EDITOR’S NOTE: This story includes a description of a suicide attempt. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or is experiencing emotional stress, call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
In the summer of 2012, LPGA Tour veteran Christina Kim wrote a personal blog post about her experiences with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. It was the first time she publicly told her story. After receiving her tourist card in 2003, Kim became famous for her daring style, infectious laugh, and outgoing nature on the golf course. In 2004 and 2005, Kim scored two tour victories and fulfilled her dream of becoming a professional golfer. For the next five years, she remained at the top of her game. But after injuries in 2010, the California native struggled with hitting the ball and began to question her self-worth and worth. The following year, Kim contemplated attempting suicide.
This September, during National Suicide Prevention Month, Kim shared her mental health story as part of LPGA Drive On Campaign dedicated to the hard work, focus and perseverance of the women on tour. As Kim turns 20 on tour, she explains in her own words how she found the strength to speak publicly about her suicidal thoughts and why mental health remains a daily topic for her.
WHEN I WAS younger, my mother told me: “Even in the darkest nights there will be a beautiful dawn.”
It wasn’t until the darkest nights that I was able to fully understand what my mother meant when she said those words. Of course, this could be viewed in different ways. At times I thought it just meant that the world would continue to exist with or without you. But I don’t look like that anymore. I look at it more like when you’re in the darkest depths, just remember there will come a time when things will get better.
My darkest depths came in the spring of 2011.
At the Cup of Nations, the team event of the Women’s European Tour in Alicante, Spain, I struggled with references. I missed a few six-foot shots at par. I couldn’t get on the green. My back injury was in the balance and my hitting the ball was worse than ever. During training after the round, I burst into tears. I couldn’t stop crying. My boyfriend Duncan tried his best to comfort me, but nothing helped. I was at the center of it. The moments of genius I experienced early in my career became more and more rare. For the last few years I have struggled physically on the track and it has affected me mentally. At the time, I didn’t know what was going to happen next.
That evening, during the players’ party, I just wanted to be alone. I didn’t care about music, food, wine, laughter. Nothing out of this. I just wanted to be alone. Alone with my thoughts, I found myself walking towards a corner balcony on the second floor overlooking the ocean. I looked down and leaned over. There I was alone with my thoughts. Thoughts of ending it all Thoughts of stepping over the side of a building and falling two stories into the ocean. At that moment, drowning seemed like my only option. I was so close to being done with it. I wanted to end this. But while I was trying to be alone with my thoughts, my cell phone kept ringing. It won’t stop. Duncan tried to find me. If not for his flurry of calls, this would have been my last night.
I left the balcony. I found Duncan and we left. When we got back to our hotel room, he sat me down and said, “Something’s wrong, we need to talk about it.” He then added, “I am here to listen. I’m not here to judge.” A few minutes passed and I kept telling him, “No, no, no. I’m fine. I’m fine. I promise I’m fine.” But he continued to sit and wait. Then it happened, I felt safe. I felt safe to finally break down in front of him and tell him what was going on. I told him what had just happened on the balcony. Like these thoughts weren’t new, but it was the first time I was ready to end it all. He held me. He listened to me. It frightened him, as it did me. And then he said, “We need you to help somehow.”
The next day, I telephoned Dr. Bruce Thomas, LPGA’s medical director and one of the few people I trusted. I wasted no time and immediately got down to business. “Dr. Thomas, something is wrong,” I said. He told me he wasn’t going to be a sports psychologist. He wasn’t going to tell me about my feelings. Instead, he talked to me about my body chemistry. He gave me an idea of how I was a professional golfer for ten years and I went non-stop. “You basically look like a car that has run out of fuel. Your fuel is serotonin. Whether it’s competitive or emotional, you’ve run out of gas. This is normal,” he said.
I needed medical help. I needed a clinical diagnosis. I needed medicine. I needed this support system. It took some of the burden off of me, because I was no longer rocking in bed in the fetal position, saying, “What’s wrong with me?”
I learned that part of my emotional toolkit is knowing that fear is inevitable. But fear is something you can face, whether it’s with the community or the people you love. Another part of my emotional toolkit is awareness of the importance of communication. It’s not just about communicating with others when something is wrong. This is communication with yourself.
I had to learn to slow down and focus on small victories. Sometimes these small victories wake up, get out of bed – such little things. Small victories can turn a bad day into a good day. And sometimes they turn a normal day into a decent day, and sometimes a decent day turns into a good day. And by the end of the week, I look back and think, “Did I have seven decent days in a row? Yes OK. Nice week!”
When it came to golf, my mental health depended a lot on my game. My value and value was directly related to my game. Played well, felt good. I played badly, felt badly. I’ve had a few panic attacks on the track, and in those moments I had to fold my world as little as possible. I focus on my breathing, reminding myself that this will pass, and trying to be as forgiving and kind to myself as possible. ‘Cause I’m doing my best. I try my best.
There were times when I said to myself, “Well, if you hadn’t missed that two-foot shot, you would have hit 65 instead of 66.” And to tell you the truth, I know I’m capable of doing that two-foot throw and throwing 65 instead of 66. But that didn’t happen, and yet that doesn’t mean I haven’t done my best yet. Kindness and clarity made me realize that sometimes the golf course doesn’t work out the way I want it to, and that’s okay.
I always say that very few sports are as lifelike as golf, because you can get ready, do it “right,” drive down the middle of a fairway and still end up in a ditch. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter what you do. Life, like divots, happens. And when I played golf in the depths of my darkness, I wanted to pretend everything was fine, but it wasn’t. I was known for my outfits, my strong personality, my laugh on the golf course. And in those dark times, I had neither the strength nor the desire to admit that I was struggling. So, I tried to fake it. I put on the same clothes. I made sure I was laughing. I didn’t want to burden anyone, only myself.
I have always had a strong sense of self-love, but I don’t think I ever realized my worth. My score on the golf course didn’t equal my self-esteem. It is a combination of self-love and self-hate. I had to learn to be my own best friend.
I have only won one tournament in the last 10 years. I got my Tour card at 18. And now, at the age of 38, I can say that my goals in the Tour are the same as on the first day: I want to win. I want to prove to myself that I can still be at the top of my game. There is no reason why I can’t have a third Renaissance. Technically, I already experienced my second renaissance when I won the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in 2014 and felt like I was back on top. I’m starting my third renaissance and I’m so excited about it. I have a lot more mental health products in my arsenal.
It has been 10 years since I published my story. Eleven years since I came close to killing myself. I am still experiencing moments of a downward spiral. I’m still learning to be kind to myself. How to be patient with yourself. How to be your own best friend. But it is the knowledge gained since that moment in April 2011 that has given me the wisdom to catch myself today as I am in a downward spiral. I see it as a sign of strength. Awareness sign. and I think it’s amazing.
No matter what, I always remind myself of my mother’s words. And that the time will come when everything will be fine.