I've carried into the real world, I have as a result of swimming. So I'm forever indebted to the sport for that. And so then to be able to write Michael's mental health memoir with him. The Man Who Supplanted Spits is just full circle. And it has been such a great journey. I was sort of laughing listening to Michael talk about our long time acquaintance because there were times and I'm sure he'll admit that he was not thrilled to hear my questions. There were, I was. I was sort of talking about the person long before he wanted to talk about the person. He wanted to just focus on the performer. And so I think that it took a while for Michael to catch up to my way of looking at his life and career.

Michael Phelps (05:41)

It's so true, like literally in a press conference, because you go into a press conference and they're like, oh, tell us about the race, tell about this, about that, blah, blah, blah. It's the same five questions you get every single time. And then the moderator will be like, Karen Krauss, New York Times. I'm like, oh, here we go, all right. Well, I was like, okay, because like typically on the other answers, I'm like, oh, this is simple, right? Like I could tell you exactly what you want to hear about the race. Or I can tell you exactly whatever. I can fudge that around a little bit. But Karen's always made me think. So I was like, whenever I heard them start with that, I was like, okay, all right. You're like, sit up, take a deep breath. I'm like, all right, focus on the question. Where is she gonna go? But I liked it, right? And I think that was something that really kind of drew me to her because it wasn't the same just, yeah, it wasn't the same ABC questions.

Michael Phelps (06:37)

I think that was just something that spoke to me. And again, there was no other person that could really explain my story in the best way that she can.

Karen Crouse (06:47)

So Michael, Rory called them Karen questions. So Rory McElroy says, Oh, I like your Karen questions. So there we go.

Lisa Cornwell (06:55)

I was going to say that you're like the acupuncturist, you know, when they put the needle in, it doesn't hurt. And then Karen's the one who comes by and just flicks it. And you're like, Oh, I feel that. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So that's your new nickname. You're the acupuncturist. That's. Yeah, that would.

Michael Phelps (07:04)

Yep. Yep, there it is.

Karen Crouse (07:08)

Yeah, I can live with that. You know, it was interesting, Michael, because I was communicating with your wife, Nicole, yesterday and she said that for you reading the pages that we've put together is, it's hard because telling these painful stories is cathartic in some ways, but also wound opening in others. And could you speak to that? Because I think that's what has made the process so challenging but ultimately will make it so rewarding.

Michael Phelps (07:41)

Yeah, for sure. I mean, like, you know, the first kind of listen to the first few chapters and like going back to them, obviously it brings back all of these memories. And yeah, to your point, brings up the or opens up those wounds back again. And, and, you know, I think, you know, when, when that does happen, what I think too is, is I'm healing the wounds because I'm talking about them and I'm going through them. I'm experiencing the emotions and the feelings that I have through those things. But yeah, I mean, I think For me, overall, I think it's a great growing experience and opportunity. But I mean, of course, I thought it was going to be hard regardless, but the vulnerability, I think, again, back to you, I felt comfortable being vulnerable and it does show in the books. It shows in the chapters. You can hear it through the words that we've put down. And I think that, for me, is all I want. I want somebody to be able to read this and to connect with it and hopefully that can make an impact on them. You know, that's my life mission and goal for this whole thing is, it's just getting this stuff out into the open, right? Like I carry it on for so long and I don't wanna have that in my backpack holding me back for the rest of my life. So yeah, I mean, through, I can't say it enough. It was difficult, but it was something that I had to have happen. And it probably gave me the opportunity to open up more doors into deeper stuff. And to be able to heal other stuff that maybe I never even knew was there.

Karen Crouse (09:11)

Yeah, I mean I had covered you for 20 plus years and you've told me things I had no idea. So that's how deep you are willing to go which is just so wonderful. The readers will be the beneficiaries of that vulnerability for sure.

Lisa Cornwell (09:28)

Yeah, and I mean, obviously, I can't wait to read it and ask you more about that. But neither one of you would be here. Michael, if we go back to 2014 and you decide to get help after the second DUI, and you become very open and vulnerable at that point, which I think to a lot of us was surprising because back then people weren't talking about it. And there certainly weren't men talking about it. If you would just kind of go back to that time, I'm really interested in how you felt so comfortable being vulnerable and doing that SI article in 2015 pretty soon after going to rehab.

Michael Phelps (10:07)

Yeah, it was wild. And I still think going back to that article, Tim Layden and I had worked together for a long time. We did another big piece in 2004 together. So we spent some history through my career with one another. And it was wild. I got out of treatment and we met and whatever question he asked me, I still don't know to this day what it was. I just decided to open up. And quite frankly, I didn't really care anymore. I got to the point where I was like, I'm going to let this shit out and I'm just going to be me. Um, you know, it kind of came from, I guess, a story in the Meadows where, uh, we're sitting watching like Sunday night football or Monday night football and, and, um, USA swimming had just suspended me. I didn't even know they were going to suspend me or that was even in the question. Um, but they suspended me from world championships that summer, um, which I was getting ready for. Uh, and obviously didn't go. So at that very moment, I basically said, fuck this, I'm going to show the world really who I am and I don't care. I don't care what they say, anything else. I want to be comfortable in my own skin. Um, and whatever that looks like, I'm going to try and find it. And I think, you know, for me going through everything that I went through, uh, at the Meadows learning more about me, but also gaining the tools. It gave me, it gave him the ability to, to look in the mirror and like who I see.

Lisa Cornwell (11:15)


Michael Phelps (11:36)

You know, like for a long time, I looked at myself as a swimmer, not a human being. So now I can see whatever it is about me that I like, that I love, that I dislike, whatever, I, I welcome it because it is me. This is my authentic self. I try to be my authentic self every single day. So, you know, I think like back to that article I opened up and I just shared everything because I didn't care anymore. I was, I was ready to just be completely transparent and so yeah, this is what... This is who I am, this is what I am, and I'm gonna go do this and you're gonna watch.

Lisa Cornwell (12:10)

I think I learned more about you from that article than anything. And I was telling Karen before we got on here, one of the quotes that stood out to me actually was not from you. It was from your mom, your mom Debbie, who said, I'm going to quote it, oh my God, here we go again, how terrible is the world going to be to my son. And so I'm reading that and literally like getting goosebumps because I'm thinking at this point, you know, this was coming off the second DUI, you hadn't gone to rehab yet. And your mom is worried about the reaction from the outside world. I wonder, my question is, was she aware that you were going through some mental health things even before you had disclosed it? Because that to me just shows this fear in a mom who's worried about her son, not from what happened, but what could possibly happen afterwards.

Michael Phelps (12:57)

Yeah, I mean, I would say if she did, she wasn't really able to say anything or wasn't prepared to address it. Right? I think that's part of, you know, the problem that we see in mental health now, I think is it's passed down from generations. Right? Our parents, parents said, no, you're not allowed to share this stuff. Our parents said, no, pretend like everything is okay and perfect, where in reality, that's not the case. So I think for that, like I just think my mom just saw it as me struggling or whatever, and I was just gonna find a way to get through it. And yes, I did, but then that caused bigger problems later down the road. I mean, we've always been a super tight-knit family and a very tight-knit group. And that comment, I can see we've been through the wringer through ups and downs with comments that I've gotten... you know, whether it's been from my first DUI, my second DUI, or the famous photo from 2008 with me holding some pipe. So, you know, like, so it's like, you know, the thing is it's like, you work your way up to this point and if you're on a pedestal, somebody wants to knock you off. Somebody wants to kick you to the dirt and they want to stomp on you. And I got to the point where I was just like, I really don't care what people say. Again, like back to my point, like I'm just gonna be me and that's who I am. Like I can't fake that. I can't fake me being me. That I'm not living my authentic life. And if I'm not doing that, then I'm cheating myself. Oh, that's just one thing. But that's also one thing that I've learned throughout my process. Like, you know, do I think my mom struggles? 100%. Do I think my dad struggled? Without question, he did. But I don't know if they'll ever admit to that or if they'll open up and talk about it. And for me, it's like, throughout my career, I wanted to give myself a chance when I was swimming, right? So I prepared however I could to just get in the water and be as prepared as I could be. In life, like, I don't know what tomorrow is going to bring. So I wanna be as prepared for tomorrow as I am for today. So like, I always have to constantly learn and ask questions, and that's something I never really did as a kid. So for me to be the best human now, I have to do basically the same thing I did in the pool, but on dry land. And that's something I know nothing about. So it's like me basically relearning life. So you will reprogramming how everything works.

Lisa Cornwell (15:35)

Well, look, I think that the biggest word that you talk about is vulnerability. And, you know, I told you about this memoir that I wrote. It just came out and I revealed for the first time, struggling with an eating disorder. I was bulimic through college and I had a really hard time. And I, I, what I learned from therapy is that I could control it. You know, it was I could control the secrecy, but where I really struggled was when I finally went to group therapy. And I do say even in the book that I think that that's really the path that, that, that led me to getting better. So I, I heard you, I think that I, I can't remember if I read it or if it was on a podcast with Jay Glazer recently that you did or last fall. And you were talking about being in group therapy and all the walls that it brought down. Was that tough for you because I was going through it and I'm not Michael Phelps. Like I can't imagine what it was like for you in there. All these people are probably going, oh my God, Michael Phelps is in group therapy with this. How did you handle that? I just, I can't wrap my head around it.

Michael Phelps (16:38)

Yeah, it was weird. When I first went into the meadows the first few days, I was kind of one foot on the boat, one foot on the dock, kind of not really sure what was going on, didn't really eat with anybody, kind of just in my little shell and my bubble. And kind of got into my rhythm after the first three days. And then I guess that was group therapy. And I guess I looked around and I was like, there's six people in here. Like, why the hell am I sharing exactly what I'm going through? I think it actually probably helped. There was a moment in there where my therapist triggered me and I thought I was going to spear him. I literally thought like I was gonna jump off the couch and jump off the chair and literally just attack him. He had pissed me off so much and he knew he did. He stopped me out like after the meeting and was like, I caught one. I like, I got you a little bit on that one. And he did, but like it also made me think about things. And I think, you know, for me, I had never been vulnerable in a public setting in my whole entire life. I mean, I was literally on TV in front of millions and millions of people, never been vulnerable. So for me, that was the first time I was ever vulnerable. Going into the meadows, seeking help, raising my hands and basically surrendering, say I need something. Something has to change. And yeah, I think group therapy was intimidating at first, but I think once I went through a few of them... I was just like, oh, this is great. I'm just going to go in. I'm going to listen to them be vulnerable and listen to the other teammates in there become vulnerable. And we're going to do it together. Right? Like it's almost like a team environment. You know, it's the same kind of thing that we were doing when I was swimming. We were all trying to become Olympians and Olympic champs, but there we all have different stories yet they're all interconnected in some weird way, right? Like there's like, there are things that I experienced that the person next to me was going through something very similar. Right. And that's just getting it out in the open was the first time we experienced that lifting that weight out of our shoulder, right? You'll hear me talk a lot about that. I did that, I feel like, through my experience at the Meadows. I feel like I went in and had 100 pounds on my back, where those experiences kind of helped me just lift five pounds at a time, 10 pounds at a time. And before you know it, you're standing up tall and you're like, oh my gosh, I feel great. That's all I had to do was talk about these things. And that for me, I think was something that's so crazy, right? I make the joke, I learned how to communicate at the age of 30, but I did it, I got there, but it was crazy. All I have to do is I'd wake up, say I have a bad day today, I'm like, honey, it's one of those days. I might need you a little bit extra this morning, help get the kids out just a little foggy, a little cloudy, not in the right mental space. Before I couldn't say that, where now I just say it and the boys, my three boys are now, they're used to me having ups and downs because we talk about it, we normalize it... And that's what we all have to do in order to change, in order to lower these stigmas, in order to lower these walls, we all have to do that. Lift the rug up and let it all out. That's the only way it's going to happen.

Lisa Cornwell (19:43)

I love that.

Karen Crouse (19:44)

Listening to you talk about your time at the Meadows, I remember being really struck by how from the time you were 15, you were the extraordinary one. Well, even before that, because you were setting a slew of national age group records, but you are always the special one, the extraordinary one, and that there must have been some sort of comfort in not being different, better, special than everyone. You were no better or no worse than the other people that you were in group therapy with. And my goodness, Michael, that was probably the first time that you were ever considered just another ordinary person as opposed to the superhero Olympian and the extraordinary performer.

Michael Phelps (20:31)

I think like you saying that, like even when the people we were watching that Sunday Night Football game or Monday Night Football game, whatever it was, like turned around and looked at me, like they didn't even realize until obviously my photo is sitting there on the TV. So, you know, like the next few days were a little interesting after that. But they had, but it was crazy. So like somebody actually got kicked out because they said that I was in there on the phone. Right? So like the secrecy and like the anonymity is very important there, right? Cause you're trying to get that help. So that whole experience was weird for me, right? Cause we're all trying to get help and these people were still trying to like freak out because I'm in there. Um, and there were other people in there with me when I was in there and that helped me, right? Like it helped me kind of feel like I was normal.

Karen Crouse (21:17)

Yeah, you know, it's the process of doing this project with you has been just interesting on multiple levels, but the we should tell Lisa and the listeners that this was a unicorn book project telling this book openly and honestly to go the conventional route of writing a proposal, selling the proposal to a publishing company, and at which point you would be on the publishing company's timetable. Okay, Michael, we need a manuscript by September, we're publishing in March, whatever. And so what this project, what we're doing, it was such an unconventional contract, it had to be written up by scratch or from scratch is that we are producing a complete manuscript. And when Michael signs off on the pages, only at that point will the manuscript go to auction. So when it eventually is sold, whoever obtains it will be getting the finished product. But that has ensured Michael that he's been able to control the timetable, which when you are talking about events that can be triggering is so important because there's just, you can't say, today I'm gonna tell all and, you know, I can remember talking to you, Michael, about some things and then I wouldn't hear from you for three weeks and I would think, oh my goodness, I've sent him down a wormhole. But now I understand that was what was really going on. But...

Lisa Cornwell (23:04)

No, he is playing golf. I get it.

Michael Phelps (23:05)


Karen Crouse (23:09 )

You know, that's what I tell people who ask for advice on how can I tell people's stories about mental health. You can't be on any timetable but that person's. They have to be, tell it in their way and in their own time. And that's very difficult in a society that's, you know, that is looking for constant, you know, gratification and the beast must be fed continuously.

Michael Phelps (23:40)

I think that's like, but I think that's like, that's what makes me so happy with how Naomi did it, right? How Naomi Osaka came out, right? Like on her own, like in her own words on her own platform, right? Like, that's just so powerful because it's so hard to do and it's so hard to show that vulnerability. So, you know, like I love seeing these athletes step up and share their stories because it's only changing how people look at it, but it's also saving lives. So that's like the one thing I'm always saying is like talk about these things, communicate these things. You have no idea. I didn't know what I was doing just by sharing these stories probably until recently. You'll hear some stories that we've shared in the book, but I've gotten more and more recently where people just felt safe and becoming vulnerable and sharing these stories. And that's only helping them. It's helping them grow so much more, more than they can ever imagine in that very moment. So I mean, all the listeners there. Whatever you're going through, talk about this stuff. Don't let this stuff compartmentalize and stack up inside. Trust me, it's something I did for two decades and it's not healthy. I could have won a couple more gold medals by doing that, but that's not something to be proud of. So if you feel something start building up, talk about those things. Because for me, when I would do that, I would let it go, go, go, and then I'm all of a sudden this massive volcano that just erupts on whoever is around me. Doesn't matter if it's the right person or the wrong person any one given moment, I can just explode. And it's just because I didn't learn how to communicate. Or maybe it was something that I was taught that wasn't okay to communicate those feelings and emotions. So now I'm gonna go, it's just go.

Karen Crouse (25:26)

I can identify a clear through line between you coming out in 2014, 15, talking about your mental health issues and Aaron Wise pulling out of the masters this year to address his mental health issues. Honestly, 10 years ago, I cannot have envisioned a scenario in which a golfer would pull out of, arguably, the most prestigious event on the calendar and give the reason that he was addressing his mental health issues.

Michael Phelps (26:00)

People are prioritizing it now, right? Like Karen's heard me talk about, you know, I always feel like if you can work on your mental health and your physical health in the same capacity, then you become the superhero. So why don't we all try to become superheroes, right? And he's prioritizing and vocalizing that. He's making himself vulnerable and putting it out there to everybody to see. And honestly, that's probably gonna help him overall. And that message right there probably saves some life. And you may see somebody else do that same exact thing. And that's something that we have to do as a male athlete, right? For me, if I broke a bone, if I had something sore, how many doctors or PTs were working on me to make sure that was figured out? Now we're, now we're voice a lot. Now we've now we're vocalizing our, our feelings and our emotions where before, if we did it, people would just be like, Oh no, stuff that down. Now people are okay to talk about it. We need to do more and more and more of this. The suicide rate has not stopped climbing. That means we have to keep talking about this. We have to normalize this. And if we don't, it will continue to climb.

Lisa Cornwell (27:01)

And obviously you're reaching a large audience. You're not just focused on athletes. And I love that because obviously mental health affects every single person. The pandemic has proven how bad it is. But I do love the fact Michael that you're a man and I think people forget, you know, when you first spoke out about this, like we said, people weren't talking about this in the sports world and men certainly weren't, you know, Karen brings up Aaron Wise. You think about Rory McIlroy after the Masters and He kind of hinted toward just, he didn't come out and say mental health issues, but you could kind of feel that from him. John Rom who you're really close with talked last year before a tournament earlier in the year. And I remember that he talked about how he's journaling now. Um, but Michael, I think your voice is so important. I know. Right. But you never would've, you never would have heard that before. You told him out on the course to do that. Right. And I, I love John Rom. I love everything about not just his game, but his attitude, but...

Karen Crouse (27:48)

I wonder where he got that idea from.

Lisa Cornwell (27:59)

This is why I think your voice is so important because you really are, you're the original, you're the OG in this regard. And I'm taking away the medals. This is just in talking about mental health. Your medals gave you this platform and you're using, I think, your next greatest gift to spread this message. And it's really more important than what you did in the water when you think about it. And do you feel that responsibility? Do you?

Michael Phelps (28:22)

I agree 100%

Lisa Cornwell (28:26)

You know, it's easy to look at the medals and say, wow, I did great things. But do you look at what you've done in terms of starting this conversation and occasionally pat yourself on the back? Do you think about the movement that you've, that you've started?

Michael Phelps (28:40)

It's funny, I get the question all the time. People are like, oh, your medal's out on display. Do you look at them all the time? Like, no, I never see them. They literally sit in a bag and just collect dust. There's three people on the planet that know where they are and they never come out. But for me, it's just like, I just wanted to, I don't know. For me, I just had a complete brain fart to where I was gonna go. Can you re-ask the question again, sorry.

Lisa Cornwell (29:06)

No, we were just talking about, no, talking about, it's okay, I do that. I call it a senior moment. You're younger than me though. But I, no, I just, do you ever think, wow, not only have I done these great things for myself as a swimmer, but I'm now doing great things in life in terms of talking about this mental health and really trying to make it an everyday issue and take away this stigma. Do you realize how many lives you're really affecting and changing the conversation?

Michael Phelps (29:30)

I am.... I guess I've noticed it more recently. You know, I think I agree with you. For me, the second chapter of my life in terms of mental health is way bigger than ever winning an Olympic gold medal, breaking a world record, whatever you can possibly say. You know, the everyday struggle for me is real, right? Like there are days where I feel great and there are days where I feel absolutely horrible. And I know there are people that are going through the same exact thing. And I've looked at suicide in the eye. I'm sure there are people that are listening to this podcast that have done it too. But for me, I have to make sure that I'm paying attention to these things every single day to give myself the best chance to be me. And by me doing that, I talk about those things. I'm not afraid to talk about these things. And I think for me, that has been one of the things that I've seen really change. I think the first couple of years, I felt like maybe I was the only one standing on top of the mountain. But no, I have a small army on top of that mountain and that army is just growing by the day. So it's pretty incredible for me to be able to travel and now I'm starting to see kind of the hard work pay off. Right, like in terms of swimming, it would be, I would go into practice every single day and I'd see the hard work pay off from a world record or a gold medal. Now, you know, the everyday work that I'm doing in myself is coming out to the message that I'm giving to all of you and I get to hear and feel the feedback that people give back to me. And that's life changing for them and also for me. Because it just it makes me keep going. Right. It fills me to keep trying to make a bigger impact. And not yes, as you said, not only in athletics, not only in the U.S., but all over the world, because, as you said, also through the pandemic, we learned that we had to sit in our own shit. We have to learn what we can and cannot control and focus on what we can control every single day. And if we can do that, then we give ourselves the best chance to be us. So throughout this whole process for me, that's all I wanna do. I wanna normalize mental health. You'll hear me lifting up, say, lift up the rug, take the bandaid off. That's what we have to do and we have to keep doing that. So yeah, I mean, the things that I've done over the last few years have given me the motivation to keep going because of the feedback that I've gotten. And... You know, like for me, my goal of changing mental health, it's far from over, right? It's far from over. You know, so this will be a life-changing or a full lifetime goal of mine, right? Because, you know, my depression isn't going to go away. My anxiety isn't going to just go away. I can't snap my fingers and have it be gone, right? I have to continue to put time and effort into this stuff. So I'm ready for whatever happens. I've been able to go through the struggles that I've had because of the tools that I've had. And I'm sure I'll have to gain more to be able to go through the struggles that are ahead of me.

Karen Crouse (32:30)

I think this message is so important because I remember thinking in 2008 when you won that eighth medal, my goodness, this young man is 23 years old and the first line of his obituary has been written like, from 23 till death, what do you do? How do you build a complete life? And now you see how, I mean, you're such an inspiration to people that we have many chapters in our lives. And I think listening to you talk, what I'm struck by is that I think the reason a lot of people don't seek help for their depression or anxiety is they have this idea that the depression and anxiety is actually fueling their performance. That they need that in order to be their best performing self. And you showed coming back and competing in Rio, you showed the lie, you know, that that was, that you actually can, the healthier you are mentally, the better you will perform physically. Could you speak to that? Because I think that's a real thing. People somehow think this is their... you know, ammunition or their fuel.

Michael Phelps (33:54)

Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of it probably fueled me, right? Like the things that I could realize through my life with the struggles that I was going through with my dad or anything else, I'm sure that was a part of the anger that I took out in the swimming pool, but also on the other side of it, like going through everything that I went through at the Meadows and then coming back in 16, I had a free mind. I didn't carry that weight. I didn't have any of those things holding me back. I honestly felt like I was that, you know, kid in a candy store, that 18 year old kid that was just on top of the world. And that was because I went through all of that work and did all of the communications and the groundwork and this, that, and the other cried my eyes out for weeks. Like all of that stuff, you know, like that's, that's, that's why I say, like, you know, if you can, if you can be, or we can all become our own superhero, right? If you pay attention to your mental and physical health, hello, it just gives us an unstoppable chance because there aren't many people that are doing that out there in the world. We see that. Right? So if we're doing both of those things, we have a clear mind and the ability to do absolutely anything that we put our mind to. Right? How many people told me it was impossible to win an individual gold medal over the age of 30? Good one. Prove you wrong. And that was me being absolutely perfect. Right? Like, yeah, I was on top of the world. I was in the best shape my body could ever be in. I was 190 pounds at 4.8% body fat. Like I was a chiseled machine ready to go because I put myself into that position.

Lisa Cornwell (35:33)

It's interesting, Michael, you talk about your early years and living in this bubble, you know, you lived in a bubble as a swimmer and I find it so intriguing now that you're absolutely the opposite in this, in this second part of your life. You know, it's like you were in this bubble and all of these things happen. And now you're like this free spirit out there with a phenomenal man bun, I got to say, um, and you're like preaching to the world and you're opening up, you're writing a memoir with Karen. I mean, I just... I think that it's so admirable. It's almost like you're this different person. How are you different? Because I think about my eating disorder and people ask me this all the time. They're like, do you wish that that didn't happen? And I say, absolutely not. It made me who I am. Think about you without this second mission in life. I mean, I know you still struggle with it and you always will. We all have to battle through the things that we battle through. But would you trade it?

Michael Phelps (36:34)

No, I mean like everyone always says it like would you go back and change anything you've gone through I'm like no because they've given me they've given me the opportunity to be who I am today and I'm more aware about more things now than I ever have in my entire life so you know the fact that I get to look into the mirror and like who I see and don't want to like so yeah, you know like I think in order to be able to get to this place or to be able to get to a place of content, I guess, if that's the right word, the right way of saying it. I don't know if I'm like content, but I'm happy. I think you have to go through difficult times. It's the only way to do it, right? Like I always say, like, life gives you interesting curve balls and it's up to us to make the decisions on how we handle those.

Karen Crouse (37:26)

Yeah, I think that sometimes life, things that happen in life are ways of removing you from situations that aren't healthy. And I remember when, you know, I had to leave the New York Times to be a part of this project. And I very clearly remember telling you, you know, Michael, in order, you know, in losing my job to write this mental health memoir with you. I've actually recovered my mental health. And I believe that so firmly. I mean, it's the greatest gift you've given me through this collaboration, because I was just kind of like you in the Olympic realm. I was just every day getting up and doing the same thing and striving and driving, you know, and what is my next story, my next story, my next story. And I was really slowly, it was a slow death and it took me being removed from that situation to see how unhealthy it had become and really how untenable. So of all the many things I'm thankful for, that's one of the best, one of the greatest. So thank you for that.

Michael Phelps (38:43)

Wow, my pleasure. Thank you for sharing too.

Karen Crouse (38:46)


Lisa Cornwell (38:47)

I love that. So I have to say this and I just want to ask you a couple more questions because you've been gracious with your time. You're a very easy interview to prep for. I've prepped for hundreds of interviews as has Karen throughout my life and you're easy because you're so open. I don't know if I would have been able to say that when you were a 20 year old swimmer but you are and there were so many different things that stood out but I told you about my book came out on Tuesday and Karen's helped me a lot with that.

Mp (39:06)

Probably not. Probably not. Ha ha.

Lisa Cornwell (39:08)

I've been on social media this week and you know, you see some of the negative feedback and people coming at you. And so it happened at a good time. I was kind of in a funk yesterday. I could feel it. And then Karen calls me and said, Hey, Michael said yes. I was like, Oh, okay. So I immediately go to your Twitter profile and I'm looking at stuff. And one of the things that you said, you're like, when I'm feeling like this, I get out, I got to be active. I'm a, you know, I'm a fitness guy. And I thought about that. And I'm like, all I've done is sit here on my phone and look at stupid Twitter... and I haven't exercised, I haven't been in the sun, I'm an outdoors person. And so because of you, I set my alarm an hour earlier this morning. I went out for a long walk and then I worked out in the gym and I can't tell you how much better I feel. So I have to not only thank you for your overall message that you're sending to the world, but you reminded me of, you know, there are little things that we can do every day to make our lives better. What do you do on a daily basis when you notice you need to do something?

Michael Phelps (40:12)

So that's again back to the word control, right? Like there's so much that is in our control every single day and it's up to us to do that every single day. So for me, if I have those days where, you know, I'm kind of off, you know, kind of foggy, nothing's really going well. And if I haven't had a workout in, I go to the gym instantly. Like that's the one thing I have to do every single day. I lift weights three days a week for about 90 minutes... And it's all golf, golf related stuff. My trainer has taught him and sent him all these different little things that I think could help. And he kind of tweaks them and makes little workouts for me every week. Um, but then I'm also in there three or four other days doing cardio. Um, you know, vitamin D is something that's super important for me, you know, living out in Arizona. Now I get to see it every single day. I was living on the East coast for a long time and in Michigan, uh, and, and you wouldn't see the sun for weeks on end. So... You know, for me, just being able to go outside and I mean, I'm looking out now, that's there's not a single cloud in the sky. And for me just instantly makes me smile. Um, you know, I think through all everything that I've done, I've picked up on small things. So, you know, I said, yes, when you said journaling, because that's something that I do, I like to journal, um, this is my office. So if I'm in a bad spot, I come in here and take a couple of deep breaths and just relax, uh, working out is something again, that's big. I like to cook. Um, so yeah, there are certain things that I can do that kind of helped me get out of that funk. But again, it's so important for us to remember the things that we can do to give ourselves that chance. Um, because again, that's all we want. We want a chance to be our best self, but that ball is in our court. Um, and yeah, it's, it's every single day. It's something right. We got to do, even if it's like one of the worst days and you're not going to do a hundred percent of your workout, do 10% of your workout, do 50% of your workout, right? Something. Like I always compare it to the Snickers commercial. Right? Like the thing was the little, I forget what her name is, Betty White maybe. She takes a bite of Snickers and then she turns into like a normal, like happy old self. Right? Like all your friends are playing basketball, you take a bite of Snickers and you feel normal again. That's like me, like working out. That stuff I have to do. If I'm not doing it again, I'm not giving myself a chance. And that's all I ask in this world. Give myself a chance to be great. And if I'm doing that. Everything else takes care of itself.

Lisa Cornwell (42:37)

Well, it's not fair that you're that physically fit that you can incorporate a Snickers bar into a workout. Most of us can't do that, Michael, but you know, you're, you're a special human being I'll, I'll finish with this and then I'll let Karen close with the last thing. So I told you, I listened to that podcast with Jay and you briefly brought up something that I was really interested in. You guys didn't, you didn't talk about it much, but I look at you and you're like this... You're like a grown kid, you know, you smile. I mean, I know you go through your own things and it's, you know, but this, you're in a good place right now. And I can tell that you have three young boys. You post a lot with your wife. You know, you guys seem like you have a lot of fun, but you mentioned childlike something that you learned about being childlike that I don't know. Did you learn that in therapy and what was the process? Because you, you started to elaborate on it and then the conversation stopped and it really piqued my interest.

Michael Phelps (43:28)

Were you talking about inner child?

Lisa Cornwell (43:30)

Inner child, yes, sorry. Yes, sorry.

Michael Phelps (43:33)

Yeah, so it's something that I learned through the meadows. So basically your inner child is like, for me, my inner child is probably like seven, eight, like kind of when my parents were going through separation and everything and kind of turmoil was going on in the house. And that's kind of always who you are at heart. So you kind of always have to protect that person. So for me, like when I beat myself up over something small and really meaning, like meaningless, like I'm kind of attacking that inner child. So I'm taking it out on them where I should be loving myself for that instead of attacking him. So for me, like I pay attention to inner child. So yeah, like you say, I'm a big kid, I am a big kid, because that's how I'm always going to be. Like you see me joking and smiling, I'm in a good mood. But if I'm not, then I feel like something in my inner child has been attacked. So maybe I haven't been able to be that person. So yeah, for me, my inner child is always very close to me. Like I can remember a day sitting in the backyard under a tree, you know, back in Baltimore when I was that age, you know, just from running away from the noise that was going on in the house, you know? So that's just something that, yeah, I guess, I don't know if I'm explaining it well enough or, but it's just something, yeah, that I learned through treatment and through therapy. Yeah, and it's something that's very important.

Lisa Cornwell (44:47)

No, you are. Yeah.

Michael Phelps (44:49)

I guess I learned a lot about it through Survivor's Week. The Medalist has this thing called Survivor's Week and what I can compare it to is like, imagine you're taking apart your hard drive of your computer and that is you and you're basically taking apart all the crap and talking about the things you never wanted to talk about and then you put yourself back together. So during that whole week, I basically cried through a box of tissues every single day and was just letting it all out. Yeah, so my inner child is always very close to me. And yeah, I thought that's where you were gonna go because Jay and I had a good little chat with that. He's awesome.

Lisa Cornwell (45:38)

Yeah, I'm really interested. I'm yeah, he is. I'm going to start listening to his podcast too now. Love the focus and your relationship together was, was really cool. Just like your relationship with Karen. I mean, when she talks about you, it's like you're her little brother and she's like, Oh Michael and Michael, and it's, it's really cute. So I just, you know, like I said, I'll finish this and then Karen can end it, but thank you for doing this. I, you're, you're, you know... The world knows how great you were in the pool. And I think a lot of the world knows how great you are out of it. I think it's your real greatness. And I think that you're changing lives. And thank you. Thank you, I'll keep following you and you'll be an inspiration to a lot of folks, me included.

Michael Phelps (46:19)

I love it. I can't wait to hear more of your journey. All the best.

Karen Crouse (46:23)

Yeah, I mean, Michael, your true legacy is what you're doing now. I mean, it's so crazy to think that you could win 23 gold medals, 28 Olympic medals, 39 world records, and that's not even going to be the most important thing you do with the rest of your life. So all kudos to you. I know that so many people come up to me and say, when is that book coming out? I'm so eager to read about, you know, read about it. But I think what they're really saying is, you know, I'm desperate for answers to understand the world that just seems so spinning out of control right now for so many people. And they really are looking for people like you to show them the way. And I think that they will be well pleased with the final product.

Michael Phelps (47:19)

I agree 100% they will. I can't wait for it to come out.

Lisa Cornwell (47:22)

I can't either. Just promise me that you'll do the audio. Okay. Okay.

Michael Phelps (47:25)

Uh, yeah, I can do it. That can be fun.

Lisa Cornwell (47:28)

I'm a big audible person and to have your voice on it would be, it would be incredible. Michael Phelps, you are an amazing human being. Thank you so much. Thank you.

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