There’s Herschel Walker the former professional football player. The Heisman trophy winner. The bobsledder. The mixed martial artist. The founder of one of the largest minority-owned chicken companies in the U.S. The board member of a publicly traded company.
“This is coming from a guy who went out and got help,” Walker, 54, said before addressing 1,500 Naval Submarine School sailors about having dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder.
“At first I didn’t believe it. Because I’m like, how in the world? You know, I’m Herschel Walker. I’ve done all these good things. How in the world can I have a problem?” he said during an interview before his speech.
Earlier in the day, Walker, who lives in Dallas, toured the Naval Submarine Base — stopping to pose for pictures and to sign autographs throughout the day — and the USS Missouri (SSN-780), a Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine. It was his first visit to the Groton area.
Walker grew up in the small town of Wrightsville in Georgia and said he started playing football to get out of doing the dishes and helping out around the house. He went on to play at the University of Georgia and then the United States Football League before playing for the NFL.
It was after his football career ended that his life took a turn for the worse.
He recalled for the sailors a moment when he almost snapped. He collects antique cars, and when a delivery got messed up, he decided to go after the seller. He grabbed his gun, thinking, “I’m going to kill this dude.” He hopped into his Mini Cooper and headed down the highway in the direction of where the man was. As he was driving, he started to hear voices in his head.
“Herschel, he’s going to quit disrespecting you. People are always disrespecting you.”
“I thought I was losing my mind,” he said.
He got to his destination and walked up to the man’s truck, gun in hand, when he saw a sign on the back that said, “Honk if you love Jesus.”
“And that’s what calmed me down,” Walker said.
After hearing from his wife about how he’d threatened her on multiple occasions, and after reading some of his childhood writings in which, he said, “All I wrote about was death, all I wrote about was killing and hurting people,” he realized he needed to get help.
“I tell everybody, ‘Everyone knows my glory, but they don’t know my story,'” Walker said. “This is my story.”
Several years ago, he penned a book about coping with his diagnosis, called “Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder.”
October is Mental Health Awareness Month, and September was Suicide Prevention Month.
A 2014 RAND Corporation study found that service members feels there’s a stigma attached to seeking mental health care.
“More than one-third of respondents felt that seeking mental health treatment would harm their careers, with active-duty Navy personnel most likely to endorse this sentiment,” the report found.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon released numbers earlier this year showing that the number of suicides among service members had continued to increase.
There’s no shame in asking for help, Walker told the sailors.
“If you’re going through anything, if you have a friend going through anything, a family member, don’t be ashamed to help yourself,” he said.