“The way I dealt with things and coped with things was always extreme. You can say black and white — which is a criterion for borderline personality disorder.”
Brandon Marshall is a wide receiver for the New York Jets; together, he and his wife, Michi Marshall, founded Project 375, a nonprofit passionately dedicated to eradicating the stigma surrounding mental health by raising awareness and improving care for those in need. Their dedication springs from Brandon’s experience struggling with undiagnosed borderline personality disorder, and how he and Michi got him the help and the tools he needed to be himself.
Tell us about when you were younger, Brandon.
Brandon: I’ve always worn my emotions on my sleeve. The way I dealt with things and coped with things was always extreme. You can say black and white — which is a criterion for borderline personality disorder, which I was diagnosed with. Whether I lost a game or couldn’t get the answer right on a math problem, it always was extreme. If I did win a game or get that math problem right, it was extreme also.
I didn’t grow up in the best environment; sometimes I think, What if I did? And I grew up with this perception that family and friends fought. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.
When did things start getting unmanageable?
Michi: When I first met Brandon in college, he was jovial. He had such a spirit, such a light about him, and just a real genuine heart. That’s what I saw the most. After we graduated, we started a relationship. At that time I realized that Brandon wasn’t necessarily the same Brandon that I had met and fallen in love with in college. He was very quiet, very reserved, very isolated. He was easily agitated and just wasn’t as fun and loving as the Brandon that I knew. Something had changed.
Brandon: The longer something goes untreated, the worse it gets. I became depressed, started isolating myself and I really felt uncomfortable in my own skin. And I lost contact with who I really was, and I lived that way for five years and it felt normal. I believe that is how borderline personality disorder manifested itself in me.
How did that affect your relationship?
Michi: I knew something was not right, but I didn’t know what. I was way too close to him to really dissect all the variables, but I did know that something was not right. He needed to talk to someone, because he wasn’t very communicative with me. But I knew there was a lot of stress; in the back of my head, my brain was telling me, “He needs help; he needs to talk to someone!”
Brandon: There’s a huge spotlight on us, so everything that we do is noted. So the behavior, the DUI…most people look at that, they look at the behavior, but what I was really suffering from was a depression and isolation and feeling uncomfortable within my own body. That’s the part of the story that no one knows or cared to talk about because the other stuff was so juicy. You know Brandon Marshall gets arrested — but my life was spiraling out of control. I was definitely going to lose my wife; I was losing friends, my career.
Michi: When Brandon was going through difficult times, I was very reserved. It was kind of touch and go. I didn’t really know how to respond or how to help, so a lot of times I took a back seat and was just there whenever I could be and would back off whenever I thought that I should or whenever he told me I should. But my heart hurt for him because I knew who he was as a person. I knew the love he had in his heart. I knew how happy a person he was but I didn’t see it. I used to always tell him I want my Brandon back. I want my Brandon back. He didn’t understand what I meant by that until maybe two or three years ago. He had changed in a way that was not normal for him.
What was that turning point?
Michi: Throughout his career in the NFL, Brandon had different people who would reach out to him, different psychologists who would talk to him, different team doctors, things like that, especially when he was getting into trouble. But it didn’t really help him understand what was going on with him.
After years of trying and trying and talking to people, everything came to a head: with work, with relationships, with us. And he finally admitted something’s got to give, and he went to an outpatient program and they diagnosed him. He had a clinical evaluation and was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder at one of the leading facilities for BPD. He learned about his diagnosis.
Brandon: Just getting the right diagnosis, I was 50% better. Putting in the right work with the right treatment plan transformed my life. And that’s why I am so passionate about it because so many people out there are walking around suffering; they can’t get the resources they need. I’m blessed because I play in the NFL and I make a lot of money, and I was able to spend $100,000 to get the help I needed.
What do you say to people who are afraid of getting mental health treatment?
Brandon: You don’t need to still play into the stigma, thinking that it is shameful, or still be afraid to admit you have emotional problems. What you have to understand is one out of every four of us are affected by a mental health disorder, so I promise you if you just tell your story, you’ll find that other people are in the same boat! We’re all affected by it. Whether it’s our personal fight or through a loved one, you don’t need to carry this burden by yourself.
Michi: I’m reminded of what I told Brandon after he sought treatment: Regardless of the diagnosis, he is still Brandon, he is still a man, he is still a football player, he is still my husband, he is still all of these amazing things. He’s diagnosed with borderline personality disorder — but it doesn’t define who he is. I wanted to make sure he understood that, and he did, and you know the smile on his face when he actually realized this is something that I can deal with, this is not something I can fix but I can understand it.
What message do you want the world to hear?
Brandon: Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t have access to the best experts and treatments. There’s a shortage in clinicians and barriers to care. We need to stand up for those who struggle, to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves, to speak up for those who can’t. I want to shed light in dark places. I want to start the dialogue, and I want to be able to bring others along too.
Michi: It takes a lot of courage to get in touch with your emotions. Emotions are a beast, and for you to be able to really understand where they come from, how to deal with them, how to express them, how to connect with those emotions, takes tremendous strength. It is a skill and that’s why it is so important for us to teach that to our children. Because without those skills it is very, very hard to live an effective life. And it needs to be taught; it is not something that just happens. It’s something that you need to hone: the ability to connect with your emotions and express them in a healthy way. It’s very, very strong.