This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resourcesfor additional resources.
When Nicole Phelps learned of NBA legend Kobe Bryant’s death, her mind went to a dark place. At the time, Nicole’s husband, Michael Phelps, who has a history of suicidal ideation, was in the throes of a deep depression.
“After Vanessa (Bryant) lost Kobe, all I could do was look at Michael and be like, ‘Can we please help you? Because if I lose you, I don’t know what I’m gonna do,’” Nicole, 35, told TODAY Parents. “Michael is the most amazing father and partner I could have ever asked for.”
“Nicole loves me and wants to help. She wants me to get better,” thelegendary Olympic swimmer told TODAY Parents. “But she’s struggling herself. She needs that support as well. I know it’s hard for her.”
For Nicole, the most difficult thing has been accepting that she can’t take Michael’s pain away.
“I used to think, ‘Oh, I can fix him. I can be his therapist. I can be what he needs,’” she revealed. “But what I’ve learned is that you can’t take ownership for how they’re feeling, no matter how badly you want to.”
It’s a lesson Nicole and Michael are teaching their three children.
“The boys want to be near Michael when he’s having a rough day. They want to try and make him happy — especially Boomer because he’s the oldest,” Nicole explained. “So we’ll say, ‘Hey Booms, Daddy’s having a hard time and just needs to take a moment to be alone.’ We want Boomer to understand it’s not about him, it’s about Michael.”
Coping through COVID-19
For Michael, the epidemic exacerbated his preexisting symptoms and increased his anxiety.
“I’ve had some scary ups and downs,” the most decorated Olympian of all time told TODAY Parents last month.
Though Nicole has never felt resentful of Michael’s illness, she has moments where she feels like she’s drowning. Boomer, Beckett and Maverick are at ages where they still need their parents for everything.
“It’s difficult because I want to hold space, not only for my children, but for my husband, too,” she said. “When Michael's having a day, I want to be there for him as much as I possibly can. I want to take care of everyone.”
Recently, Nicole began working with a therapist. The sessions — along with journaling and meditation — are helping her to process the trauma surrounding the thought of losing Michael.
“It’s helping me with everything. It’s support for me,” she shared. “But more than anything, therapy provides me with the tools to be able to help Michael properly.”
Though the pandemic has posed challenges for Nicole and Michael, the couple is closer than ever. For the past 8 months, they’ve been lifting weights together in their home gym. Every night, Michael, who traveled often before the epidemic, cooks dinner for the family.
“We've definitely grown together through this and learned a lot,” Nicole said. “It’s not easy, but I’m married to the most incredible human being.”
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